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Indiscipline in armed forces: Where lies the blame?

October 03, 2012 21:25 IST

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

Part 1: Lieutenant General D B Shekatkar (retd): 'Army needs change in thinking, approach, attitude'

Part 2: Lieutenant General B T Pandit: 'An indisciplined armed force is extremely dangerous'

Today, Colonel John Taylor (retd), former adjutant at the Indian Military Academy and one of the Indian Army's legendary officers, explains why over-stretched middle rung officers, high stress levels and the fragile officer-jawan relationship are increasingly taking a toll on discipline, the cornerstone upon which the tradition name, fame, and valour of the armed forces is built.

Today, the most discussed topic about the armed forces is the steady decline of standards of discipline. "The good old days" are remembered with pride and the present 'state of affairs' are often deplored.

As the Adjutant of the Indian Military Academy (January 1977 to July 1979), besides other duties, I was also responsible for maintaining discipline and imparting disciplinary training to the Gentleman Cadets, which would last for their lifetime.

When I am asked to comment on the falling standards of discipline in the armed forces, the lyrics of the Hindi poet Pradeep come to my mind. The words are set to music as the poet laments, 'Dekh tere sansaar ki haalat, Kya ho gaya Bhagwan, kitna badal gaya insaan.'

Take a close, hard look at today's society. There is a fall in standards of virtues, values, discipline, family ties, loyalty, sincerity -- everything. Everyone wants to take short cuts to achieve money and success.

Post Independence, the ultimate desire of the youth was to join the armed forces. Sixty five years later, today, even 'traditional Army families' are encouraging their youth to join multinational organizations or the administrative services.

Everybody wants 'quick money' and 'immediate luxuries'. Working with the armed forces is considered to be difficult, tough, and a thankless job. Glamour and power lies in other occupations. Even the hands of daughters and sisters are not offered to an army man because of frequent transfers and postings to Siachen and other inhospitable terrain.

The morale of a jawan (in any of the three services) is dependent on:

  • The environment of his social circle -- friendly, hostile or indifferent.
  • His comfort zone -- living conditions, food, recreation and leave.
  • Security of his family back home.
  • Most importantly, his self respect -- how he is viewed by his seniors and peers -- his status in society.
  • His salary -- It affects his social status with his civilian counterparts and boosts his incentive to serve, even in difficult terrains.
  • Discipline has always been the cornerstone upon which is built the tradition name, fame, and valour of the armed forces. It is discipline that separates the rice from the chaff.

    When the civil administration fails -- be it earthquakes, floods, riots, children stuck underground or any other calamity, the armed forces always adorn the mantle of the saviour and is considered to be the only reliable friend who is always available 24x7.

    Why then have the standards of discipline gone down?

    Let us examine the changing trends:

  • Educational qualifications: The jawan is much more educated today. Minimum qualification required today is a Class 12 pass. The same qualification exists for an NDA officer's entry. The jawan does not hold the officer in awe any longer. He also has basic luxuries like cable television, a refrigerator, a motorcycle etc.

    Probably, he may have appeared for the NDA exam and not been successful. He has had greater exposure than his father or grandfather, who also served in the armed forces.

    Today he wants more!If not monitored correctly, frustrations levels will set in quicker than ever before.

  • The Officer-Jawan relationship: Major General Henderson Brookes visited my platoon when I was a Second Lieutenant. "Do you know the names of all your men," he asked. I replied in the affirmative.

    "Can you recognise each one from behind when they are wearing their helmets?" I truthfully replied that I would not be able to recognise them all.

    Thereafter came his profound statement, "You must! That is all you will get to see in War!"

    Wise words, which carry a lot of meaning. The Officer-Jawan bonding is definitely quite fragile today.

  • An officer's tenure with the battalion: The average Infantry Officer spends about 50 per cent of his 20- to 23-year tenure outside the battalion doing professional courses and staff and instructional tenures. Today, the trend is for officers to take a two-year study leave and do management or other vocational courses, which will help him rehabilitate after retirement.

    Remember, the average officer retires at the young old age of 52 to 54 years. To further compound matters, there is an acute shortage of officers and junior commissioned officers. The middle rung of officers is stretched to breaking point.

    Stress levels are high. Hostile environments of insurgency operations, cross border infiltrations, etc, with a 'no mistake' tag attached are a very heavy responsibility on the officer's shoulders.

    Commanders at all levels feel the stress. This aspect will have to be addressed if we wish to overcome lapses in discipline.

    When you rub shoulders with your jawans, you bond with them. They know you, you know them. 'Know your men and they will follow you to hell and back.'

  • Family responsibilities: A jawan is still a teenager when he leaves his village/home to serve the country. He moves from Ladakh to the North-East, Manipur to Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir to Chennai and so many other places, and is able to meet his family only once a year on annual leave.

    His family has to fend for themselves almost at all times. Education of his children, medical care, electrical connections, water problems -- basic household matters that assume major proportions due to insurmountable hurdles caused by the callous attitude of the civil administration.

    When officers of Lieutenant General rank have faced problems, one can just imagine what a jawan must be going through. Dwindling joint family systems, emphasis on sound education for children and educated, career-oriented wives are adding to the family responsibilities, which rest upon on a jawan's shoulders today.

  • Social values are rapidly changing. The officer and jawan are both part of the same society. There are always some rotten apples in the basket. These are more exceptions than the rule. The armed forces have a glorious past on which are based the traditions and values of a regiment or a battalion.

    These traditions are engrained in both officers and jawans alike. 'Espirit de Corps' is very much alive and followed religiously. "Paltan Ki Izzat" still remains all-important. An officer or jawan even today is ready to shed his blood and make the supreme sacrifice for the regiment, for the country.

    Nothing will change that. When the chips are down, the armed forces will always respond positively, effectively and swiftly. The enemy (internal or external) will be given a befitting reply always and every time.

    Lessons from the past which still apply and must be learnt:

  • Bond with your jawans.
  • Serve the battalion/regiment. Serve the jawans like they serve you.
  • Ensure that the jawans get the same facilities and comfort that you enjoy. It is their lawful right.
  • Give the jawans the respect that they duly deserve. Do not neglect them or turn them away.
  • Take time out to know the men you command. Make an effort to know of their families, their villages, their problems. Address their problems. You will earn their love and respect eternally.
  • Be a good, upright officer. Remember, reputation is more important than rank. Look after the jawan and there will be no question of indiscipline and falling standards of discipline.
  • Every Officer and anyone in the chain of command must not forget the motto of the National Defence Academy -- 'Service Before Self'. Remember the words of Field Marshal Sir Philip W Chetwood, written on the walls of Chetwood Hall at the Indian Military Academy. He places the jawan next in importance after the country.

    Field Marshal Chetwood says, 'The honour, welfare and well being of your men come next always and every time. Your own welfare and well being comes last always and every time. Sometimes over the years, the meaning of these words fades away and is forgotten; that is when trouble can raise its ugly head.'

    Colonel John Taylor (retd)