No nation has existed without elites. History teaches us the importance of elites in the development of nations and societies. The elite can be based on hereditary, military, landed, religious, business or party structures. Carefully selected and well-trained elites are needed especially in complex societies which have specialised functions.
The necessity for competent military elites in armed forces is self-evident. Their effectiveness in war is determined by the training they get continuously. The officer corps is also responsible for the education and training of troops under their command.
Many cadet-officers are identified at an early age and enter the military or elite residential schools. They are put in uniform, disciplined in terms of time, behaviour, personal care, study and play. Team sports are the order of the day and personal responsibilities, loyalties and duties are emphasised and stressed.
Cadets enter the main military academies at the age of 16 after a rigorous entrance examination based on physical and mental merit. Thereafter, it is a 24-hour, 7-day a week process for years. Though those who had gone through boarding school entered familiar territory, those who did not are quickly acclimatised or asked to leave if they do not fit in.
The military academies provide general education with specific training needed in the armed forces. They also produce doctors, engineers and other technical personnel needed for the armed forces. Issues of self-identity, personality, sexuality and moral direction are addressed. Team building and fraternal feeling is inculcated. So, the quality of the personnel is definitely superior.
After induction into the selected service, these cadets enter their careers and at regular intervals return to the academies for upgrading their training and education. In their units they learn from experienced Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s). The tradition of coupling young officers with battle-hardened veterans is a stroke of genius. At the very beginning, the young officer knows that he will have to depend on the NCO’s and Other Ranks. His performance, career and very life depends on people who do not have his advantages in education and training. Yet, they have something more: loyalty to the unit and its fighting men, commitment to hard work, a concept of fairness and honour, and experience. And above all, they love the country.
Compare this with the system of recruitment into the civilian sectors. This includes the IAS and also the police, judicial, customs, income tax, other governmental agencies responsible for the regulation and conduct of the affairs of state. The civilian elite are recruited at the ages from 21 to 38. By then, they have gone through childhood, adolescence and also entered adulthood. Many of them would be married. Some would be fathers.
Their selection is based on academic and physical tests and quotas based on caste. Their capacity for physical endurance, their psychological attitudes and sociological traditions are largely not taken into account. They are literally thrown into positions of power over citizens who come to them expecting support and assistance.
The official has to cope with hardened politicians and other aggressive exploiters of state and people. His cadre is rife with petty politics based on caste, religion and language. He cannot expect support from his superiors. Loyalty to the cadre is non-existent. Despite early friendship with the batch-year intake, competition for promotion and choice posts harms relationships. There is no espirt de corps.
What is to be done? What is needed is a change in the methods of selection, education and training of the civilian elite. The adoption of the military model of recruitment from age 16 onwards would enhance the quality of the civilian elite. It is also advisable to use the Kendriya Vidyalaya schools as the initial recruiting ground for selecting their best products at an early age and provide full scholarships in dedicated and well-maintained boarding schools and colleges.
This recruitment will, of course, follow the reservation policy set currently by the government. By selecting them at 16 or even earlier, it is possible to ensure holistic development. Tests over the long period of education and training allow for a credible selection based on competence and merit. The final exam will ensure that the “best and brightest” are inducted into government service. They will have a sense of moral obligation and responsibility to the nation that has funded their development as officers and citizens. The relationships they would have developed with each other will provide them with the notion that individuals matter more than inherited group identities and that service to the state is paramount. There will be commonality of interests with each other.
It may, however, be necessary to ensure the recruitment levels at the initial phase are multiples of what is actually required by the governmental system. This is because many at the end may chose not to join service. This will not be a loss as these young men and women will anyway contribute to the nation in other sectors as doctors and engineers, business executives, teachers, academics—even politicians. The training and experience will stand them in good stead whatever their calling. What is clear is that in a democracy, the education, training and selection of elites—in whichever sector—cannot be left to pure chance or inherited advantages. The process may be long and expensive but vital for the nation.
Dean of Studies and Head, Centre for Telangana Studies, MCR-HRD Institute of Telangana