Even as militaries around the world analyse ongoing operations in the Ukraine conflict, to learn lessons and unlearn some tactics, a former Chief of Naval Staff has been unsparing with an ‘avoidable lesson’ tweet. His attack on the proposed ‘Tour of Duty’ recruitment model hit high and hit hard. At his acerbic best, Admiral Arun Prakash equated the sinking of Russia’s Slava class guided-missile cruiser Moskva, to sloppy decision making and inadequate knowledge of the crew. He tweeted, “positioning a 12500-ton cruiser so close inshore was a bad idea. Losing it to 2X160 kg warheads speaks of a “Tour of duty” crew.”
Exactly. As in air combat, it is the astute deployment of weapon platforms & their competent tactical manoeuvring that decides outcomes at sea. Positioning a 12500 ton cruiser so close inshore was a bad idea. Losing it to 2×160 kg warheads speaks of a “Tour of duty” crew. https://t.co/neXABaNSGh
— Arun Prakash (@arunp2810) May 8, 2022
This has once again brought the spotlight on the controversial proposal of the Narendra Modi government, strangely called ‘Tour of Duty’, which has been doing the rounds for the last two years. It is ostensibly aimed at cutting the pension bill of the armed forces through surreptitious means of ‘exposing the youth to the armed forces’. Eager unemployed young males are meant to be selected for three years of service, and then encouraged into civilian life through corporate employment or re-induction into the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). The terms of service could even stretch to five years, but no more. And hence no pension.
The fact that the government thinks it fit to curb budgetary pension allocations only by cutting military numbers is a point that is not lost on the armed forces community. The vast blubber of disposable departments continue to retain their status while the military has to pay the price, literally, for shoddy financial management. This has come to the point where recruitment hasn’t happened for the last two years, as neither the Army, Navy, nor Air Force held any rallies, and which has already led to a shortfall of about 1.3 lakh soldiers. Coupled with its extraordinary deployment in Ladakh on account of Chinese incursions, the Army is stretched beyond all elastic limits.
The consequences of the new plan
The ‘Tour of Duty’ proposal, while morally questionable, has two major consequences in store for the country, and the Army. Because of the large numbers that are likely to be involved in this process of recruitment, training, deployment and then subsequent discharge, it is worth looking at the actual picture that will appear on ground. Of his three years of service, a young man will spend the first in training—where he will be treated with disdain by his instructors, abused by his seniors and barely tolerated by his peers. He will be expected to get up before dawn, learn to polish his boots, maintain his uniform and posture, salute smartly, and all the while perform simple guard duties.
The purely military skill that he’ll learn is to dismantle, oil and reassemble his rifle, and fire it where told to aim. In the remaining two years of his service, he may well have to fire in anger, and be on the receiving end too. Or he may just spend the time on guard duties, stealing moments to surf the net on his smartphone.
With these skill sets he will enter the job market, a tiger as he’s made out to believe from his training, but without fangs now. And he faces competition from thousands who are hungry like him.
Simple arithmetic suggests that, ‘Going by the current numbers, up to 50,000 young men in their early twenties, trained in inflicting organised violence and, with combat experience, could be demobilised every year’.
This is an extraordinary number of young men to be made jobless year in and year out. It is certain that neither corporate India, nor the CAPFs, will be able to absorb this volume of military surplus manpower. As a competing department from across the road, it is a bit arrogant to assume that CAPF will be waiting with open arms for young men demobbed every year.
No one wants them, not even corporates
Since a three-year service precludes them from any administrative experience, these young men are unlikely to be attractive to the corporate sector. There is only a limited number of vacancies in the corporates for those who can, and will, fire a weapon. So that pushes these trained weapons handlers into the public sphere where testosterone runs riot every day, fuelled by the inanities of Indian television. Azamgarh, Ghazipur and their Bollywood inspired exports run the risk of being out shot by the better trained. A recipe that is combustible and a disaster of unimaginable proportions. However, that is not the only catastrophe in the making.
The Army had put into place a model for recruitment that selected from every state as a percentage of its male population, a formula called Recruitable Male Population (RMP). RMP of every state depended on census figures and ensured that the Army represented the country as a whole, and not a select cabal. This impeded any coup chances, an unsaid but honestly accepted fact. Now, however, there is a proposal as part of ‘Tour of Duty’ to do away with RMP and recruit from across the country without any formula or percentages. So not only will some states lose out, but the make-up of the Army will also undergo an enforced change. The ‘similar’ will be preferred for selection, and they will also be out soon enough—a change the country or the Army can ill-afford.
Manvendra Singh is a Congress leader, Editor-in-Chief of Defence & Security Alert and Chairman, Soldier Welfare Advisory Committee, Rajasthan. He tweets @ManvendraJasol. Views are personal.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)