Faux regalia in the real unforgiving world: Look at yourself in the mirror, Part 2

(Note: This post was originally published at www.indianmilitary.info on 30 December 2016. I am tempted to post it afresh on Medium in light of certain recent developments again resulting in constant barbs at ‘civilians’ by certain members of the military community. The aim of this, as the piece concludes, is not to pin-prick or make anyone feel gloomy since it is simply a call to embrace positivity and reformatory thought with an open mind, to improve ourselves and respect other professions. There is much appreciable change in the attitude of our officers since the last decade or so and we are definitely at a better place, but the voyage must never cease. Thanks — Navdeep)

Like many times in the past, I debated if I should pen my thoughts today- free flowing, without structure. I debated because, as I have stated before, critical pieces are at times used as tools by some frustrated souls to pinprick and grind axes against the system, rather than to introspect, improve and march ahead.

But then I still decided to. And I shall be honest.

I have written about this earlier but the wedge between the civil and the military world has since widened as the voices have become shriller. And then I saw this very important and much valid statement by General VP Malik in his recent interview to The Times of India:

Though we are on a different subject and not discussing higher defence appointments here, the statement is important since it comes from a former Chief of the Army Staff, who, even though retired in 2000, seems much more progressive and practical in thought than many of our current commentators. Valid since it makes one realize the fact that the knowledge of basic constitutional concepts, democratic or even administrative principles is not optimum within the military community. To put it crudely, many serving in the military are not aware how things work.

A few days ago, at an official gathering where I had a longish conversation with some highly competent officers of the defence services, certain issues that I speak of above, stuck me hard. One, that there is an extreme lack of understanding, knowledge and acknowledgement of contribution of other professions or services. Two, that the basic insight regarding our national institutions is lacking. Three, that there is some kind of a feeling as if only the military is serving the nation while all other professions are lax, dishonest or both. Four, that there is strong resistance to change and things have come to such a pass that attempts to impress are made not by the depth of learning or knowledge but by scratching the surface and flowery English.

In the same conversation, I was also taken aback by a number of broad statements such as “80% of judiciary is corrupt” and questions about how the judiciary enjoys the month long vacation of Courts in the month of June or the promotional avenues in the civil services or how the Central Armed Police Forces are paid more than the Army while they are not performing duties that are as exacting. Urban legends, basically. Pitiful though is the fact that while the military itself is facing a multitude of challenges, people have time to discuss other professions from afar regarding which their knowledge or understanding might not be of the desired level. Or, to take an example from the above, though not germane to the subject, the actuality that it is only the Constitutional Courts that close for vacation in June and not others and that even the said Courts continue to function with vacation judges and that overburdened judges at times have to hear hundreds of cases per day, read their files in the morning and evening and night, apply mind on the precious rights of litigants, pronounce judgements, dictate decisions, sign orders and so on. Just as military personnel avail about three months of leave in a year, perhaps judges (and lawyers) too deserve a break to maintain mental equilibrium or even to look through pending work which piles up during court days, and they too are serving the society in their own way. Talking ill of babus is also fashionable, repeatedly comparing the military and the bureaucracy. I don’t think that a young newly inducted IAS officer looking after the magisterial, executive and revenue functions of his sub-division or a young IPS officer supervising the policing and security in the same area is encumbered with any less onerous responsibility than a newly commissioned defence officer. While we continue to ascribe duties to our officers (in the name of so-called grooming) that are not commensurate with their ranks thereby ourselves lowering the prestige and sheen of the military brass, paradoxically, on the other hand we speak poorly of other professions.

What stands out distinctly from the above is that there is not enough education being imparted in our academies or institutions about other occupations and services with whom we have to work shoulder to shoulder in today’s complex environment. The vision expressed by General VP Malik for senior staff is as much valid for the youngest officer since if he or she does not build up knowledge in the formative years, the foundations shall remain weak even on attaining higher ranks. If not given attention, the knowledge about concepts such as the constitutional separation of powers or even elementary notions that would be clear to a civics student in school, would remain elusive. The net result would be tunnel vision and spending time forwarding fake social media and text messages spreading disaffection, discontentment and planting falsehoods against seniors and the establishment instead of focussing on positive well-rounded advancement to take on challenges in the real world. There would always remain people like us who shall steadfastly stand behind the genuine causes of the men and women in uniform, but not at the cost of causing injury to the reputation of others. While IAS and IPS officers get to know more about the Army while on attachment, the equivalent exercise is missing in the defence services. Shouldn’t Gentlemen Cadets in batches be attached for a week to a Police Station to understand its functioning and the challenges faced by policemen and women or basics of investigation or criminal law? Shouldn’t they be attached at the local tehsil to comprehend its functioning? Till the time there is cross faculty exposure, which is the call of the times even for essentially military functions, seminal growth shall continue to dodge us.

The military must not lag behind in real terms by way of some kind of show of faux superiority or holiness. Sense of entitlement must yield and make way for sense of legitimate expectation. Theoretically camaraderie is stressed upon but unlike the civil services, there are sharp divisions within the system when it comes to benefits, cadre management or even welfare schemes whether it is a struggle between the Army, Navy and Air Force, or between the Combat Arms and Combat Support Arms or between Arms and Services, and at times even between Regiments. Healthy competition is replaced with peer jealousy and crab mentality. Problems are created for own comrades at each level. Whether it was the Dynamic Assured Career Progression Scheme (DACP) for doctors or medical facilities for our Short Service Officers or certain benefits for women officers, most impediments emanated from within the uniformed community, not from outside. While we discussed whether women commissioned officers, who were allowed to serve for 14 years, were fit enough to serve for 6 more years to earn pension or not, the Central Armed Police Forces deployed women personnel at jawan level even at high altitude locations and for extreme riot control, without controversy. While we with our high noses debate how the military is superior to the ‘paramilitary’, the latter have implemented the DACP smoothly while our Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) at one time made presentations to the Ministry on why it should not be implemented, a fact now made use of by financial mandarins. While civil organizations discussed with their employees and pensioners how best to present their views before the pay commission, the military refused to share its memorandum to the pay commission even with its serving rank and file and also refused to part with it under the RTI Act. While lawyers of civil departments go out of the way to assist the courts graciously and fairly when it comes to litigation of their employees, our officers brief govt lawyers as if it’s some kind of war being waged against litigants- of course they are not at fault since they are pressurized by higher headquarters to ‘win cases’. Promotion related litigation for empanelment under the Central Staffing Scheme with the central government has sharply decreased in civil departments because all promotion related and other administrative policies of the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) are now available online and transparency is valued, while in the defence services, officers keep groping the dark to get a grip on what has hit them. Sporting events and movies come to a halt if a military VIP enters and till he is given his separate large chair in a separate enclosure with better cutlery, something unheard of in today’s civil set up. During the OROP agitation, certain veterans were full of hate towards civilians, while civilian pensioner organizations, on the contrary, supported us to the hilt even during the Anomaly Committee meetings during the recent disability pension reduction controversy. While we continue to rightly feel proud about the military, its discipline and impeccable service to the nation, there are a few things we can learn from others.

Operations and strategy, though nationally of utmost importance and also pertinent to military morale, do not affect the quality of life or basic dignity of defence personnel and their families. In every sense of that sphere, civil departments and services are doing better than the defence services- in cadre management, in welfare related issues, in facilities, in progressive personnel policies. So next time we talk about others, we must go to the nearest mirror and take a very hard look. To end, I must add that what I write above should not make you gloomy since it is simply a call to embrace positivity and reformatory thought with an open mind. Till when would we thump our chests about our past and rest on our laurels? This feel-good regalia could quite be useless in the actual world.

Get real.

Major Navdeep Singh is a lawyer at the Punjab & Haryana High Court and the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association. He's also an author.