Lord Wavell outlined the centrality of the Indian Army to the Indian nation-state in his farewell speech on 21 March 1947–
I believe that the stability of the Indian Army may perhaps be the deciding factor in the future of India.
Nothing drastic has transpired since then to change the status of the Indian Army (used generically to include Navy and Air force) and its contribution to Indian nationhood. If one were to ask the common man or woman on the street about the Indian Army, he or she would parrot out the same lines — Indian Army is the last bastion of the state, a paragon of virtue, honesty and integrity, a glamourous but resilient organisation and so on. There might be a minority, fed on the recent stories in the popular media, who will hold a contrarian view about the defence services.
But among both these types of individuals, the Indian Army often exists as something “these other guys do”; an activity so remote from their own lives that it might as well be engaged in by aliens. The stereotypes of the army held by many civilians, courtesy Bollywood and mainstream media, are both false and harmful. Indian soldiers aren’t inane golems who couldn’t find employment elsewhere; for the most part they are highly talented inviduals. The education level in the army is comparable to most of the organizations, both public and private, in this country. There are a few officers with doctorates and officers with masters degrees are rather common. In the recent years, the level has gone even higher and many of the NCOs and JCOs have graduate degrees. There is religious and regional diversity in all command positions and unlike other public sector units, casteism is completely absent. If the soldier is not involved in operations, there is an emphasis on training and preparing for operations. There are organised instruments that look after the welfare of the lowest-ranking soldiers and huge efforts are devoted to this by leadership at all levels.
The plebeians have no appreciation for the varied nature of the army’s organisational strengths that allow it to accomplish near-impossible missions. It is indeed difficult to exactly compare a military operation to any corporate activity; the difference in scope and methodologies between the two is stark. The popular tendency is to couch all things related to the army in mythical and glorified terms — heroism, valour, courage, bravery, hardships, sacrifice, martyrdom, et al. This dilutes the focus on the outstanding processes, systems and procedures that are the bedrock of this efficient organisation.
In very simple terms, the sheer logistics of moving large groups of people over hundreds of kilometres in an organised fashion to achieve a major goal, while other people and groups who are trying to thwart that mission, is no less complex than rocket science or brain surgery.
The modern management practices and technologies have all evolved from the military. The examples vary from the internet and mobile telephony to packaged food to human resource management and operational logistics. Isn’t it strange then that so many people in this country regard the military as inferior to most parts of the civilian sector? The reality is exactly the opposite.
This variation between reality and perception is due to a lack of self-belief and poor self-image among the top brass of the Indian army. Their actions betray their lack of conviction in their own organisation. The army officers are made out by their acts as status jockeys who spend more time worrying about some abstract decline in their position rather than focusing on the mission. The public appears to be unable to separate the gratification of the army from what is its real purpose. The awkward efforts of the Indian army to portary a positive image do precisely the opposite.
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”