Does the Indian Army need a draft, a conscription? General Kapoor, the Army Chief, believes that this may be resorted to in the future, and is not needed as of now. The mentation is ill-conceived, poorly thought out and half-baked. Even the dumb mainstream media can gauge that the real intention of this “sensationalism” is to raise an alarm – to ruffle the government and goad the pay commission into offering a largesse to the armed forces.
”Compulsory military service could be one of the avenues before the government sometime in the future, but it is not the stage for such a step now,” he [COAS] said at the customary press conference on the eve of Army Day.
Disclosing there was a current deficiency of 11,200 officers, the Army Chief said another point of concern for the forces was that most of those applying were ”not the right material.”
”Our deficiencies should not be met by lowering our quality standards,” he asserted. [IBN]
The sensational value of the cue [aka man bites dog] makes a great media copy. Without being disrespectful to the appointment of the Army Chief, General Kapoor sounds daft while venturing an opinion on conscription. The draft hasn’t worked in any modern democratic society. The USA in Vietnam is a prime example of pitfalls that accompany a draft and the damage it causes to the military as an institution. In any case, it will need a constitutional amendment to institute a draft or conscription for the Indian Armed forces. A modern, self-confident and economically vibrant India will never brook this softheaded suggestion.
Another question that amazes me and which hasn’t been raised by any commentator so far. Isn’t the draft ordered to make up for shortfall in quantity and not the quality of intake? The Indian armed forces, by the Army Chief’s own admission, don’t have a problem of numbers. The problem is of the quality of intake. How does the organisation undertake a “quality conscription” then? By going to IITs and IIMs and ordering them to a draft. But the Indian Army website itself proclaims that you might be an acclaimed engineer or a corporate manager, but could still be unfit to be an army officer. The idea smacks of an inextricable dichotomy, if not of sheer absurdity. In any case, there are no examples in the history of mankind where drafts and conscriptions have been solely for officers. The conscripts and draftees have always been recruits, handling low-tech equipment, and are invariably used as canon-fodder in the battlefield.
The related and more significant subject is of the mindset of the Army as an organisation. It believes in conscription and uses conscription in an indirect way – to stop its officers from moving out. The officers, who have not been overlooked for promotion, are not being allowed to quit the organisation even after having given their youth to the nation. India is perhaps the only modern democratic country where officers are being held captive in the three services [as virtual conscripts] against their wishes, all in the name of national security. The figures of officers who have applied to be released from the services and the ones granted release elucidates this point. This is conscription, Indian military style.
The ignorance of the current Army Chief and the daftness of his ideas reaffirms the issues raised by General Dave Petraeus. There is an urgent need for our service officers to go to civilian colleges and develop intellectual rigour. Else the foolproof path to senior ranks, based on “the nose to the grindstone” philosophy, will continue to propel more such gems in the military stratosphere.
The ostensible aim of the Army Chief is to “exploit” the media to raise alarm and put the government, the bureaucracy and the pay commission under pressure. However, the Chief may have uttered a self-fulfilling eschaton prophecy. The larger issue of perception and image ought to be considered by the Chief and his think tank. The image is not being irredeemably damaged only by the individual officers; the organisation is also contributing substantially to the effort by its focus on short-term gains.
For an average middle-class Indian with no direct relation to the services, and the mainstream media as the sole source of information, the most likely image of the Indian Army (or the Navy or the Air Force) will be — Corrupt, financially and morally; poorly paid and understaffed; preponderance of ego clashes and scandals in the top hierarchy; and suffering from an archaic organisational culture and colonial mindset.
A few more such stories in the mainstream media, coupled with the ones on corruption, spats, court cases and suicides, and the Armed forces would soon be, not only the least-preferred but the least respected profession. If our top brass continues to blindly propel the services on this path of self-destruction, the doomsday is really not that far.
General Deepak Kapoor can then gloat at having correctly prophesied the fall of Indian Army, unlike General JJ Singh, who put his foot in the mouth over the intake into academies issue. In any case, artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.
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