Army called in… to hold the Commonwealth Games, says a front page story in today’s Indian Express. Why isn’t it surprising? With six months to go and national pride at stake, with the panic mounting as the somnolent government and Organising Committee finally see the writing on the wall (which was apparent to everyone else long ago), who else to turn to? The only organisation in the country that has the track record of delivering every time, irrespective of what it was that was asked of it, or at what stage.
Going a little beyond the obvious, into the crevices and folds of the issue. As per the report, ‘South Block’ is planning to attach over 300 officers, including 10 Brigadiers and 245 Lt Cols. Largest number of personnel are needed for “spectator services” – provision of highest level of service to all spectators that come to the games. No doubt the army as an organisation will rise to the occasion, as will individuals detailed for the tasks, and will deliver results. But even in the gusto to lend a helping hand in a national event, the dignity of the organisation and its officers needs to be scrupulously preserved.
Going by past experiences, one would not put it past the babudom to use the Army officers for roles and tasks that are not entirely in keeping with their seniority and status, or for unpopular ones that none of their ilk would like to take on. Besides, most of the officers being good soldiers not used to questioning orders, and also not likely to have had much prior exposure to the bureaucracy and its working, would unhesitatingly and enthusiastically go about doing as ordered. It is therefore up to the Army HQ to ensure that officers are deputed only after getting detailed job descriptions for each of the roles, and ensuring that officers are detailed only for ones which are befitting, preferably also being carried out by civilian officers of parallel rank. Organising a brief orientation of sorts prior to deputation would also be in order.
There is also a larger question that must be considered in light of this request. Why is it that deputation of Army officers for roles in the civil administration such a rarity, resorted to generally in crisis situation as this? Parallel absorption of middle level officers into other ministries / department has often been mooted as one of the means of addressing stagnation brought about by the steep pyramid, which is an organisational peculiarity of the armed forces. But such a measure is equally unpopular with the bureaucracy as with the MS Branch. The former is probably apprehensive of opening the doors of their exclusive domain to the outsiders that forces officers are considered. The latter is obsessed with the shortage of officers and reluctant to add to this shortfall by losses through parallel movement. However, the provision of opportunity to officers not empanelled for promotion due to limited vacancies in higher ranks for continued professional growth through such parallel movement would be preferable than retaining them for employment in inconsequential appointments – the so called ‘management’ of non-empanelled officers that MS Branch resorts to. While the Army finds it difficult to optimally employ these officers, those amongst them who have left and moved on either into the corporate sector or private enterprise, have time and again proven themselves in such spheres. A suitable mechanism to tap even a portion of this available potential for roles within the government where they can contribute towards better administration, governance and nation building, should therefore be put in place.