Scholar Warriors : Indian Armed Forces Need to get the perception right

Sub Title : The Indian armed forces must work in unison to get perceptions about the military establishment right in the public eye

Issues Details : Vol 13 Issue Mar/Apr 2019

Author : Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM** (Retd)

Page No. : 62

Category : Regular Features

: April 22, 2019

The Armed Forces for some reason have not been able to create the right perception about themselves in the public eye. We need to work in unison to right this wrong. The aspect that soldiering requires intellectual skills must be conveyed to the public and polity of the country so that they get the right perspective. Our perception managers must also clarify our stance on NFFU least it is taken that we keep crying hoarse over nothing

I could not be writing on this subject at a more appropriate time. Public interest in the Armed Forces of India is at a high following the increasing turbulence in Kashmir and tension with Pakistan. Patriotic fervour too is high and the digital footprint has ensured that the uniform has a romantic link in the public mind; the film ‘Uri, the Surgical Strike’ has added to it. As a thought leader and one who has taken on the self-induced responsibility of improving India’s strategic culture, I feel happy with the inquisitiveness of the people but extremely peeved at the inability of the Armed Forces to convert uninformed adulation to a more solid appreciation of the challenges of being a warrior in India. In no small measure the inability on part of the Armed Forces to do this leads to the government’s reluctance to do more on legitimate demands.

The first of the challenges is the notion that the warrior profession is all about brawn and no brain. It’s for that reason that I go to lengths to bring alive the concept of the ‘ ‘scholar warrior’ at all my public and corporate talks. The amount of academic and professional study which goes into producing an officer and the subsequent sustenance of skill and cerebral capability needs to be suitably projected. Films do not show this because there is little romance attached to it. It’s only the weapon in the hand which attracts their attention. As Commander of the Junior Command Wing of the Army War College in 2009, I undertook the introduction of the American concept of the Scholar Warrior emphasising to officers at a malleable service level, of the need to enhance their cerebral ability and skills of both verbal and written articulation. The Internet revolution was upon us and officers were made to realise just how modern armies were witnessing doctrine and concept enunciated by junior ranked officers. In 2012 the Army War College (AWC) under its then dynamic Commandant, Lt Gen Anil Chait gave further substance to the idea of scholarship among warriors and emplaced a huge statue of a symbolic scholar warrior at the most prominent and visible site at AWC. Gen Chait had hoped that this symbolism would add to motivation for officers to go beyond the ordinary in the pursuit of scholarly skills. There is no doubt that scholarly pursuit has improved to a great extent in the Armed Forces and is not limited to only officers attending career courses. However, perception on this in the outside world has not changed. The media never carries information on this and the perception managers of the Army have never taken pains to get the media to project the other than romantic aspects of the profession to the public. The visual and print media is always ready to look at new and unvisited domains provided someone tells them about it. I intend to commence offering them more unsolicited advice.

The officer community needs to do some soul searching to realise why they are perceived in the outside world only suitable to manage security related jobs and their men to man gates and entrances. Until the perception changes that soldiering is associated with intellect too this attitude of the public and in fact of the political community and bureaucracy will never change.

Perception managers of the Armed Forces could also look at taking their profession to the political community and creating greater awareness among political leaders. There are many right thinking people there who will assist. Currently there is only peripheral interest. I was quite excited when a year ago I was invited by the Hon’ble Speaker of the Lok Sabha to address members of the lower house on India’s internal security challenges. However, I was dismayed when the turnout for the event did not have even ten percent of the house strength. To her credit the Hon’ble Speaker attended the entire session and appreciated the effort.

All three Services have outstanding think tanks which have come of age. Greater efforts must be made to attract the political community for special interactive sessions at these. I can never stop recalling how at the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) five elected members of the House of Commons joined the course for better strategic orientation. A Raksha Mantri coming out of such stock will contribute far more accurately to the MoD and the Services and will hopefully remain outside the bureaucratic stranglehold. What needs to be remembered is that the political community needs goading and a degree of ego balm. The political parties need sensitisation about the responsibility that their leaders carry towards national security and the fact that without adequate familiarisation their contribution can never be optimum. The need for informed debate in parliament to discuss issues related to defence preparedness is an essential legislative responsibility which does not get fulfilled unless members are adequately informed. If it’s not happened to the desired degree in 70 years then the Armed Forces must themselves do the urging for change and lead it.

Two of the most significant aspects related to national security included in the Kargil Review Committee report, examined and recommended by the Group of Ministers were the integration of the Ministry of Defence, by having uniformed personnel manning the ministry alongside civilian counterparts, and the setting up of a National Defence University (NDU). India’s callousness towards its national security is deeply reflected in the half baked measures that have been taken towards both recommendations. The setting up of an Integrated HQ with joint representation of the three Services in no way meets the recommendation even half way. Unless service officers function alongside bureaucrats within the ministry itself this requirement will not be met. The NDU does not appear anywhere on the horizon, with the foundation stone laid at Manesar by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2012 probably getting stuck. The three Services have meanwhile been sitting in vain hope without a whimper of protest and tomorrow will be held responsible for all the inadequacies in the system. While the Vice Chief of the Army Staff in 2018 spoke vociferously after a brief to the Parliamentary Committee and reported that inadequacy of budget support was forcing delay and virtual closure of 25 capital projects of the Army, none could follow up through sufficient sensitisation of the nation that without budget support there could never be guarantee of optimum national security.

In various forums that I have addressed and sensitised there is a perception that the government is doing much for national security. When the public is informed of the inadequacies and the hollowness in both capability, knowledge and intent people are indeed surprised. The media will voluntarily do as much as it can from its perception. Since there are very few media personalities adequately empowered by experience and cerebral capability to know about national security matters only issues of short term interest and ongoing events in Kashmir get highlighted. To its credit the Indian media devotes considerable time and energy to national security but the focus remains tactical and mundane except in a few programs. It’s the uniformed community and their veterans who should be guiding and advising. Unfortunately, too many without even basic operational orientation are appearing on media channels which have sprouted dime a dozen. This is where the three Services need to act in unison to get their perception through to the public, the political community and even the judiciary. The three Chiefs who these days are mostly criticised by rank and file for their squeamishness in putting service interests to the political leadership, should learn to be smarter. They have a huge veteran community which can be put to tremendous gain for the system.

The last example is the entire issue of Non Functional Financial Upgradation (NFFU) which was allowed to flow so long without tweak from within. 15 years ago, perception was different and the Services had an idealistic view of non merit based pay benefits. However, once the civil services gained this extremely unjustifiable facility how can the armed forces be allowed to remain deprived of it. While it is appreciated that the serving community should not and must not assert itself outside the ambit of channels not many in the system or outside it really know the nuances of it. In fact, why this was not acceptable to the Army and how it did not perceive the implications of being left out from NFFU purview is an unfortunate commentary on the hierarchy of the past. It appears the idea was given short shrift due to the very correct and ethical understanding that promotion, merit and compensation had an intrinsic linkage. However, the implications of others getting NFFU and the Services being without it should have occurred to the HR managers of that time. When a wrong has been committed against the men in uniform, and a wrong as serious as this, there are enough democratic ways of putting pressure on the decision makers. Except for BarkhaDutt’s lone efforts with a few veterans there has been nothing in the public domain to bring this to the surface, not even in print media. It’s the singular focus of a JAG Branch officer that the Services may yet get the long denied provision of NFFU.

The hierarchy of the three Services is going to be increasingly under more pressure due to its inability to sensitise decision makers nor the public on crucial issues about their functioning. Service discipline precludes them from going any further than just the accepted norms and the calls for their resignation are meaningless and is no answer. The smarter thing to do is to set up a better and more efficient joint public information system and making use of one asset they have, the veteran community. The veteran experts on the pay and pensions system for example are an example of focused intellect. There are domain experts from any domain which may become contentious at a given time. The only thing required is to establish an ethos of trust and mutual respect before addressing the problem.