Human resource (HR) in the Army is of utmost importance because the strength of this organization has always been its soldier. In today’s times, without highly skilled, competent and dedicated soldiers, it matters little how lethal the weapon systems are or how strategically responsive the field formations are trained. What are vital are the men behind the weapons who are also the prime enablers. Today, given the Army’s size, diversity, complexities and the enormity of its mandate, numerous HR challenges confront its leadership. Perhaps, media over-hypes and sensationalizes some of these issues, but Army cannot apportion the blame entirely on them. The changing socio-economic balance and an indifferent and, at times, biased politico-bureaucratic establishment have not augured well for it either. However, blaming others will not solve matters for the Army, but looking inwards and accepting the HR challenges will certainly ameliorate the problems.
HR is not a management but a leadership issue for the Army. The main difference between leaders and managers is that leaders have people follow them while managers have people who work for them. Another noteworthy aspect is that managers react to change, while leaders trigger and bring about a change. A very important factor linked to HR in the Army is motivation and maintenance of morale. No organization, other than the military, demands motivation and morale to the extent of laying down one’s life willingly. Officers lead men and always ask their men to ‘follow me’ into battle with no guarantee of their safe return. The only guarantee is that they will lead them in their fight and face greater hardships than their men face. Officers substantiate these words by their heroics exemplified by the Army’s 2016 casualty figures. Army suffered 86 battle casualties, of which 11 were officers and balance 75 were personnel below officer rank. While the officers comprise only 4% of the Army’s strength, their casualty figures are 12.8% vis-à-vis personnel below officer rank who suffered 88% casualties while forming 96% of the Army’s strength. Besides leading from the front, their leadership training also teaches them that the honor and welfare of the men they command comes before their own safety, honor and welfare, which comes last, always and every time.
Society is the reservoir from which the Army draws its soldiers; hence, it needs to be sensitive to the societal changes that take place with the passage of time. A vibrant economy, globalization, advanced technology and a flourishing corporate sector put together now offer innumerable opportunities to the youth of this country. This has altered the socio-economic fabric of the Nation fundamentally and irrevocably and affected the Army in many distinct ways. First, the breakdown of the joint family system and concomitant disintegration of its protective shield leaves the soldier to fend for himself and his family that imposes additional domestic pressures on him. Families located at places that are not within convenient commuting distance of the soldier’s duty stations further exacerbates the problem. Second, exigencies of service often make it difficult for Army men to meet even their pressing domestic commitments, which leads to depression related suicides and fratricides. Third, the perceptional change in our youth, who no longer see the career in the Army as a ‘way of life’. Instead, they see it as a job fraught with immense risks and continually see body bags coming home due to the prolonged deployment of the Army in counter insurgency/counter terrorism operations. This acts as a deterrent and negates publicity campaigns launched to motivate the youth to join the Army. Fourth, the increased monetary aspiration levels of the youth drive them towards corporate sector. Thus, only the ‘remainder’ is available for induction into the Army, especially in the officers’ cadre.
Earlier, brought up in the largely feudalistic rural areas, the soldier easily accepted orders of their officers unquestioningly. This was the case until the economic reform decade of the nineties, when only four basic job avenues available to the youth were in the fields of engineering, medical, civil services or military. Necessarily then, the officer intake was from the middle to upper middle strata of the society (both urban and rural) and the soldier intake from predominantly rural background. Demand for better educated soldiers due to technological advancement within the Army and economic reforms within the country has significantly altered this officer-men equation and relationship, perhaps the most critical aspect of this problem. This shifted the officer intake predominantly to the middle or lower middle class and soldier intake of better-educated soldiers from rural and semi urban background. Higher education amongst soldiers and reduced officer-men societal gap has given rise to a tendency amongst soldiers to seek logic and rationale in orders that they followed blindly earlier. Another cause of concern in this officer-men relationship is the shortfall in the officer cadre that has reduced the officer to men ratio. The Army is facing a 17% shortage of officers, excluding the medical and dental corps and the military nursing service. Against the authorized strength of 49,833 officers, the strength held is 41,162, which is a shortage of 8,671 officers.
Army leadership must be conscious of the constant media glare, especially with the proliferation of the social media. Gone are the days of the ‘holy cow’ status since media intrusion will only increase in the coming decades. In dealing with media, both kneejerk reactions to media reports and an ‘ostrich approach’ to avoid media are counterproductive. After an incident, if Army continues to shy away from media coverage or does not issue timely press release/rebuttal, then media will fill in the vacuum by inserting news gathered from other sources that may not be in the Army’s interest. Media reporting by trained war correspondents or embedded journalists is good for the system to bring in transparency and increase public awareness. However, done by untrained journalists or stringer reporters may irretrievably tarnish the Army’s societal image. Therefore, on their part, media must truthfully report an event but thereafter avoid carrying out its media trial. Army has a time tested grievance redressal mechanism that follows the laid down chain of command. Media must realize that tinkering with either of these will develop cracks in the system that may be hard to seal and provoke mutinous tendencies amongst soldiers.
Of late, videos uploaded by some paramilitary soldiers on social media whipped up emotions in the public who, after media trial, pronounced the paramilitary officers guilty. Incidentally, some naïve citizens could not even differentiate between the military and the paramilitary thus applying the same judgmental yardstick across the board. To this, the COAS responded by instituting a direct ‘one to one grievance and redressal system’ between a soldier and himself and asserted that motivation and maintenance of morale of the Army was his top priority. Let us not light a candle to the sun by suggesting remedial measures since the Army leadership is fully aware of these HR challenges and competent to deal with them. Nevertheless, Indian Army’s leadership must assimilate the wise words of US General Colin Powell, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems, is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help, or concluded you do not care. Either is a failure of leadership”.