An Officer and a Gentleman

Blogitorial Military Shortage of officers Traditions Values

Recent cases of mutinous behaviour by troops, including increasing incidences of assault on their own officers, have caused much comment in the media and within the circle of observers of military affairs. Much has been written about the possible causes. Growing chasm between officers and troops, caused by a shortage of officers, has been pegged as a major reason. The growing aspirations of the Jawans in the changed socio-economic environment is another. While all that is quite true, it is ironic that the problem is not only the increasing gap between officers and the men they command. It is, interestingly, also the DECREASE in this gap. Let me explain how.

The army is a hierarchical organization out of necessity, with the clarity and rigidity of the chain of command being an essential functional parameter. The system mandates that an order given by a senior officer has to be followed. There is no scope for discussing or questioning orders – specially in operations, despite the fact that execution of an order in this case may more often than not imply putting one’s life and limbs at risk. For a soldier to act on such an order unhesitatingly, he needs to be sure of two things.

Firstly, he has to have implicit faith and trust in the officer’s intention and integrity. That the officer will act in the best interest of the cause as well as in the soldiers’ own best interest within the bounds of serving that cause. For example, this means that the officer will not expose them to unwarranted risk for the sake of personal glory and awards. Secondly, he has to have faith that the officer is more competent and better informed than him to take that decision. If he is not convinced of this, he is likely to question the prudence of the officer’s decisions and fear the possible outcome of acting on them.

Faith and trust is gained over a period of time in interaction with the men and admittedly the shortage of officers and associated issues has resulted in officers spending lesser time in direct interaction with troops. But in my opinion, quality is more important than quantity when it comes to time spent in building this trust. It is less about how much time, but more about what is done doing during this time. If a young officer is on small arms firing ranges with his troops, is he standing at the firing point coaching the firing details, running up to check targets with them every time? Or is he sitting under a fly tent or a tree and watching from a distance? Besides, it is not only the conduct during time spent with the troops. An officer’s conduct at all times contributes towards trust building – or loss of trust. How does he conduct himself on and off parade, or what is his attitude towards use (or abuse) of regimental and government property. A combat unit is not unlike a joint family, where nothing remains hidden for long.

The point is that shortage of officers resulting in less time being spent with troops is not necessarily the only or even primary reason of decline in the level trust between officers and men in some units. The overall standards of deportment of the officers possibly has a lot to do with it.

The second aspect is a little more complicated. Traditionally, there was a distinct difference between the backgrounds of officers and men – social, economic and educational. This gap led the soldiers to believe that the officer was “better” than them and therefore qualified to lead them. While it may sound elitist, it is indeed a hard fact. So, although the officers and men of those times shared a close bond which withstood tests of time and extreme dangers, there was always an unspoken but clearly recognized gap between them. It was the acknowledgement of this gap that formed the superstructure on which the chain of command is based.

But today the gap in backgrounds of officers and men has narrowed from both ends – the officers and men are coming from less dissimilar backgrounds socially as well as economically. Even in terms of levels of education and awareness, the Jawans are closer to the officers than ever before.

This proximity on one hand, and the difference in status, emoluments and quality of life, on the other hand, is not easily accepted by the new generation of soldiers. The unacceptability is compounded by the fact that officers do not necessarily display the desired degree of probity and trustworthiness in their dealings. Thus, in instances where Jawans perceive high handed behaviour or unfairness on the part of their officer, they resort to actions ‘prejudicial to good order and military discipline’.

Amongst the factors discussed above, shortage of officers and growing similarities in the backgrounds of officers and men are not likely to be altered in the foreseeable future. What can be changed is the manner in which the officers prove themselves both – worthy of trust, and more competent than the men they command.

There needs to be a concerted effort in the Academies, Young Officers courses and in the units, to sensitize budding and young officers about these aspects. Greater emphasis needs to be paid to developing key military competencies amongst junior officers, and all officers need to be ‘officer like’ in their deportment at all times. Else, if this slide continues, many more incidents like Samba and Leh are inevitable.

27 thoughts on “An Officer and a Gentleman

  1. Forty years ago we had cos with 14 years of service,a 2ic and company Cdrs ranging from 11 to 7 yrs and the rest were young offers . Most had not Done their SC / JC . Today , we have a CO with 18 yrs, company Cdrs averaging 12/13 yrs and fewer young offrs, most having done SC/JC. Professional competence is obviously far higher today. What has changed today is the ever readymedia looking for drama and our people within who find it convenient to leak things to it. It isn’t that problems did not happen earlier , they did. And yes to some extent the officer shortage has to be making a diff in today’s units causing lack of commitment . The dark horse is the regimentation in a unit , a co who allows this to get diluted is asking for trouble in his unit.

  2. It is a good analysis .
    One thing more needs to be highlighted . It is “DRESS” .”Dress denotes dignity” . Officers MUST be dressed more formally than the men. Unfortunately they don’t . I have seen ‘Officers’ dressed worse than ‘PEONS”. One is likely to treated as one is dressed . Olden days we wore suits or minimum ties even in the heat of Ferozepore. Now, often men are dressed better than many officers . Olden days no OR was seen outside the units without Mufti , uniform or minimum topi (barret) ,Belt and boots . Now waiters and mess staff has been found to be dressed in track suits .In late 1964 /early ’65 one of our Gunners was given 14 days RI by our CO for being pointed out as ‘improperly dressed’ by the CO of a neighbouring Regt (38 Medium) at Pathankot .

    How can you blame them when there is no difference in appearance between officers and men. Men and officers MUST be made to dress and and ‘CONDUCT’ themselves “AS PER THEIR STATUS”.

    Blaming officers is NOT going to improve things . Men MUST also be held equally blame worthy and ‘ticked Off’ for smallest deviation from Military Discipline .

    OVER WORK is also to be blamed for detereioration of discipline as much as LOW conduct of ALL

  3. I like the comment about dress. Hilarious bordering on outrageous. Old fogies should just fade away, not become laughing stock. Officers these days are dressed much better than in the past. Only they may have shed some old useless traditions of being trussed up in ties and three piece suits on every occasion whether warranted or not? Need we carry on with burdensome British legacies inherited from a colonial past? Things will change, best is to adapt change and not be judgmental based on a senile thought procedure. Do away with sahayak culture, insist on professionalism from both officers and men alike and develop in a no non sense approach to the profession. Punish the corrupt. The more the senior involved in corruption harsher should be the punishment. Gap between officers and men must decrease in all spheres but simultaneously men must be not spared if they they are not worth their salt. Let’s shed the colonial heritage and attune ourselves to the times. Nothing wrong with the organisation then or now. There is a need to respect each generation and not to point fingers at professional standards of different generations.

  4. @Nina – the issue is not the type of attire, but the fact that all ranks must be smartly turned out, and an officer even more so. I recall that in some Gurkha units officers were not allowed to wear jeans – simply because the men looked much smarter in jeans. I reiterate the point that I made in the post – officers can not command respect unless they set themselves apart in every manner, including as rightly pointed out by Brig Harwant Singh, being smartly dressed. You talk of the need for the gap between officers and men decreasing in all spheres – do you recommend that we do away with officer messes and have common dining facilities? What about accommodation? Should there be common pool houses for officers and PBOR? Believe me, you will not even get the reduced number of people who are joining up as officers now if what you are proposing comes true. Democracy and equality is all right, but it works only so far in an organization like the Army – after all, why have a separate Army Act? Wouldn’t the laws of the land applicable to the other citizens be good enough for the soldiers and officers too?
    Adapting to change must not mean changing for change’s sake without realizing the overall implications. The tendency to make knee jerk changes results in a see-saw effect, with one senior officer making a change and the next one undoing it, making a further mess of the whole system.

    Apart from this point, I agree with what you have to say. Sahayak culture must be curbed, professionalism is a must, and every infringement by anyone, no matter how senior or junior must be dealt with harshly.

    About ‘colonial heritage’ – I am not too sure. You can not change your past, nor must you be ashamed of it. Maturity lies in adapting to the present without unduly trashing your past. As we grow older as a democracy, the colonial heritage will automatically get replaced by democratic heritage – but heritage can’t be built in a day or even 60 years.

    I also agree that each generation is competent enough. Unfortunately of late the system that was in place for grooming the younger generation within units has fallen apart. Thus this competence does not get mentored or channelized in the appropriate direction. That is an aspect that needs attention.

  5. Reference your rejoinder above. Though I have in no way hinted that officers and men must share same pool of accommodation or have the same dining facilities but your mention of the same has certainly raised a new issue. If I am not mistaken, in the Russian Army men and officers shared the same dining facilities. And that Army in no way gave a poor account of itself. Probably, even now, the US army has the same pool of accommodation for men and officers alike. However, I am in no way suggesting that our Army is as yet ready for such a change. However, let me tell you, I have seen a number of children of JCOs and Men who are officers today and both in the professional arena as well as on the social front they leave nothing to be desired. They are super achievers in every sphere. The stature a person acquires is due to his achievements and attitude and not in any measure to the background he hails from. Also, the young officers of today are super achievers as a lot as compared to the older lot. Just see the quantum of their exposure to everyday insurgency and the number of gallantry awards earned by the newer generation. The older lot would pale in comparison. I reiterate, let us awaken to changed reality, shed our mental baggage, stop blame gaming and respect all alike : men and young officers. Let one’s capability alone decide his worth.

  6. Well analysed.

    In addition, I think there could be two more reasons:-

    – One. Rather than be loyal to their command and stand up for interests of the unit, many Commanding Officers tend to use their units as a stepping stone to success. This often leads to the men being, to use a fauji phrase,’bugg–ed’ and ‘used’. A British officer had famously said that the strength of their Army lies in the attitude of their officers – most aspire to just command their units; what comes after that is bonus. In contrast, most today aspire desperately to senior rank to merely enjoy the ‘privileges’ (and y’know what I mean by that !!).
    – Two. While a few past Chiefs do not represent a breed one would write home to Mom about, the antics of the recent one especially could be another factor. He has openly thumbed his nose at, and defied, the highest in this land, and even cast aspersions on the Supreme Court – all because he wanted his age to be amended. He became the repository of all honesty in the world, labelled almost the entire heirarchy of the Army as corrupt and accused them of conspiring against him because he fighting corruption. He is also suspected of ordering illegal tapping of phones through the Technical Support Division. And now he is hobnobbing with the likes of Anna (an ex-NCO who can barely articulate) and Ramdev. Both represent anti-establishment forces. Perhaps, the men feel that their leadership is corrupt and having a ball; and if a Chief could be so chummy with Anna, Ramdev, et al, there is no reason why a lowly CO should not be at their beck-&-call. They also may be drawing inspiration from such anti-establishment conduct.
    Think about it …..

  7. Appropos comments by Brig Harwant and Nina. There is a saying that if you dress like an urchin, chances are you will be treated like an urchin. If our younsters are so enamoured by fashion, and spend so much on designer clothes and grooming all in pursuit of ‘looking good, why begrudge soldiers that right?

  8. The gap between the backgrounds of officers and men, they come from has narrowed to almost nil. the men consider themselves almost as good. yet the officers continue to learn from their seniors brown sahibs style of leadership. they need to change their style of leadership like that of an american army. total business like and for officers to be good leaders they have to be really better than men unlike earlier days when when by sheer educational, social and economical back ground of officers made them so.

  9. @Nina – would like to clarify one point. I have not talked about the background of officers – be they children of JCOs or officers, or from any other strata of the society. I am going by the premise that anyone who has gone through the selection system is competent enough as per the existing selection norms. When I spoke about competence, I was referring to officers being more competent than the men they command. And the need for them to prove so being all the more now, since the men may not reckon merely the possession of an extra degree being qualification enough for leading them into battle.

    I would not like to comment on a comparison between officers of different generations, as I don’t think I am qualified to make an objective assessment of the same. Yet one comment I would offer – I think we need ore good regimental officers and less super achievers. I would put most of the problems being faced today are because of this primacy of achievement over commitment.

  10. @Brig Kuldip Singh – well said sir. I know of instances where COs have depleted regimental funds to almost zero before leaving command, spending lavishly on parties for their IOs and ROs. Not many COs stick their neck out or take a stand today. Reminds me of the story about the young officer who bought a cycle and sent it for getting a carrier fitted. It came back with the carrier, but minus the stand. The explanation given was that in the army you can either have a career or a stand.
    And agree with you about the type of example being set by senior officers. Didn’t specifically want to go into that in this post as have already written so much about it.

  11. Very well analysed.One more important aspect that could be considered is increasing gap between JCO’s and Jawan’s , the deficiency of offrs in unit could be madeup by well trained JCO.

  12. @Manoj – a very valid point indeed sir. We need more deliberation on the role and empowerment of JCOs. Or maybe there is a case in doing away with the cadre altogether as one of the steps to move beyond colonization. Make the position of Senior NCOs stronger akin to most western armies, and also increase avenues for commission of deserving NCOs.

  13. Hobnobbing with the likes of Anna Hazare, an Ex NCO who is not even articulate and anti establishment!! Wow! What an attitude!

    It is just this attitude of our elitist officer class which needs a rethink. Please go through Anna’s achievements, (despite his ill luck of not having received a proper education) at the link:-

    How many of our elitist officer class has got a complete wikipedia page to their credit which speaks of even one of their achievements? Is being an ex NCO a disqualification to raise one’s voice against the most rampant ill of the present day India? Is it being advocated that one must be a conformist to a corrupt establishment? Lakhs of people are not fools to have supported Hazare the Ex NCO! However the poor man lost out to the multi headed monster of corruption. The debate here gives one a feeling that most of the readers here are against men from a weaker background. This is possibly one of the main reason for present day problems of our Army too!

  14. Wither gentlemen? A meaningless lament. A nation short on gentle-manliness can not expect to find abundance of it in the higher ranks of its services. Army only does in a more organised manner what the rest of the nations does. If self seeking and treachery with the nation is the order of the day then men in uniform are bound to perfect it into an art.

  15. Two problems of today: (i) if one disagrees with someone, well, its ATTITUDE !!!; (ii) many people seem to have found all the answers to life’s problems…. Few thoughts:-

    Point One. The Army is not a bus – ‘stop , I wanna get off’. Even the DTC driver does not allow that. No one dragged any officer or jawan, kicking & screaming, to enlist. They lined up voluntarily, in hordes, and know what the rules of the game were. Once in, they need to play by the rules – good, bad or ugly. Lets not be the typical Indian – cry and dance to get into the team, and once in, ask that the rules be changed (mere goalposts chotta kardo !!). The Army also cannot be “non-elitist”, or to be precise, egalitarian – when the Commanding Officer asks a tank troop to lead the advance in battle, the Troop Leader could well turn around and say, why should I be the one to die first? Why don’t you lead? What will be do then? It is good poser – the problem is all the officers will be dead by end of day one battle, and then who will lead the unit? That is the context of hobnobbing with anti-establishment people. In a unit, the officers represent the establishment and they got an unpleasant job to do. War is butual and hell. Lets not romaticize or humanize it.

    Point Two. Lets take Anna (excuse me, Shri Anna)and the movement. Who is driving it? Anna? Its the people actually, who are fed up with bad governance. They are living in world where the Govt’s ability to deliver has lagged far behind their aspirations. In sum: the movement is the actual dynamic – and Anna is just an event, the lightning rod. If we had another lightning rod, we will get almost the same response at this point in our history. Look at Kejriwal, Ramdev.

    Point Three. There is something to be said about being educated, being erudite, having a world view, being tolerant, etc. On one hand we lament the uneducated politician and then we justify the lack of education – all because he has two pages on Wikipedia. (By the way, call me immodest or presumptuous, but after I retire from my present job, I think I will rate at least one page on the wikipedia. Right now, I need anonymity).

    Point Four. Look at where the country stands today post-Anna. There is utter political instability; we seem to have lost faith in democracy; some guys are calling for a revolution; policy formulation is at a standstill; FDI is down; the industry stands accused of crony capitalism; no one is willing to invest, scared that the decision may be revoked. If telecom prices prices are renegotiated, the golden goose of BPO could well die; we may also end up paying ten times as much for each mobile call (and yes, the vegetable vendor will no longer be a call away). Ditto for coal – lets see how high electricty prices go !! I will not get into the merits of the 2G and Coalgate cases – but if economy sinks, how are we going to manage half a billion people devoid of means of sustenance, basic amenities, healthcare, etc – in a nation where Naxalism is rampant in five states, unrest continues in NE and J&K has just about stabilizing? What are we going to do? Use the armed forces to ram down order? The Arab Spring looks very attractive from here – but someone should go to Egypt, Syria or Libya and personally see what is happening. Is that what we want here? Do we want soldiers/ex-soldiers inspiring others to radical thought? Are we personally ready to pay the price? We well may be looking at mid-term polls, which will aggravate the economic situation expenditure, policy freeze. The US economy has yet to stabilize and the Eurozone is in an economic freefall. So, are the current protests prudent?

    Point Five. There has never been a culture of strategic thought in India. This implies cerebral, clear-headed, dispassionate, long-term view of a problem. It is perhaps on account of absence of such thought that we (i) often are so fascinated by a tree and miss the forest; (ii are generally so taken in by the nearest ‘purveyor of dreams’ (astrologers, all sorts of Babas, etc). Anna may be the finest man on earth – but he still cannot do a VOILA!! and deliver us from all that ails our country. There has to be a process- and that process starts with you. Go out, spread awareness and then vote for the best person. The alternative is chaos.

  16. few inputs at my end on the matter – FIRSTLY for the present state of our lives, i would like to convey my sincere THANKS to senior officers of YORE(not all, but many), more so from the recent past of 2 decades. much has happened, changed and revolutionised in forces in last two decades, that these bosses couldnt see things coming. they talked tall of all the problems – Bureaucracy, politics, traditions and many other blah blahs. Lots of policy decisions affecting basic military routine has been ruined, by their so called vision and decisions(results of Jee-hazuri syndrome to top bosses and bosses from GOI). SECONDLY the selection and Training. selection by and large remains undisputed area but training at academies seems to have taken a back seat. for god’s sake dont teach a guys basics of yoga and meditation, when its high time for him to flex his muscles and learn weapons thoroughly. he should be made cut fine military product to last life time in all spheres of life. THIRDLY please stop showmanship for those extra brownies, in doing so you are compromising on crucial training hours and deviating a military mind from his responsibilites and identity.

  17. Read the Article, the comments and the accompanying r ejoinders and counterrejoinderswith interest and a shade of amusement!!

    The arguements made by the author and so called ‘Old Fogeys’ are valid and make eminent sense..not so for the ‘perpetual shouting brigade’ who are really arm chair analysts who love to offer their opinion on just about any topic irrespective of whether they have first hand knowledge or expereince or even accurate statistics to make their point!!

    @Nina im not too sure your obsns about common living and dining conditions in Russian and US Armies are quite that accurate. Also i disagree with your view that they are really the best role models to emulate!!!
    But most of all i would like to place my strong exception to your remark that YOs of today are so called ‘super achievers’ as compared to the officers of Brig Harwants vintage!! Just becoz today there is a closer and more real time media projection and that even operations are under close scrutiny doesnt prove this.

    And lastly if todays officers are as great as you are making them out to be then i ask a basic Q. ..why is there a steep increase in incidents of inter-personal issues?? Which was a rarity in the Army of yesterday officered by ‘Old fogeys’ who you say were not half as good as the present day Gladiators!!!

    Final point Dress does make thr man…..and the mantra is simple ‘To command respect you have to be able to out run, out do, out think, out drink out perform and out everything….the men!! Only then will you be recognised as a leader worthy of being followed! This includes your appearence and dress!!!

  18. Read the Article, the comments and the accompanying r ejoinders and counterrejoinderswith interest and a shade of amusement!!

    The arguements made by the author and so called ‘Old Fogeys’ are valid and make eminent sense..not so for the ‘perpetual shouting brigade’ who are really arm chair analysts who love to offer their opinion on just about any topic irrespective of whether they have first hand knowledge or expereince or even accurate statistics to make their point!!

    @Nina im not too sure your obsns about common living and dining conditions in Russian and US Armies are quite that accurate. Also i disagree with your view that they are really the best role models to emulate!!!
    But most of all i would like to place my strong exception to your remark that YOs of today are so called ‘super achievers’ as compared to the officers of Brig Harwants vintage!! Just becoz today there is a closer and more real time media projection and that even operations are under close scrutiny doesnt prove this.

    And lastly if todays officers are as great as you are making them out to be then i ask a basic Q. ..why is there a steep increase in incidents of inter-personal issues?? Which was a rarity in the Army of yesterday officered by ‘Old fogeys’ who you say were not half as good as the present day Gladiators!!!

    Final point Dress does make thr man…..and the mantra is simple ‘To command respect you have to be able to out run, out do, out think, out drink out perform and out everything….the men!! Only then will you be recognised as a leader worthy of being followed! This includes your appearence and dress!!!

  19. i am a commanding officer, as on date.
    i would like to to bring a few points to your notice.
    all these problems have their genesis in their past.
    dress code and the reducing “socio- economic differences” between the tps and the officers.i have deliberately put in my decorations in order to bring out the differences between the fighting arms and the people who think they are “FIGHTING”. I AM HERE. let anyone come!!

  20. i think this will not pass moderation. yet if you love your boys, can this happen????????????????????

  21. Very well said by Kuldip Sir, “There has never been a culture of strategic thought in India”. This is the very reason that we in analysing the article have come down to issues like dressing sense (Gandhi nor MacArthur were known for their dressing up), outdo/ out run/ out perform the men, background of officers etc. To me the primary reason is the increased aspirations amongst the jawans which is bound to happen in today’s socio-economic environment. The divide amongst the officers and jawans may not be growing but appears so as it is not conducive in the changed times we live in. It is solely the conduct of an officer that inspires his men. His day to day handling of issues, integrity which is well read by those around him and his courage of conviction which too is clearly visible to his men. Further, I would like to reiterate that we tend to use the word ‘Professionalism’ rather too losely.Professionalism by no means transpires into the realm of inter-personal relationship between officers and men plus professionalism has different definition for everybody. Professionalism to should not even figure in this context at all. Give the men their due and honour them for what they are will go a long way is harmonising the trend. Lets make an effort to rapidly break away from the ways of the ‘Raj’ least it breaks us.

  22. Very nicely written article and well deliberated.
    @Nina- Just the kind of critic needed for the Army to bring in fresh ideas for deliberation.
    That notwithstanding, the crux of the rejoinder to you was in the statement that we need Regimental officers rather than ‘super achievers’. May be a little old fashioned and time tested approach is the right prescription. In fact, the super achiever syndrome, in my opinion , is the cause of nearly all ills of the forces today. Taking the old fashioned line a bit further, i also agree with Brig Harwant about the dressing sense bit, although I do not see how anyone’s background can bring in discrimination.Only today I have learnt of a ‘pedigreed’ Rimcollian being withdrawn from NDA, enlisting as a jawan, fighting and winning a war and clawing his way up to retire as a Maj Gen.
    The author has been gracious enough to acquiesce with all your comments but for the ‘laughable’ one about dress sense. Nina, I doubt if you can even appreciate people who can find reason enough to lay down their lives for a vague four figure number or a ‘coloured cloth. The motivation and the drive of the officer and jawan is complex and not easily decipherable by just scratching the surface or taking a statement at face value.
    Incidentally, I can think of lot of other fellows adorning the the ‘wikipedia’ pages. Kasab, Ponty Chaddha are some top of mind recalls. Anna, no doubt, is deserving of all the respect and more. However the Wikipedia page is not devoted to his abilities as a soldier.

  23. @Nitin – Thanks for the good words. I agree with you that only someone who has donned the uniform can understand the spirit and calling of a soldier. In fact, unfortunately even some who do don it don’t.

  24. I question the very premise that there is a shortage of officers. Yes, there are less officers in units.. but that’s because HQs, and other peacetime establishments are fully staffed. But overall, is there really a shortage? I don’t think so.. there is HR mismanagement. I know units with 10 officers..that’s a shortage.. but on closer inspection, these 10 officers are busy with beautification of gardens, MES IB, messes, golf grounds and preparing for VIP visits. So where is the shortage?

    The problem as rightly pointed out, is at the officer level, and more so at the senior officers’ level. The leadership has over the last two decades become defunct, corrupt, self serving..They have stopped thinking as leaders of an Army. There is no long term planning in any field..procurement, logistics, operations, human resource..everything has suffered.

    On the other hand, corruption, human rights, fratricides, mutinies, bickering amongst seniors, legal actions against the army is on the rise.
    Is there anyone at Army HQ working on a long term solution for these issues? Frankly, I don’t think so. Sadly, the onus now finally lies on the bureaucracy to take things in its hands and realize that the Defense Forces will, in the near future, reach such high levels of masochism, it might be very difficult to revive the professionalism and the fighting edge we have traditionally held over our neighbours. Its time to act before its too late.

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