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'An indisciplined armed force is extremely dangerous'

Last updated on: September 26, 2012 23:05 IST

The second of a three-part series where senior army officers discuss the Indian Army's recent disciplinary crisis.

Today, Lieutenant General B T Pandit (retd) tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih 'The bedrock of the armed force is discipline. I'd rather have a relatively ill equipped armed force with better discipline than other way around.'

First part of the series: Lieutenant General D B Shekatkar (retd): 'Army needs change in thinking, approach, attitude'

Lieutenant General B T Pandit (retd), who won the Vir Chakra for valour in the 1971 war, sits opposite a painting of the historic Battle of Basantar which won him the honour. The painting has a central place in the retired general's Pune home.

Speaking to Rediff.com's Archana Masih, the former adjutant general of the Indian Army dwells on the reasons behind the recent cases of indiscipline in the army; the permissive attitude towards indiscipline that persists through the nation and people's expectation of different behaviour from the armed forces.

Are the recent instances of indiscipline in the Indian Army aberrations or a serious matter?

We are somewhere in between an aberration and general theory. We can't play it down as an aberration. It is closer to aberration than general indiscipline. It can still be corrected.

There are strong powers given in the hands of the commander, those are more effective when the so-called satisfaction levels with the service conditions is high.

A recent incident happened in Kathua, near Pathankot, where a group of army men destroyed a railway police chowky. We don't know what the story is, it obviously is an act of indiscipline.

Men tend to be indisciplined if they lose faith in the system. And the system starts commanding officer upwards right up to the government.

They also see the atmosphere towards indiscipline is so permissive in the nation, then this self doubt arises that nothing happened to someone else, why should it happen to me? It permeates down.

There are reasons for the frustration of officers and jawans with the social environment. How much of this comes from comparisons with their civil counterparts who may be better of?

Society is getting materialistic. Families are becoming more demanding, rightly, because aspirations are rising.

In my forty years of service, not even once was I asked for a bribe. Now men and officers are subjected to giving bribes for getting their work done. How long will that chap tolerate it?

One day when he is in a position to take a bribe he will think that I have been paying bribes all my life, why should I not take it now?

We were in service when there was very little money. The tremendous intangibles in life were respect and status. You wore a uniform and no door was closed. Today, you are ignored.

Why does society expect different behaviour from the armed forces than it does from a bureaucrat, a policeman when they are not ready to treat them differently?

But compared to the bureaucrat, policeman, the paramilitary forces, the people respect the armed forces more than they respect the others.

That respect is being eroded.

How serious are the instances of indiscipline and what does it mean for the Indian Army?

The bedrock of the armed force is discipline. I'd rather have a relatively ill equipped armed force with better discipline than other way around.

An undisciplined armed force is not only undesirable, it is extremely dangerous because our forces are well trained, and well armed to achieve their objective.

They achieve the objective either by use of violence, or threat of violence or ability to impose violence.

If you put these together and take away the discipline, then God help us.

There is a very close relationship between crime and punishment. In society this seems to be finishing because if crime is caught, there is no punishment. But in the armed forces, crime and punishment are very closely interlinked.

At the same time discipline and welfare are the two sides of the leadership prerogative; it is like a father disciplining a child. Any commander is not only there to look after his men, he is also there to ensure discipline.

Like a parent, punishment is given as reformative, not punitive.

We have a system of summary punishment, where the commanding officer notices the crime, charge-sheets the person, gives him a chance to defend and himself decides on the punishment.

Once Bansi Lal, the then Raksha Mantri, asked me how can one person decide all when he could be a friend of the accused? So I asked him the same thing, 'Did you ever reprimand your son?' We are taught to maintain or create the same relationship in the armed forces.

In the armed forces, the overriding factor is to maintain good order and discipline. An undisciplined unit is a dangerous thing.

In a battalion size unit -- 1,000 odd men, 25 officers -- everyone knows that a crime has been committed, everyone knows who has committed the crime.

If that person is allowed to go scot-free, that is more detrimental on the discipline of the unit, than if I may say an innocent man being punished.

Discipline should not be compromised.

Do you feel it has been compromised?

I wouldn't say it has been compromised, I would say our threshold for tolerance is rising. It is happening in society too.

The threshold for tolerance is rising for various reasons, one of them is misplaced loyalty -- if I bring out the incident of theft in my unit, people will say this battalion is bad.

So in that misplaced loyalty, you push it under the carpet.

Second, the higher commanders are also watching, so if a number of cases of indiscipline takes place in a unit, it does reflect in the mind of the senior commander about the commanding officer.

The CO has only two years. On his performance resides his future, so he says, 'Let my two years pass, whatever happens let it happen after I go.'

It is only the armed forces who can try cases. Our court martial is a jury. Where a number of your colleagues are trying you and decide by a majority.

You say the threshold for tolerance increasing is one of the reasons. What are the other reasons for these instances of indiscipline in the army which happened in combat units in operational areas?

The types of indiscipline cases vary. Some are individual aberrations -- being drunk etc -- but an act of indiscipline which affects the moral ascendency of the commander, that is what is hurting us. If it affects the unit it is terrible.

Take the case of the Samba unit where the men revolted against the officers. In Nyoma, Leh and in Gurdaspur -- if taken in a serial, it is alarming, but I must tell you there must be thousands of army units and the officer-man relationship in the Indian Army is among the best in the world.

Our jawans are among the best in the world.

A good unit or bad unit is dependent on whether the officers are good or not. This is a command-oriented army and a lot depends on the commander on the spot.

Personal example has to be followed.

Earlier, it was easy to command respect. The commanders have to be sensitive to the changing attitudes of the jawans. Jawans are better educated, better informed, their access to information is more.

You have to attain moral ascendancy before you demand respect. People should not respect you because you have authority, but because of your ability and fairness.

And our men demand very little. You take one step towards them, they will take 49 towards you. They like you to be with them when things are difficult.

What should be done to arrest the incidents of indiscipline?

It is being done. The situation is not bad. We have to stem it first and roll it down. The only way it can be done is by setting a personal example.

The army is a way of life, but if you treat it as a profession, things change. Then you have no moral commitment, only a material connection with the job.

You served at a different time, now young men and women look up at the armed forces like just another profession, rather than a way of life.

Society being materialistic is something we cannot control. The present officers and men are very well off white money-wise. If you compare the black money available to other jobs, then there is no comparison.

Three things have to be taken care of: The child's education. Post service housing and a second career, especially for a soldier who retires at 35, 40.

How can you call him retired? It's like saying Tendulkar is retiring from cricket!

As of now things are still manageable, but there's no time to lose.

Do you think the officer of today has become a prisoner of his service record book?

Our generation thought about doing the present job. When I was a captain, I did not think of the next level. Today's generation thinks of what I should do to get there, that ambition also comes to play.

Ambition sometimes forces you take shortcuts.

In today's changing times do officers need sahayaks (orderlys) for their uniforms etc. Sometimes the misuse of sahayaks also adds to the jawan's frustration?

Why don't you ask the police officer who has three telephone operators?

The police officer doesn't need three operators either.

The need of the sahayak is there, but his duties have to spelt out. Up to 1962 there was a category called non combatants. They were cooks, sahayaks, dhobis etc.

After the 1962 debacle it was decided that everyone should be prepared to fight. I think we are going back to that system of having non combatants as sahayaks.

General V K Singh announced this before he retired. Sahayak is very much required, particularly in field areas. They should not be misused. There is no shortcut to personal example.

How do you compare the officers of today with earlier times?

The social background of officers is different. It is attracting people from the lower middle class. We must welcome it. Earlier, it was the upper middle class and above.

Our officers today are very good, especially at the unit level. The army job is field job. In the army a large hearted commander is better than a brainy commander.

Archana Masih