With senior officers of the Army coming under a scanner in the case relating to an attempt to transfer of a major chunk of land adjoining the military cantonment to a private trust in the Eastern Sector, credibility of the armed forces has taken a further hit. There is no doubt that the Army Court of Inquiry into the incident is not yet complete and the media appears to have come to premature conclusions. But the very fact that such senior officers of the rank of Lieutenant General are under the scanner is a cause of concern.
One of them occupies the pivotal post of Military Secretary. The MS is one of those who reports directly to the Army Chief and is a Principal Staff Officer (which allows him to interact with various ministries on behalf of the Army). Moreover, his office is responsible for all the postings and transfers in the fauj. If the person at that post is facing inquiries, how is he supposed to inspire confidence in his choice of postings and transfers? Moreover, if reports of an officer approved to be the Deputy Chief, which is also a PSO appointment, besides a Corps Commander are under a cloud, it can be averred that there is need for greater scrutiny for appointments to top jobs. The two Deputy Chiefs are responsible for systems, training and acquisition of military equipment. Imagine, some of these are people who have commanded corps headquarters, which are the highest fighting formations.
Most Army officers are quick to defend their brother officers facing inquiries. The other day in a discussion on CNN-IBN news channel, where I too was invited, a senior army officer said that this particular case was an isolated one and the situation was far worse in the civil. Undoubtedly, if you compare the forces with the environment around them and other services, their credibility is still phenomenal. But, then, if you compare the armed forces today with what they were four decades back, their credibility has taken a nose dive over the years. And it is this reputation and ethos that the armed forces, which are the last instrument of state policy, should be concerned about.
The question often asked is: how has the credibility taken a nose dive over the years? Besides issues within the armed forces, apathy on the part of successive governments on their pay, perks, and status has affected the morale of the rank and file. Armed forces are not attracting the best talent to the officers’ cadre. Defence officers have started looking at other ways to either enrich themselves or seek after-retirement jobs. The latter appears to be the case here.
What needs to be done? One, there is need, as I said, for greater scrutiny for appointment to higher ranks. Two, greater empathy on the part of the government to the requirements of the armed forces. This will ensure that their morale remains high. Three, the stipulation of the two-year cooling-off period after retirement for taking up any civilian job, should be strictly enforced. This should apply to even the Army Chief and also government jobs such as ambassadors and governors. This will ensure that they have nothing but the wellbeing of the armed forces in mind while they don the uniform.