One would hate to be in the shoes of the Chief of Army Staff these days. Having to wake up every morning dreading what bombshell the newspapers would bring can’t be a pleasant experience. Being at the helm of an organisation consisting of over 10, 00,000 bodies in this age of scandal hungry public and an ever obliging media, this is a cross that he perhaps has to bear. The sad part is that the antics of a few black sheep with unbridled libido, greed or ambition inevitably overshadow the sterling work done by the other 99.9% comprising the organisation. The latest scandal screaming at us from the headlines and ubiquitous red ticker tapes of breaking news is yet another such incident.
Details of the case are under investigation, and truth will be established expeditiously and justly, as one has no doubts about the speed or impartiality of the military justice system, particularly under such intense media scrutiny. Irrespective of the side which is found to be guilty – whether it was lust on one side or ambition on the other which was behind it – it is a lose-lose situation for the organisation. The fact that such ugly incidents are occurring with alarming regularity, and the involvement of the highest echelons of military leadership in them, points to a malignant malaise in the organisational culture. It is the easiest thing to dismiss this as part of a larger affliction of the society at large, of which the services are a microcosm. But this must not happen. The services have always prided themselves of maintaining higher standards of probity, of having a way of life that is wholesome and values based. The impact of the erosion of such values on a force whose efficacy hinges on discipline and implicit faith between superiors and subordinates would be catastrophic.
The time for introspection and soul searching is long past. Its time meaningful action is taken urgently to preserve the organisational fabric. There is a need to drastically cut down on all non-core activities that serve not only to detract efforts from professional pursuits, but also provide opportunities for career advancement to those thriving on these. Event management must be left to caterers and tent houses, and not made into a fine military art. Family welfare must be restricted to unit level, with the role of all others up the hierarchy being merely to provide amenities and resources required. The role of officer’s wives in AWWA must be reviewed and attempt must be made to hand over the day to day running of this organisation to hired professionals, with supervision by concerned staff officers. One only has to see the efficient manner in which NGOs such as CRY and Helpage are run to realize that this is highly feasible, with possibly better results.
Increased professionalism in attitude and activities is another step that is required to bring the organisation back in alignment with its core values.
Training events must reflect this professionalism and should be shorn of attempts at showmanship, and consequent assessments must also be on professional basis. In fact, the need for a revamp of the entire assessment system has been talked about for long but there have been only cosmetic changes limited by the stifled imagination of the MS Branch. For a comprehensive reform of the appraisal system, there is a need to throw out the old rule book and take a fresh look at the entire game. The reporting officers up the chain of command must be made to exercise their moral courage by being less non-committal about their assessments. We need to change the environment where an overwhelming majority of the reports are like a ‘dining out speech’. The reporting must be less generic, and unequivocal. For instance, how can attributes like loyalty and integrity be rated on an analog scale? Logically, these are qualities that are either present or absent in the absolute, and half measures or shades of grey are not possible. Also, the reviewing officers up the chain need to make greater efforts to familiarize themselves with their indirect reports, and must also be made accountable for their assessments. To make the appraisal system truly meaningful, a 360 degrees appraisal must be put in place.
Of course, opposition to any radical change is strong and backed up with adequate staff work and data – fear of change is endemic, and fear of the unfamiliar coupled with the prospect of having to do additional work without the comforting backup of precedence is daunting for the so called HR managers of the forces. However, it is for the decision makers to realize that such changes are no longer luxuries that can be indulged in, but imperatives for survival.
The alternative is that we must all get used to black woollens, for wool off the black sheep can’t even be dyed.
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