The Indian Army's plans to induct civilians for a three-year tenure drew a mixed response from military and strategic affairs experts on Thursday with some calling it "fanciful" and warning of inherent risks that could have implications for national security while others said it was timely and will strengthen the forces.
The experts, were, however of the view that the proposal must be deliberated upon in great detail and adequate care must be taken before implementing what is being touted as a "game-changer".
A number of former military officers wondered why the army has brought forth the proposal when they should have focused on making the short service commissioning attractive while aiming to induct talented young professionals into the 1.3 million force.
"We cannot ape the West. No other army in the world has got 7,000 kms of land frontiers to guard. The proposal will have implications on internal as well as external security dimensions of the country," Lt Gen (retd) Rameshwar Roy said.
Lt Gen Roy, who served extensively in Jammu and Kashmir including as a Corps Commander, claimed that the new proposal has a political dimension, asserting that a "false sense" of nationalism and patriotism cannot be generated by recruiting people for three years in the armed forces.
Among those who supported the proposal included former Army Chief Gen (retd) J J Singh.
"It is an out-of-the box idea which I am sure would be extensively deliberated upon. It is for those who have a feeling to have a military background and not wanting to have a career in the Army. It may also help inculcating discipline into the civil sector," he said.
Asked whether the move has a political overtone, Gen Singh did not give a direct comment and said:"The army has been the most nationalistic force. The army has been the most motivated force which is always ready to make supreme sacrifices for the country. The nation comes always first for us."
In an ambitious move, the Indian Army is considering a proposal to allow civilians including young working professionals to join the force for a three-year tenure as officers and in other ranks for a variety of roles in diverse areas like logistics and in front-line formations.
Lt Gen Roy also said the Indian Army cannot afford to have the luxury of training somebody for 10 months and take his services only for three years.
"Our army is a grounded army. You learn from experiences. By the time, anyone will be able to contribute to the army, he will be out under the new concept. The idea looks very fanciful," he added.
Former Deputy Chief of Army Lt Gen (retd) Gurmit Singh called the proposal "timely" and said it will help in bringing people closer to the military culture.
"It will be an excellent opening for those who want to contribute to national security. After the Pulwama strike, this sentiment has grown. The proposal will also help the army deal with the problem of shortage of offices," he said.
Lt Gen (retd) Ashok K Mehta too welcomed the move, saying the reform initiative will further strengthen the army.
A number of former military generals, on condition of anonymity, spoke strongly against the proposal holding that such a move could be detrimental to India's national security interest.
"People serving in the army for three years may go away with vital security details and leak them to the adversaries," one of them said.
Several former military officials also questioned linking the proposal with resurgence of nationalism and patriotism, saying it was not appropriate to draw parallels.
A concept note on the proposal said there has been a "resurgence of nationalism and patriotism" in the country and there was a need to tap the feeling among the youths who do not want to join the army as a profession but wish to experience military life for a temporary duration.
"Does India lack nationalism or are we getting nationalistic and patriotic through a backdoor by serving in the armed forces. I am not fond of the idea of honing nationalism and patriotism by putting a man through a temporary three years in service and then throw him to check whether he has become patriotic," said another former general without agreeing to be quoted.
According to the proposal, the people to be recruited under the new scheme will be eligible to be deployed as combatants in key forward locations and there will be no restrictions in their roles.
Strategic Affairs expert Dr Laxman Kumar Behera said those inducted under the proposed scheme must not be allowed to operate in core areas like front-line bases and adequate care must be taken to ensure that they do not get access to vital security details.
When sought his reaction, former Chief of Army Staff Gen (retd) Deepak Kapoor said, "It is just a proposal. One will have to study."
Some other generals also said there have been proposals including by the Ajay Vikram Singh committee to make the short service commission attractive.
"Under the new proposal, people will be trained for one year and then they will serve for three years. So effectively it will be a tenure of four years. If that is the case, then why not implement the original five year tenure under the short service commissioning," said another former army commander.
Terming the proposal a "game-changer", army sources said it is being examined by top commanders and its main aim is to bring people closer to the force by giving them an opportunity to experience military life.
"If approved it will be a voluntary engagement and there will be no dilution in selection criteria. Initially 100 officers and 1,000 men are being considered for recruitment as part of test bedding of the project," spokesperson of the India Army Col Aman Anand said.