Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Is the VIP culture demonizing Indian Military?

Let’s stop cribbing and concentrate on ‘homework’: A wake up call
Charity begins at home they say. While we continue cribbing about the treatment meted out to us by others, what have we done to set our own house in order?. Cynicism is something I detest and the aim of this is not to be critical, I’m looking for insight on how things have come to such a pass and I’m sure many of us are on the same trip. Seniors and juniors alike, it’s our collective responsibility to restore the past glory of the forces. Especially in public, we should stop cursing the system, our seniors, our bureaucrats- all and sundry, there is so much lack of positivity around us these days. We must realise that we are in this so called 'system'. We could definitely do with a little more optimism and project our services in a better light.

How we behave with our own people becomes a benchmark for others to emulate in life outside the cantonment. While we tend to compare our status, stature and salaries with other services, isn’t there an underlying negativity in behavioural patterns being displayed with impunity by us? Are we setting the right example for others to follow or sending the right signals? Are we projecting our service as a hallmark of pride of the nation?. The answer is definitely in the negative. Our internal organisational behaviour ultimately extends to how we are treated by the outside world and we definitely need to improve on how we interact with our own. There is no dearth of examples as to how we dig our own graves. How often do we see more than one Commissioned Officers being bunched into below-status single rooms in Messes on the ground of non-availability. I, for myself have seen situations where ample accommodation is available but still officers being asked to stay in small living spaces on the pretext that the (abundant) vacant accommodation is a contingency back-up for (imaginary) ‘VIPs’. Do we see the same on the civil side ? Do we see SDMs who are equivalent to Lieutenants of the Army being asked to live and stay in rooms like we do ? Never. Often we see junior officers being asked to travel in heavy trucks despite the availability of respectable light transport, why do we do this? Do we expect people outside to be impressed by a strapping young Captain in Combats sitting in a Three Tonner ? Do we, by this action, attract youngsters to join the services ? No amount of ‘Do you have it in you ?’ campaign would work unless we bring the pride, the glamour and the respectability back into our uniform and the so called ‘baboos’ are not responsible for this, the problem lies closer to us than we think – each of us is to blame. Honour has no rank. A Subaltern is much more capable than merely looking for an apt place to put the shamiyana in the Mess lawn. That Subaltern’s civilian counterpart - an SDM or an Addl DC/DM with the same education and from the same recruitment pool, looks after the revenue, executive, administrative, law & order and quasi-judicial functions of an entire sub-division and sometimes even a district and we are not even able to trust our own guy with a Light Motor Vehicle !

How we behave and conduct ourselves outside ultimately has an indirect effect on how people in uniform are perceived and it percolates down to the last rank in the file. PB-4 or no PB-4, the Indian military officer is not badly paid but still we see senior officers in uniform driving around scooters and mobikes to save a few bucks. I’m not such an elitist to be against officers driving two-wheelers out of passion, but we should not project such a miserly picture to the outer world. Officers can absolutely afford respectable means of personal travel. And still we see Commissioned Officers using such means of public transport definitely below their status and class, why ? Irrespective of remuneration, it does not happen in the civil services so why in the defence services ?. We sitting in Headquarters try to impose restrictions on our own people, for example in travel and accommodation guidelines even when the govt does not. As you read this, someone sitting somewhere would be working on how to impose an in-house restriction on the new TA-DA regime introduced after the 6th CPC !, on how to ensure that officers are not able to draw thousands per day for hotel accommodation and to ensure that they continue staying in small rooms in messes with three other roommates clamouring for time in the single attached bath.

Excessive ‘Sirring’ outside the organisation should also cease. While ‘Sir’ may just be a substitute for ‘Shreeman’ for us, it does not have the same connotation outside. It is a symbol of servility in the civil world. Broadly speaking, in my humble opinion, constitutional appointments and senior civil officers elder in age and with an established longer length of Group-A service should only be addressed as ‘Sir’ while ‘Mr’ should be the correct form of address for others. We are so naive that we ourselves first pamper others with our servility and then curse when a Pay Commission degrades our status. When a Major calls up his counterpart in a civil department, he talks less and Sirs more and when that civil counterpart calls up a Colonel, he addresses him as ‘Colonel Sahib’. And once you sir them, they would expect all officers of similar rank to behave likewise. The problem is that to get a piece of work done, we stoop to any level, don’t we ? And in the bargain end up damaging our service for personal short-term gains. There are, on the other hand, also examples of military officers not sirring their own seniors in length of service (who are junior in rank) within the services but displaying servility towards junior civilians. I’ve also seen selection grade officers not sirring senior time-scale ones, where are we going ? Have we forgotten the age old adage that in the defence services, irrespective of rank, ‘once senior is always senior’ ?. Sirs and Ma’ams, I do not mean to talk sharp but to earn respect from outsiders we need to first respect our own juniors and seniors.

So friends the time has come to get out of the cocoon, be aware of what’s happening around us and finally WAKE UP in the interest of our dignity and the pride of our respective services. There should be prudence all around but not such silliness that we reduce all our privileges, facilities and benefits provided to us by law to a poor joke. We need to stop cribbing about ‘baboos’, they are not that bad. On the contrary, we need to take pride in our uniform and what we do, we need to put more responsibility on the shoulders of our youngsters and redeem our self-esteem, ego should be shunned but self-respect has to be granted its utmost due. Let us do our homework.
Posted by Navdeep / Maj Navdeep Singh

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