Monday, October 24, 2011

Army Officers and the Golden Norms

This is an excellent write up.
Best wishes.
Harbhajan Singh
Please find an excellent article, ARMY OFFICERS AND SEVEN GOLDEN NORMS by Veteran Bombay Sapper Maj Gen Mrinal Suman, AVSM, VSM, PhD.
Gen Suman is a soldier, a scholar, a thinker and a prolific writer on matters Military and National Security. He is known for being frank and forthright in expressing his views; and, his articles are a reader’s delight.
Veterans are welcome to comment on the article and fwd the same to Maj Gen Mrinal Suman
 Army Officers and Seven Golden Norms
by Major General Mrinal Suman, AVSM, VSM, PhD
Of late, the Army has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Apart from coining highly outrageous and derogatory terms like 'Ketchup Colonel,' 'Booze Brigadier' and 'Frisky General', media has covered delinquent activities like unauthorised sale of weapons and corrupt practices in sufficient detail. Consequently, the public image of a military officer has been indescribably dented.
The edifice of the Indian Army is built on the twin pillars of committed leadership and motivated soldiers. Both are intrinsically linked and mutually contingent. Distortions in one cause shock waves in the other as well. Whereas our soldierly stock continues to be excellent, it is the fall in the quality of the leadership that is a cause for concern.
Militaries by nature are conservative and thrive on well-evolved traditions, precedents and conventions, which over a period of time get translated into norms. Norms are unwritten rules which need to be followed diligently for the continued sustenance of a military. Norms can be descriptive (what to do or ‘Dos’) and proscriptive (what not to do or ‘Don’ts’). A norm gives a rule of thumb for conduct. The Indian Army finds itself in the current mess primarily due to the dilution/neglect of seven golden norms by the officer cadre.
1. “Impartiality – an ethical requirement”
Fair and unprejudiced deportment is an essential component of an officer’s morality. Impartiality means treating everyone as equal and rewarding them on their merit alone. Any commander who acts in a discriminatory manner to grant favours to his regimental mates, community members or protégé is guilty of breach of trust and faith. Partisanship is impropriety of the worst kind, erodes credibility of leaders and encourages parochialism. Humans identify themselves with an organisation only when visible merit-performance ethical linkage in place. A system should be put in place to weed out all officers who display biases of any nature.
2. “Prompt redressal of grievances – every soldier’s right”
Close to one lakh cases involving service personnel are pending in various courts. It reflects poorly on the Army’s grievance redressal mechanism. Soldiers knock at courts’ doors only when driven to it as a last resort, after losing faith in the sense of justice and the fairness of the system. They feel aggrieved and deprived of their rightful dues, giving rise to dissentions and litigations. Although an elaborate mechanism (from ‘arzi report’ at unit level to statutory complaints at the Government level) is in place, inadequate attention is being paid to this critical aspect of man-management. Many grievances are misplaced due to lack of information and can be resolved at the unit level itself. Soldiers’ faith in the credibility of the system must never be allowed to wane.
3. “Empathy for men under command – a moral obligation”
The Indian Army has been rocked by a large number of suicide and fratricide cases. In most cases, officers’ had failed to handle the reckless soldiers with due compassion. Unlike other organisations, relationship between a military leader and his men is based on the twin pillars of commander’s empathy for his men and unflinching loyalty of the subordinates. Soldiers willingly repose faith in a leader in the belief that he would safeguard their interests. Exhorting men in the name of the regimental spirit, some self-seeking leaders drive their men unduly hard to fulfill their own aspirations. With shortened command tenures, commanders are hard pressed to prove their worth for further promotions. Resultantly, welfare of troops is totally neglected. Men are quick to gauge true disposition of their leaders. Any leader who lacks empathy for his men and uses them purely for his personal advancement loses their trust.
4. “Safeguarding predecessor’s honour – every officer’s sacrosanct responsibility”
It is a proscriptive norm not to let down one’s predecessor. There are understandable reasons for this norm. One, decisions are always taken as per the prevailing circumstances and with inputs available at that time. It is very easy to find fault with them in retrospect with the benefit of the hindsight. Two, a predecessor is never present to defend his actions. Thus, vilifying him amounts to his trial in absentia. Three, military as an institution, is highly sensitive to the reputation of its leadership. When leaders try to malign each other, troops’ wonder if such officers are worthy of their confidence.
5. “Ostentatious living – an anathema to soldiering”
Soldiering stands for honorable but simple living. Undoubtedly, an officer must live comfortably and should be financially secure to fulfill his obligations to his family and save enough for his old age. However, pompous lifestyle is most unbecoming of a soldier. Strength of an army officer’s character lies in moderation exercised by him. Rising ostentatious extravagance, both in personal and organisational matters, is a cause for concern. Worse, over the last few years, five-star culture has given way to seven-star culture and an unhealthy competition has set in. For unit functions, all activities from catering and decoration to entertainment are being outsourced at huge costs. Costliest whisky is served. Even, ‘Barakhanas’ are being outsourced. Many cases of misuse of official funds are a direct outcome of ostentatious profligacy. Therefore, there is an urgent need to put an end to excessive extravagance.
6. “Segregation in social gatherings – an affront to junior officers”
When a proposal to have segregated seating arrangement for officers of different ranks for a social function was put up to the Late Field Martial Cariappa, he shot it down with remarks that stratification in social functions will damage cohesion of the officer cadre. Today, it is one’s rank that determines one’s seat and even the type of drink offered – scotch for seniors and cheaper whisky for others. It is reprehensible to see separate areas earmarked for different ranks, even with different décor and menus. It has become a common practice for the senior brass to huddle together and there is little mixing with the junior officers and their wives. Instead of promoting camaraderie amongst officers, such occasions become a highly humiliating experience for the juniors, thereby breeding dissatisfaction and dissentions. Worse, seniors miss an opportunity to ‘feel the pulse’ of their commands and establish rapport with their subordinates.
7. “Ladies have no role in official functioning”
Immense respect is accorded to the ladies in the services. However, they can never be allowed to meddle in official matters. Unfortunately, to satisfy the ego of commanders’ wives, a parallel command hierarchy has proliferated under the garb of family welfare activities. They move around in army vehicles with staff officers in toe. They contribute little to the genuine welfare of troops but get a façade to interfere in organisational affairs. Most soldiers consider such activities to be wasteful and irksome as they divert attention from the essential to the non-essential. Worse, undue interference by ladies in unit functioning invariably results in creating dissentions and causing fissures in unit cohesion.
Claudia Kennedy rightly remarked that an army damages itself when it doesn’t live up to its own values. The present mess that the Indian Army finds itself in is entirely due to the dilution of values that have sustained it for decades. As attitudes undergo changes, value system is understandably impacted. Attitudes are affected both by implicit and explicit influences. In addition to personal beliefs and experience, attitudes in the services are influenced by the organisational environment (traditions, precedents and conventions). The Army must ensure that organisational norms that mould attitudes are nurtured carefully and corrective measures taken expeditiously, lest the situation drifts beyond redemption.
Related Reading
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