BY SHAILESH RANADE

The past two years have been a disaster for the Armed Forces, especially the Army. The drubbing they have received is worse than nuclear explosion over Hiroshima during WWII. In five years flat, Japan was up and running and catching up with the developed economies. The Indian Armed Forces are not likely to recover any time soon. In fact the situation is likely to get worse. This is because the destruction is not of government property like ships, tanks, and aircraft but of the only asset that the military officer has – moral fibre. When the officer loses his moral fibre, he is not in the military anymore. He only dresses like a military officer.

I hear arguments like, “the officers and men come from the same decaying Indian Society”. We don’t expect them to be honest, “when there is muck all around”. All these arguments are completely flawed. When a person joins the Academy as a Cadet, he is exposed to a culture which is completely different from the other careers that he can choose. If the same person were to choose Engineering, IT, Medical, Mass Media, Bollywood etc, he is in effect a part of the same decaying, scheming society that is run by the mafia and black money where cheating is the norm.

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Everything the military man does is different. He stays separate from civilian populations. His mess is different. He dresses differently. His eating habits are different. He excels in table manners. His hospitals will be of better standards. He has no problem with availability of bread and water. His cantonment will be the most beautiful and cleanest place in town. His justice system is different and more efficient. More importantly, his work is different. Often 24x7x365. He can be recalled from leave if required. In disturbed areas or in times of war, he may not return home to his family. He also gets a gun salute at his funeral and flags will be flown at half mast.

The military man is made of different stuff and needs to be different. How is it that an “honest” Cadet turns into a “thief” General in 30 years? In fact I am willing to stick my neck out by stating that there are a lot more thieves in the higher ranks than have come out in the media. These are NOT aberrations any more. It is a trend. A disturbing trend, indeed.

The fish rots at the head first. So it is with the Armed Forces. (In this piece, Generals also include Admirals and Air Marshals. There are many more corrupt Generals than the latter two, hence the generalization). To win the war on corruption, the country needs to sort out the Generals first.

Thieving: It is often believed that Generals do not follow the rule book. When an Officer reaches the Flag Rank; he is free to do as he pleases. In fact it is his privilege, as some of his personal staff will mention. Mess Secretaries will often complain that Generals will take along tooth brush, toothpaste and bath room slippers when they vacate their rooms. When they vacate their houses, they will take along the carpets, curtains, and paintings etc which have been bought from Unit Funds. If the civilians don’t believe this, just watch what happens when the Flag Officers vacate their bungalows. It is brazen daylight robbery. Most Generals are simply petty thieves.

Punishment: Generals are often not punished for their misdemeanors or professional misconduct. Punishment is restricted to middle levels like Brigadiers and Colonels. Enough cases come to my mind. The loss of INS Andaman and Vindhyagiri in peacetime did not see any Admirals sink. The Kargil War did not see any Generals get the boot. The crash of 482 MiGs over the last 40 years has not grounded any Air Marshal.

ACRs: If a junior officer is ambitious to make it to Flag Rank, only two options are available.  Either he has to be the son of a senior military or government officer or he has to hitch a ride on the shoulders on a General by becoming his Staff Officer or ADC. The other attributes in the ACR do not matter. To have an outstanding ACR, you need to please only one person – your boss. The reviewing officers who “concur” would probably not know the officer on whom the ACR is rendered or he is not being honest. It would be a good idea, to have 360 degree reporting. The men who you Command should know what kind of a person they are promoting to General rank. ACRs should also be publicized. If an officer has done some good work, then the Unit, Division or Command should know about it.

Pay and Allowances: Military is the only career in the world where you can start only at the bottom. A person can never join the military at the level of a Brigadier or a Colonel. The reverse is possible. Enough military men have joined as Vice Presidents, General Managers, and Directors etc. Some have become entrepreneurs. I know of a JCO who is now a MD and employs 200 people. A few have joined politics. While a military man can join any profession he chooses, the reverse will almost certainly end in failure. Imagine hiring a Vice President from a top MNC Bank and making him the GOC of a Strike Corps or a Carrier Captain. The poor chap wouldn’t have a clue. The military man, by nature of his training is vastly superior and is often the last resort for any assistance. His pay and allowances therefore should not be linked to other sundry and mundane government jobs. If the military needs more pay, just give it without asking questions. Only a fool will chop his right hand. Can our Service Chiefs please speak up and convince the government? Incidentally, anyone ever heard of a Service Chief resigning to uphold the honour of his service or the welfare of his men?

Warrant of Precedence (WoP): Much is said about the WoP. A four star General is currently at No 12. Does it really matter whether he is at 12 or 25? In the US, the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff is at 50. In the UK, thanks to the Royalty, the Chief of Defence Staff is way behind. Since these are only Ceremonial positions, the pay and perks should not be linked to the Order of Precedence. It does not matter whether the General sits in the 1st row or 10th row. If a General who leads a million men into battle feels belittled, he may not attend such a function. But then he may forego his ambassadorship or governorship (next point).

Post Retirement Sinecure: A scrutiny of the list of Governors in India tells one a lot about the kind of people occupying these positions. Are these “gifts” for services already rendered? Frankly would a General really relish the job of a Governor where he is not better than a glorified servant? A few years ago, an Admiral willfully demoted himself to the level of a lowly Joint Secretary to occupy a position in New Zealand. What happened to the honor code? What hints are the men in uniform getting? And then they have the gall to crib about Warrant of Precedence?

Post Retirement Jobs: Senior Officers are expected to do something respectable once they hang their boots. They are expected to join professional bodies, give opinions, lecture on strategic issues, guide the youth, work for the under privileged etc. Instead we find that they have no qualms about pimping for arms lobbies and all kinds of nefarious activities. Flag Officers should be banned from positions in the Government and Private Sector. Give them a decent pension till they kick the bucket. If they want to make money as honest citizens, please leave the fauj as Colonels.

Land/Estates: Senior Officers have suddenly become dalals when it comes to land deals. The Adarsh, Sukhna land scams are well known. There are other areas too where defence land has been grabbed by private parties only because the lording General was hand in glove with vested interests. Apart from the odd Colonel in Adarsh, all the Officers involved are Flag Officers. In fact there are 3 Service Chiefs in the Adarsh Scam. “At no time did they know what Adarsh was about” says one Chief. Really? How innocent?  Speaks volumes about their situational awareness. These senior officers had the power to punish and dismiss personnel. Now they themselves are being marched before a Judicial Commission.

Statutory Complaints and Court Cases: Ask any Major General or equivalent. He will say that the military is a glorious profession. And when he is not promoted further, all hell breaks loose. A glorious profession suddenly becomes the worst profession in town. Generals too miss promotions and choice appointments. What follows is a flurry of complaints and court cases. Why be a bad loser and wash dirty linen? Not getting promoted does not mean the end of life. But it shows our senior officers as selfish, self serving individuals.

Generals are supposed to be held in awe. His every word is a Command. An order may even lead a jawan to his death. However, jawans these days are quite news conscious. They see their Generals spread-eagled on the front covers of national magazines. The Generals’ lack of morals greatly affects the morale of his juniors. In the future, jawans may begin to question every word of their senior officers. In fact the next war may have already been lost. The situation is critical. The next generation of Generals may well imbibe Tagore’s: “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”. Time to forget Chetwode.

I am sorry if this piece hurts honest Generals. I am sure there would be a few still left.

(Shailesh Ranade is a Guest Blogger with the Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)