The Indian Army headquarters is once again indulging in its newfangled fancy, a ‘cadre review and restructuring’. It is a process in which the functioning, the numbers and the appointments within the armed forces are periodically evaluated for upgrades or any other changes required.
This has become a familiar exercise owing to its frequency in the last decade or so. Earlier, the armed forces had enhanced some appointments and reviewed the ranks. But this time, it is an internal exercise aimed at reducing the intake of officers and jawans and redoing the existing officers’ hierarchy. This can potentially affect the functioning of the Army as a whole, and lead to a long-term friction within various cadres.
A case of misplaced priorities
Each Army chief seems to think only he has the solution to every crisis, except those who serve within the system. So, every tenure is marked by yet another analysis, yet another attempt at finding a new formula, and yet another set of proposals that are aimed at pleasing everyone but those who are most affected – the serving personnel, their families and the larger veterans’ community who remain deeply connected to their brethren in uniform.
Lt Gen Prakash C. Katoch, the combat-decorated Special Forces veteran, recently highlighted some of the Army headquarters’ proposals doing the rounds in an article in Indian Defence Review.
He too finds the proposals perplexing, especially because they do not ultimately answer the fundamental crisis affecting the Army – the extraordinarily large number of vacancies across the rank structure. What was once seen as a crisis because of the large number of officers’ vacancies is now a bigger issue since the shortage is almost six times more in terms of other ranks.
In a written reply to the Rajya Sabha on 24 June 2019, Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh stated that of the overall 45,634 vacancies in the Army, 7,399 posts are for officers.
This is the real crisis deeply felt within the Army, but the HQ seems only interested in tinkering with its cadre, intakes, promotion avenues, and covertly reducing the overall numbers. These may please the political authorities who then will not have to periodically give parliamentary answers, and declare ad nauseam, ‘shortages will be covered through enhanced recruitment drives, and entitlements’. But none of these have altered the overall deficit, and the crisis within continues to linger.
Instead, the Army HQ should be more concerned about why vacancies continue to pile up, and why suitable candidates can’t be found to fix the shortages. But it prefers to be more interested in redoing a structure that has stood the test of time, thus potentially altering its functional ethos beyond repair.
Bizarre proposals, serious consequences
The Army is a remarkably cohesive institution in a country that is constantly beset with socio-political issues. The Army’s ability to absorb talent from every tehsil and community of India and train them to fight as a single combat force is a remarkable sociological achievement for which it has not been given its due.
Of all the institutions across India, only the Army celebrates its vivid diversity and secular ethos, in the battlefield and outside. But the new cadre review will put the Army under greater internal stress than any of the previous tinkering.
Among the many bizarre proposals that are being bandied about in the Army HQ, none is more unworthy and harmful than the idea that only officers from the National Defence Academy (NDA) will be given a regular commission. It needs to be read along with the proposal to increase the short service intake from Officers Training Academy (OTA) – but only 25 per cent of them will be given a permanent commission. This is downright dangerous, plays with the finely balanced existing structure, and will create a friction-prone combat force rather than an efficient fighting machine.
For starters, the Army’s officer cadre is a subtle, finely tuned structure, with an unwritten formula that divides it into four roughly equal parts. NDA, Indian Military Academy, OTA, and then Army Cadet College, Regimental Commission, Special List forming the last chunk. This is a formula that has been arrived at after years of functional experience, given the socio-economic peculiarities of India and the subsequent intake in the Army. Now to recommend NDA as the overarching commission, select only 25 per cent of the short service officers for permanent posts, and do away with the venerable Indian Military Academy (IMA) has two very serious consequences.
As Colonel Shambhu S. Deora, another Special Forces veteran, told me, “One type of entry is not healthy for a democracy. Diversity of intake is important for the service, and the nation.”
Nothing more needs to be added to this observation.
A recipe for disaster
The other equally dangerous consequence is that in a combat unit, soldiers taking orders from officers will now hierarchically classify them between the regular and the ‘other’. They will obviously pay greater attention to those who they will serve longer. Coupled with the proposal that two officers are to be reduced from each unit, this is a recipe for disaster.
American truisms are always useful, and in this instance, none is more instructive than the old adage, ‘why repair something which ain’t broken’.
What requires repair is the Ministry of Defence, which cannot find ways to fill up the vacancies in its armed forces, and whose civilian pension budget is extraordinarily high. Increasing efficiency and reducing the pension bill ought to be the ostensible reasons for a cadre review and restructuring. Neither of which is clearly required for the Army.
The author is a Congress leader and Editor-in-Chief of Defence & Security Alert. Views are personal.