The Indian Army is a volunteer service, and conscription has never been applied in India. Vacancies in our Armed Forces are filled only on merit. This is one of the chief reasons why the Army is among the most reliable and efficient organisations in India. Despite this, the rank and file of our Army have been given a raw deal.After Independence, India had a troublesome neighbourhood and political transformations were taking place all around the world. It was rumoured that our first PM Jawaharlal Nehru feared a coup by the Army.
To ensure the Army didn’t get a high standing in governance and political decision-making, the civilian bureaucracy was placed ahead of the Army. Although this is true of most democracies, it has been done so beyond acceptable levels in India. Over the years, this initial framework has solidified and now the Army has been relegated to a much lower level. An unforeseen impact of this process is that the youth now don’t consider the Army as a career option that can meet their aspirations.
Take a look at the qualification and interview processes: A youngster gets into the civil services after passing written tests; this is followed by an interview that probably lasts an hour. The Army, on the other hand, through the Services Selection Board carries out detailed tests for over a week. A candidate must pass a written exam conducted by the UPSC before being selected by the SSB followed by week-long medical tests. The SSB tests the candidates’ knowledge, intellect, IQ, decision-making, planning capability, psychology, extempore speaking, etc.
In the US, soldiers are paid more than their civilian counterparts when equated for skills and education. If an American soldier is fighting overseas, he and his family are taken care of well—financially, in housing, education facility for children and so on. But in India, it is the reverse.There is a lot of disparity between the Army, IPS and IAS. For example, an IAS officer becomes a deputy secretary after five years of service; an IPS officer becomes an SSP, the equivalent rank, after nine years of service, while the equivalent rank in the Army—that of lieutenant colonel—is reached after 13 years of service!
Further, time-bound promotions in the Army are only up to the Lt. Col. level—this too is based on success in promotion exams. And a competitive exam has to be passed to be considered for promotion to higher ranks and coveted posts. Promotion beyond Lt. Col. is through selection by the board. Many officers beyond the rank of Lt. Col. are passed over depending upon their capabilities. Unlike the IAS, the organisation of the Army is like a pyramid. Every IAS and IPS officer rises to the highest level without a single promotion exam after their entry into the services.
The criterion taken into consideration while giving equivalence in protocol is the level at which one can take independent financial decisions. This is wrong as the finances are handled by bureaucrats alone and not by the Army or police as their domain of work is different. This is done probably to keep the bureaucracy above the other two realms; the hierarchy of protocol is drawn by the bureaucrats.Somebody in the government is managing a budget that measures the money spent on salaries and pensions of Armed Forces and equipment. But they are ignoring the cost of selecting competent people, development of an efficient fighting forces, preservation of the country’s sovereignty and eradication of terror and providing help during calamities.
So what should be done to make the Army an attractive career option? One, those with equal years of service in their respective domains should have equal status and pay and perks, irrespective of what epaulets they wear or which chair they occupy. Two, Army veterans should be compensated enough to live the standard of life commensurate with the status of their rank. The fatality rates of the Army cannot be compared to IPS or IAS, where it is much lower. Hence the death benefit suggested for military personnel should be significantly increased. Further, the disability rates are high in the Army. Presently the disability pension is given to disabled Army soldiers for his life period; it is stopped with his demise. The pension takes care of the soldier as well as his family and should be paid at the family pension rates after his death.
Three, to improve civilian-Army relations, there can be limited tenures for Army and IPS personnel to perform each other’s duties in their services. Four, many officers are passed over in promotion at different ranks (from the rank of Lt. Col.) and the government encourages premature retirement for the superseded officers. The government should take concrete steps to upskill and reskill the retirees to help them get absorbed into the private sector through partnerships.
Five, a child’s suitability and bent of mind can be judged in high school for a career as per studies on emotional intelligence. Schools across the country can identify the children with an inclination to join the Army, meet with the parents and provide details of the benefits of joining the Armed Forces, and channelise them into training institutions to be set up by the government. The NCC can train cadets for the written test, SSB interview and physical fitness tests. The state governments should organise residential training camps in rural areas for recruitment as jawans in the Army. Campus interviews and recruitment should be organised to fill vacancies in the Army.
Six, the media and the film industry can be provided funding and guidance to portray the Forces in good light and help in recruitment. A case in point is the blockbuster Hollywood movie Top Gun, after which the number of youngsters enlisting for the US Air Force showed a record increase.The points I have made should hold good for the other two services too. We shoul make joining our Armed Forces a good career option. The time to act is now.