These days there is much talk of inter-se parity between personnel of the Armed Forces and other services of the Union of India including civilians working in different departments under the Ministry of Defence. This issue has come about essentially because of salaries being fixed by pay commissions based on “worth” of each service. Although this challenge of evaluating the worth of the Armed Forces applies to all ranks, it is critical for officers cadre since they have often to work alongside civilians of other services. This inter-se seniority is not just a matter of personal prestige but affects the organisational effectiveness of the entire defence establishment, from the lowest to the highest level, that is, the Chiefs.
It is therefore time to recall the real role / responsibility of a defence officer.
The nation maintains a large and modern Armed Force with tanks, guns, aircraft, missiles, ships , submarine and a huge support system. All this is not just for fighting terrorists and guarding the LoC and the LAC, but to secure our nation in the event of an intense full-scale WAR.
In this milieu of the life-threatening, risky, uncertain situation of war, an officer, even a young one just commissioned, is expected to successfully carry out an operational mission. On his/her decision may rest the country’s security and certainly always the lives of men engaged in this mission.
This responsibility, with all the confusion and urgency of time and uncertainty of enemy action, calls for a quick assessment of the situation, analysing it, making the plan and ensuring its dogged execution through courage and determination. This is the essence of military leadership which rests on rational decision making under such trying circumstance.
Trusting their officer, the men who may belong to any religion, region, caste or background put their lives on line. This is what defines the officer-man relation of mutual respect and trust. Sadly, even within the services, and outside, this aspect is not being given its due. (It was lack of this mutual trust that made the migythy US, lose to diminutive Vietnam in a 20-year war.)
The ever present possibility of war demands remaining vigilant and prepared, at all times. It may be thrust upon us at any time and at short notice. The armed forces, therefore, are forever engaged in training, management and upkeep of operational wherewithal. Beside this, the imperative of our ongoing warlike commitments and challenges of low intensity conflicts in the Jammu and Kashmir and active borders with hostile neighbours. Also, there is the constant readiness and calls for aid to civil authorities and internal security duties. Even the so called peace locations and peacetime are so in name only.
Moreover the unique and special conditions of service are stringently regulated by the acts of Parliament. Even the fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution carry restrictions that do not apply to other services.
The effectiveness and efficiency of the services, in this spectrum, rests on the role and responsibility of its officer corps.
It is for this reason that officers are inducted through a unique and stringent selection system referred to as the Services Selection Board (SSB). It judges a candidate’s total personality viz intellect, character and moral courage. That barely 5 to 8 per cent make the grade speaks for itself. This is followed by a medical examination to determine fitness for the challenges of the tough military life. The requisite education standard is ensured by the UPSC through all India competitive exams for NDA/ CDSE. Unable to attract enough number of suitable candidates, the services continue to be short of officers. This deficiency can prove critical in the event of a short notice war.
Finally, let us note that war is terrible and has never solved any problem. That said, so long as the threat of war remains, the nation must at all times be vigilant and fully prepared. In fact, the future wars will be ever more lethal and intense. This calls for not only high technology hardware but matching levels of leadership from young men and women: high intellect and character. Incentives of social respect and appropriate remuneration are essential for attracting such talent for this uniquely demanding role.
Another aspect of future wars is the near absence of notice for mobilisation. This places great premium on preparedness through constant training and management for keeping the operational equipment and war like stores in readiness to take to field. Apart from other aspects, the officer shortage may be critical in such a situation.
This, therefore, outlines the real role and responsibility that an officer carries in the Armed Forces that are designed and maintained at huge cost to ensure security of the Nation in the event of a full scale modern future war (repetition intended and deliberate). Clearly this role cannot be compared with that of any other service.
The present counter-terrorist operations in the Jammu and Kashmir and the North East, as also, the onerous task of guarding active LOC/LAC, vital as they are, should not make us lose our focus on the imperatives of a full scale war.
The way forward is for the Nation and the Parliament to take note. They are to provide an appropriate statue that will ensure a well defined social and functional status, with matching service benefits to draw and retain the right type of leadership talent from the youth of India. Even the services need to look within to refresh and review this vision.