India is changing fast – democracy is witnessing political ascendency, second era of economic reforms is underway, technology is taking over our lives, societal value system is liberalising and media intervention is proliferating. If India is changing, then can the military remain immune to these changes? Military leaders must be mindful of the changes around them and bring about a change within their organization. After all, they are military leaders and not managers, because managers react to change, while leaders trigger and bring about a change.
In a positive for our evolving democracy, political ascendency is relegating bureaucratic control in policy matters that suits the military. However, the negative of this dominance is political interference in institutions hitherto apolitical like judiciary, Reserve Bank and even the military. The recent case of supersession of two lieutenant generals for appointing Gen Rawat as the COAS and supersession of another one for the appointment of Engineer-in-Chief suggest political meddling in higher military appointments. These are clear signals to the military hierarchy that they should side the political masters to reach higher appointments. Prior to this, the use of Army to lay mats on the Rajpath for Yoga Day and to lay bridges over Yamuna for a spiritual leader’s congregation were also pointers towards the forthcoming demands of the political leadership. In the past, politicians have made efforts to politicise the military and will continue to do so. If the generals succumb to these efforts, then the officers will also fall prey and thereafter the men. If the Army has remained apolitical so far, it is due to its iconic generals and their selfless leadership. Therefore, they must continue to provide such leadership in the coming times also and hold out on their own, without giving in to the lure of promotion or post retirement benefits. The other threat of politicisation of the military is from within, which the civil establishment will try to capitalise. Parochialism leading to a false sense of regimentation has surely crept into the system. While it is imperative that officers take pride in their respective branch, arm or service for the sake of morale, however, taking it beyond that is counterproductive for the organizational health and well-being in the long-term. When healthy rivalry, which brings out the best in individuals through fair competition, turns into hostility, then, it is time for the hierarchy to put an end to it ruthlessly before it vitiates the system.
The second era of economic reforms will further open up our economy and boost consumerism. Simultaneously, the Government has thrust to indigenize and privatize the defence industry, which maybe a step in the right direction to boost self-reliance and economic growth. However, ‘military-industrial complex’, a phrase coined by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1961, comes with its associated problem of developing cosiness between defence forces and defence manufacturers. This means the obvious corrupt practices creeping into the military system, especially with the growing material aspirations of our military officers and men. For that reason, the military leaders must lead by example of honesty and unblemished integrity, which has always been their hallmark, and punish the corrupt and the guilty exemplarily.
The cocooned functioning of our military is increasingly under scrutiny by the media. We have recently witnessed the power of social media to turn a gripe video into cause célèbre. Traditional and social media’s combined potency is lethal against any setup that does not have a good value system and ethos. Both media and social media are there to stay and powers to reckon.
Social media mutiny is sweeping most armies in the world, leaving their commanders red-faced. Thus, banning smart phones or social media access for our soldiers are temporary and myopic measures. The issue calls for conscious effort to bring about widespread media awareness across the rank and file of the military. Concurrently, stringent in-house cleaning through introspective audit and appraisal, followed by reformatory measures will help the military to first regain and then hold its societal image of yesteryear.
Liberalization of social value system towards live-in relationships, LGBT rights and gender equality are the other issues that our military has to deal with in coming years. The military remains a value based, male dominated organization that legislates monogamy and natural sexual tendencies. The day is not far, when an officer or jawan will walk in with his/her live-in friend and demand accommodation and messing rights in the military station, or an individual charge sheeted for sodomy will seek acceptance of his/her LGBT rights from his/her commanding officer quoting civil court rulings. The issue is complex from the point of maintaining discipline and decorum in the organization. Formulation of policies (after legal and parliamentary approval) to relieve such individuals gracefully from the military, to follow their individual preferences elsewhere, may be in the organizational interest.
Technological advancement in weapon systems, communications and quest of arms manufacturers to introduce cutting-edge technology has changed warfare dynamics. Earlier soldiers fought from reveille to retreat and slept by night, then, with the introduction of compasses and gyroscopes it changed to fight by day and move by night and after introduction of thermal night vision devices, now it is round the clock fighting. Therefore, demand on the soldiers to work through sleeplessness and stress with sophisticated weapon and communication systems is increasing.
Although, warfare has transmuted from arrows and swords to push button weaponry based on computers and satellites, its fundamental Clausewitzian principles remain unaltered. Ipso facto, military needs soldiers who are better educated, mentally agile and yet physically tough, in other words ‘balanced brain cum brawn force’ than just ‘brawn force’. Therefore, to evolve and train the existing military into such a balanced force is the least challenge for military leadership. The real leadership challenge lies in motivating these technically qualified soldiers with an inquisitive mind, seeking logic and rationale in every order passed, to accept orders readily and in some cases even blindly to certain death.
Testing times ahead for the military and its leaders must take a leaf out of William Arthur Ward’s inspirational words, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sail”. Therefore, the only way forward for the military brass is to sensitise the troops and adapt with the changing societal norms. They must draw a line in the sand to chalk out their measured and level headed response, for in the National interest, our military must continue to be the ‘island of excellence’ in the ‘sea of mediocrity’ around it.