My understanding of the way performance and rewards work is as follows. Performance deserves reward, commensurate to achievement and based on established norms. The organisation enables performance through provision of resources and infrastructure, while the performer provides sweat and talent – knowledge & skills – towards attaining success. Having attained success, the performer justly expects reward. Apropos Subedar Vijay Kumar, so far so good. But what if the performer, even without waiting for the reward system to kick in, starts making demands for rewards with a underlying threat of quitting the organisation if the demands are not met?
There is no taking away from Vijay’s laudable achievement, and he truly deserves to be rewarded in the best possible manner. However, his conduct in making an announcement through the media, even before landing back in the country, that he would quit the Army in case he is not promoted to a level equivalent to an IAS officer, has been a little jarring. The pre-emptive ultimatum was a demand for reward, made with a gun held on the Army’s head. Implied was the insinuation - ” now that I have arrived, the Army needs me more than I need the Army”. What Vijay does not comprehend is that no matter what his achievements and contribution, an individual can never be bigger than the organisation. Specially in a situation where the organisation’s support and nurturing has been a vital factor behind the achievement, such an attitude smacks of arrogance and ungratefulness.
Doubtlessly, Vijay’s status as a Subedar would probably not be in keeping with his new found standing and affluence as an Olympic medallist – a problem not faced by then Maj Rajyawardhan Rathore who won an Olympic medal the last time around. But expecting the Army to supersede existing norms and precedences to overcome this disparity is not fair. An anticipatory threat of resignation is even more unfair because it presupposes a few thing. First that the Army is obliged to elevate him to an officer’s rank. And second that such a thing will not happen in the normal course – borne out by his statement that he hasn’t received a promotion in the past six years. Glossing over the fact that the same Army has promoted him four times over the rank he would ordinarily have held. Most significantly, it also presupposes that now onwards he does not really need the Army’s backing and support to pursue his sport.
But by his immature utterings, arising probably out of immaturity and sense of insecurity, Vijay has marred his moment of triumph in the eyes of many like me. Had he been a little more mature, he would probably have waited for the Army to declare what they planned for him. Then, if that did not meet his aspirations, he could have represented, or put in his papers and taken up one of the many opportunities that are available to him.
The Army authorities find themselves in an acutely embarrassing position as a result of Vijay’s immature premature statements. On one hand they are constrained to follow the rules regarding out of turn promotions. On the other hand they would not like to lose a poster boy, a potential source of motivation for recruitment. Now, even if Vijay is promoted through a special dispensation, the Army would come out looking as if it buckled under pressure and did something they would not otherwise have done. Any which way you look at it, the Army comes out being embarrassed.
Vijay Kumar is not the first outstanding sportsman that the armed forces have produced. Olympians like Maj Dhyan Chand (who did rise from the ranks to retire as a Maj ) and Col Rajyawardhan Rathore (who has got promotions only as per his turn) to Everest summiteers, to unsung heroes like Commander Dilip Donde – the first Indian, and amongst a select club of about 175 people world wide to carry out solo circumnavigation of the earth in a sailboat- who also, incidentally did not receive any out of turn promotions. Nor is he the last – people will continue to make the forces proud with their achievements long after Vijay’s moment in the limelight is over.
The best way for the Army to deal with the situation now would be to announce the rightful rewards due to Vinay – promotion as per rules, and also an AVSM in keeping with what it gave Rajyawardhan Rathore. That done, it should allow Vijay Kumar to go in his quest for pastures greener than the Olive Greens.