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MILITARY LEADERSHIP IN INDIAN ARMY: NEED FOR MERIT

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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The collapse of the Afghan National Army (ANA), the hasty withdrawal of the US and the rapid gains of Taliban in Afghanistan have major lessons for military and political leadership. ANA lost it completely due to poor motivation and training. Its leadership was too political, corrupt, and unprofessional. Lesson: Nations cannot afford poorly trained and unprofessional armed forces dabbling in politics even if well equipped. The US is facing yet another major international embarrassment. Its political and military leadership were on the same page at combat level but on vastly different pages at political level. The US is facing a political defeat rather than a military one. The criss-crossed lines between successive White House administrations, State Department, Pentagon, and CIA, led to gross inaccurate assessment about the enemy and ground situation. The US has been consistently blind to the fact that Pakistan was its real enemy while it was fighting the Taliban. Lesson: Lack of realistic and balanced politico military equations and assessments will lead to defeat. The quick takeover by the Taliban will stoke belief that ideologically moti-vated and politically driven forces can achieve victory by feeding off the enemy through guerrilla tactics. This is especially important. Our adversaries – Pakistan, China and separatists’ forces are ideologically driven. The under-mining ideological influence and information warfare of radical Islam and hardcore revisionist communism makes one believe about their invincibility. More importantly both are aggressive and well equipped and trained to undertake full spectrum operations. Lesson: to defeat such formidable adversaries we need military leadership of the highest caliber to lead a professional armed force. A well trained professional Armed Force, with the correct political orientation and guidance can contend with any form of hybrid or conventional warfare.

Victory will revolve around a sound and competent military leadership based on merit and a politico military connect based on professional and constitutional principles. Both must synergize and put together a strong, well trained, well equipped, and motivated military. The issue assumes significance since our armed forces must face the entire spectrum – sub conventional, conventional, and nuclear options in one of the most complex envi-ronments. Further as India rises, the demands on the Armed forces will increase. That is why we have embarked on a journey of modernization, expansion, jointness and atmanirbharta. Most importantly, when the chips are down, we must be able to fend for ourselves without expecting much from others. All this demands that it is the ‘best of the best’ which must lead the military of an emerging India.

The inclination of the government to promote Armed Forces officers to higher ranks and appointments on merit overlooking seniority must be examined in this context. Merit is an undeniable argument in the kaleidoscopic environment of multi-domain warfare, where we are striving for transfor-mation through integration and jointness. However, the issue is that we do not have a structure to ensure that the ‘best of the best’ come up to the top. Let me amplify. The issue is never that people of lesser merit should lead the armed forces. The issue is what constitutes merit amongst equals. Who and how is merit to be decided? In the absence of a well laid out government policy, the consensual convention which has evolved is that leaders are selected up to a level by merit. Thereafter since the inter-se difference in merit is assumed to be insignificant, seniority serves as a tie breaker. It enables status quo without rocking the boat. However, the question is: does it get the best man to the top? No. It does not. There are enough examples of that. However rather than looking back, let me examine the issue in a larger framework.

At the outset, the intent of the Government must be crystal clear. As it stands, there is adequate clamour in the environment on the politicization of the armed forces. If the whole idea is to choose a politically pliant military leader using the ‘merit over seniority’ mandate from a panel of 3-5 available officers, then we will be better off as we are. A politically pliant military leader will undermine the Armed Forces and its structures incalculably. The last bastion of the nation cannot be compromised by sub-optimal leadership in the toxic geopolitical environment we live in. Hence there should be clarity on the issue. The Government must revamp the policy on promotion of senior officers to ensure the best come to the top. Presently, the best might not have a fair chance of coming to the top, while a second rater stands an excellent chance of reaching the apex. The Army model is being highlighted to point out the pitfalls which the government needs to be cognizant of. Equivalent and parallel pitfalls exist in other services.

The first issue which we need to be cognizant of is that as India strives for enhanced jointness and theatrisation, we need military leaders of all round ability to weld Services to function as one. Presently, officers are not being either trained or assessed for such a role. So, how are we going to have able Theatre Commanders and CDS who can take everyone along? The government needs to enunciate a policy in the short, mid, and long term to ensure that we produce theatre commanders of adequate merit and not blindfolded horses serving a narrow cause – political or military.

The second issue is the seniority principle. The general view gathered from the environment is that seniority is a lesser evil than contentious merit. The problem with seniority is that it comes with a lethal tail piece called ‘date of birth’. The combination of the two can be disastrous. The seniority principle is based on the merit one attains in the training academy. That merit in the academy is assessed on qualities and demonstrated performance of a young man not yet developed to his potential. The assessment is more physical in nature whereas senior leadership demands more than being a good horse. Based on real life experience, two possible outcomes are eluci-dated.

Consider an officer who was very high in the merit in IMA. He could be an outstanding young and middle level officer. As he grows up in service and faces higher promotion boards, he is one of the last officers to clear the cut off in each promotion board. In real life it was probably very clear to all in the environment that the officer was not good enough for higher ranks. However, he scrapes through the hoops at every stage since he is a ‘conformist good boy’ with ideal regimental and other connections. His seniority combined with a favourable date of birth propels him to be an Army or Theatre commander or even a service Chief/ CDS, even though he has ‘just cleared’ the bar at all levels. The possibility is that this suboptimal military leader could be a national disaster. I could give a few examples.

On the other hand, consider another officer of outstanding merit at the Academy. He demonstrates brilliance throughout his career. He is head and shoulders above his peers. However, he wears the wrong lanyard compared to his better connected peers or is from another Arm. His academy seniority and date of birth indicate that he has a clear chance of reaching the top echelons. This is identifiable at a reasonably early stage especially by peers. He is then fixed systematically at the right time since it is improbable in the minds of those higher up, to have this inconvenient officer at the top. The nation loses an outstanding leader. In fact, the prevalent system gives adequate opportunity to do so. There are many examples of this also.

These cases just underline what I stated earlier- ‘the best might not have a fair chance of coming to the top, while a second rater stands an excellent chance of reaching the apex’. This glaring anomaly is compounded by the convention of ‘General Cadre’ being followed in the Army. Yes. The concept of ‘General Cadre’ is a convention since I have not come across a govern-ment rule /regulation / act of parliament / order which defines what ‘General Cadre’ is all about and how it operates. A passing mention of ‘General Cadre’ finds place in the Defense Service Regulations where it is stated that all officers must be ‘selected’ into the ‘General Cadre’. There are no exceptions mentioned. The entire hierarchy of the Indian Army is functioning on an internal convention and understanding rather than Rules/ procedures of the Government of India! Such internal conventions are tweakable and internally justified as a system gain while it could be detrimental overall. Surely, we cannot have this. Prove me wrong and I will doff my hat.

The problem with the ‘General Cadre’ system is that officers of Infantry, Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry are ‘born’ into the General Cadre and the rest are selected into it. This is in contradiction to existent govern-ment regulation! It creates an environment and system of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Further, the ‘haves’ get unhindered opportunity with regimental tailwinds to aspire for higher ranks and appointments. On the other hand, officers from other Arms (have nots) must go through a stringent competitive selection to access a restricted window. They must prove themselves at every stage that they are good enough and yet they might not succeed. Overall, the playing field is not level. However, if it serves the system well, there should be no problem. But does it? Consider the following anomalies.

An Infantry officer, who has commanded an Assam Rifles battalion, Sector and been an IG AR (all paramilitary organizations) can become a Corps commander/ Army Commander / COAS/CDS. Is such an officer even quali-fied to Command a Corps / Army/ Theatre in a joint multi-domain environ-ment? The extant rules allow this. He cannot be stopped if he clears a promotion board and has seniority and date of birth on his side. Prove me wrong.

The General Cadre is dominated by Infantry, Armoured Corps and Mecha-nized Infantry officers. As a result, the Army hierarchy is largely populated by them with a heavy bias towards Infantry. This system has Infantry looming larger than life everywhere. These entitled officers are expected and mandated to equip the Army and modernize it through Atma Nirbharta. The evidence is that in seven decades they have not been able to procure a basic rifle, tank, ICV or their ammunition, which is required for their own Arms, even through import, in a smooth and timely manner. Indigenization and atmanirbharta are a chimera dotted with the failure of INSAS, a subop-timal Arjun MBT and an FICV still in far far dreams. What can such leaders do for others? The evidence is on ground in public view. Such issues hap-pen only due to suboptimal leadership stemming from a faulty system. In future, is India prepared to place its bets on such suboptimal officers to indigenize complicated and highly technical equipment required in a joint and multi domain scenario? If they could not do so earlier, cannot do so now, how can you trust them to equip and lead the military and the nation in crisis in future? There are other areas where similar arguments can be made. A similar logic could be extended and applied to Indian Air Force and Indian Navy officers with equivalent examples.

The progress to the top echelons of the Military is quite flawed as it stands. However, it has served us well. Notwithstanding all its flaws, we have been able to defeat Pakistan militarily at a time and place of its choosing every time. We have been able to keep China at bay after the debacle of 62. We have handled hybrid and proxy wars better than most. We have developed a great reputation in peace keeping and HADR operations. However, as a growing power with regional and global ambitions a switch to a merit-based system in the military hierarchy needs a serious consideration. In doing so, the merit-based system should not become the vehicle to politicize the Armed Forces or to ideologically orient it in a particular direction in the garb of indigenization of doctrine. What we need is geopolitically aware Armed Forces leadership with a healthy politico military equation. Hence, prior to switching to a merit-based system, the Government must take a deeper look at the issues involved to eradicate flaws. Superficial tinkering will lead to fatal flaws. A level playing field must be created so that India gets the best leadership from the available pool which is not based on politics, syc-ophancy, lanyarded views or self-serving policies. Unless the government takes ownership of reforming the disparate systems / conventions / traditions of selection of military leaders, as they exist in all Services, we will not be on one grid or theaterise effectively. In doing so, it must put in place credible and acceptable mechanisms to monitor and scrutinize merit and policy implementation. The last bastion needs the best leadership the nation can find through a well-grounded system. If the government cannot do that, India will be better off with the military leaders we can throw up with the existing system.

Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He contributed significantly to the Modernization and Indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for de-fence technology. His other articles can be read on www.gunnersshot.com

The progress to the top echelons of the military is quite flawed as it stands. However, it has served us well. Notwithstanding all its flaws, we have been able to defeat Pakistan militarily at a time and place of its choosing every time. We have been able to keep China at bay after the debacle of 1962. We have handled hybrid and proxy wars better than most. We have developed a great reputation in peace-keeping and HADR operations.

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Defence

INS TABAR PARTICIPATES IN MARITIME EXERCISE WITH ALGERIAN NAVY

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The Ministry of Defence informed on Tuesday that the Indian Navy Ship (INS) Tabar took part in the maiden Maritime Partnership Exercise with the Algerian Navy on 29 August.

INS Tabar participated in the exercise during its ongoing goodwill visit to Europe and Africa. “The landmark exercise held off the Algerian coast and saw the participation of a frontline Algerian Naval Ship (ANS) ‘Ezzadjer’,” said the Ministry of Defence in a statement.

As a part of this exercise, several activities including coordinated manoeuvring, communication procedures and steam past were undertaken between the Indian and Algerian warships.

“The exercise enabled the two navies to understand the concept of operations followed by each other. It also enhanced interoperability and opened the possibility of increasing interaction and collaboration in the future,” the statement added.

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Defence

Home Ministry appoints Rajwinder Singh Bhatti as Border Security Force ADG

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NEW DELHI: Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has appointed Rajwinder Singh Bhatti, a 1990-batch IPS officer, as ADG Border Security Force (BSF) on a deputation basis up to 30 September 2025, his date of superannuation or till further orders.

According to the official statement, “Ministry of Home Affairs appointed Bhatti, a 1990-batch IPS officer, as ADG Border Security Force, on deputation basis, up to 30 September 2025, the date of his superannuation or till further orders.”

The Home Ministry has also written to the Bihar government to relieve him at earliest.

The state government is requested to relieve him immediately to enable him to take up his new assignments at the Centre, as per the official MHA statement. Bhatti, a Bihar cadre officer, is currently posted as Director General, Bihar Military Police, at Patna.

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Defence

NO SECURITY THREAT AT PANGODE MILITARY STATION, CLARIFIES DEFENCE PRO

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Reports carried by a section of the online media related to the security of the Pangode Military station here are ‘’unsubstantiated,” a Defence PRO said on Tuesday. “No security threat at Pangode Military station”, the Defence wing said in a release.

It said the news carried by the online media does not hold credibility due to lack of authentication and supporting evidence and warned that appropriate action would be initiated against any entity that peddles fake news, especially that which jeopardises security.

The office of the Defence PRO, in its official capacity, scrutinised the validation of the contents of the news segment publicised online from varied official agencies who proclaimed that the news is unsubstantiated.

“It is needless to emphasise that publicising such fake news in any media platform is against media ethics and is a serious breach of security”, said the release issued by the Defence wing.

The reports had claimed that the Pangode military station was facing a ‘’security threat’’.

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Defence

CYCLING EXPEDITION FLAGGED OFF BY ITBP TO MARK ‘AZADI KA AMRIT MAHOTSAV’

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SILIGURI: To celebrate the 75th Independence Day anniversary, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) commenced a cycle rally from Siliguri on 31 August and it will culminate in Patna on 8 September.

The cycle rally, which is a part of Azadi Ke Amrit Mahotsav, originally, started from Itanagar and culminates in Delhi’s Rajghat on 2 October, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. From Siliguri, as many as 12 ITBP personnel, including officers and jawans, were part of the cycle rally.

Talking about the motive, RPS Raghubangshi, DIG, ITBP-Gangtok told ANI, “The motive of the cycle rally is to connect with the locals and common people.” Meanwhile, in Ladakh, the cycle rally of ITBP personnel started the rally from Sakti village and reached Leh as of 31 August, covering over 236 km in total, tweeted from ITBP’s official Twitter handle. –

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Defence

FIRE AND FURY CORPS CELEBRATES 22ND RAISING DAY IN LEH

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PRO, Defence, Srinagar informed that ‘Fire and Fury Corps’ celebrated its 22nd Raising Day, on Wednesday, in Leh with a solemn Wreath Laying ceremony held at War Memorial.

Lieutenant General PGK Menon, General Officer Commanding, Fire and Fury Corps laid a wreath at the Leh War Memorial on behalf of all ranks of Fire and Fury Corps to honour the brave soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice during various operations in Ladakh. According to Srinagar Defence PRO, the corps was raised on 1 September 1999, in the aftermath of the Kargil War. Since its raising, the Corps has successfully ensured sanctity of both, the Line of Control with Pakistan and Line of Actual Control with China while maintaining eternal vigil at some of the highest battlefields in the world including the Siachen Glacier.

The Corps since its raising has been instrumental in the development of infrastructure in Ladakh for the common use of the Army and civilians, thereby promoting development in Ladakh.

The Corps has stood steadfast with the people of Ladakh in times of natural calamities, providing assistance and support in relief, rescue, and rebuilding of infrastructure.

“On the auspicious occasion of the Raising Day of the Corps, all ranks once again pledged to defend our borders with their blood and reaffirmed their wholehearted support to the people of Ladakh”, the statement read.

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Defence

FORCE WELL-TRAINED, PREPARED TO DEFEND BORDERS: OUTGOING ITBP DG

Ashish Singh

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The outgoing Director-General of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) that primarily guards 3,488 km long India-China borders ranging from Karakoram Pass in Ladakh to Jachep La in Arunachal Pradesh, while referring to the safety of the borders stated that the force is well-trained and always prepared to defend our international border in all situations.

Surjeet Singh Deswal, who retired, on Tuesday, as the ITBP DG while speaking to ANI said, “Whether there is an agreement or no agreement. We go by the needs on the border. India is a law-abiding nation. We respect our bilateral agreements. We respect our international conventions and the conduct which should be there between the two countries. We have never violated our bilateral agreements, our promises to our neighbours. We have always respected our neighbours. But we are always prepared to defend our border in all situations.” Responding to a question that there is a policy of no use of firearms on the Indo-China border and if in such a situation, if the Chinese attack the Indian side, what will India do, Deswal said, “Till our bilateral agreements are respected, we will keep on respecting. In case of need, we are prepared for all situations.”

On the India-China disengagement process and friction points between the two countries, he said, “Such border issues across the world take long to settle down. Our efforts in totality are the might of the forces, the diplomatic strength, our economic strength, the total collective forces of the country are on the job and to negotiate. Times are not as important as our claims are. We have to pursue our negotiations so that, at the end of the negotiations, our claims are with us.”

India and China have already disengaged from the banks of Pangong lake after extensive talks and the Gogra Heights and Hot Springs areas are left to be resolved as these friction points were created post-Chinese aggression last year. 20 Indian soldiers were killed in violent clashes with Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley in June last year.

The two countries have been engaged in a military standoff for almost a year but disengaged from the most contentious Pangong lake area last month after extensive talks at both military and political levels.

“I’m retiring after 37 years in the uniform. I served for 27 years in the Haryana state police and 10 years with GoI. For the last three years, I was heading ITBP which is an elite force of the country, looking after the India-China border in very tough topographical, geographical conditions. The force is well-trained for that terrain and is comfortable staying there and complete its mandate of protection of the international border. ITBP soldiers and officers are trained for all kinds of situations,” added Deswal.

Deswal is an Indian Police Service officer. He did his graduation (B.Sc.) from Panipat and LLB from Kurukshetra University. As Superintendent of Police, Deswal served in several important districts of Haryana such as Karnal, Rohtak, Kaithal, Bhiwani and Fatehabad and Commandant 5th Battalion of H.A.P, Madhuban. He joined the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the year 1994 and served as Superintendent of Police till 1998 in the All India Anti Corruption Unit. He was promoted to DIG, Railways and Tech.

As Inspector-General of Police, Deswal held the charge of important ranges like Ambala and Rohtak. He worked as Commissioner of Police of Gurugram, from 2009 to 2011.

Deswal worked as Director-General of State Crime Branch and Haryana Armed Police. He was awarded the Indian Police Medal for meritorious service in 2001 and President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service in 2012 for dedicated service to the Nation.

Deswal joined Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) in December 2015 and served as Additional Director General (ADG) till October 2017. He served as ADG and Special DG (Operations) in Border Security Force (BSF) for a year. Deswal was appointed DG SSB on 30 September 2018 and appointed DG ITBP on 31 October 2018.

He retired after his three years of service to the force as its Director-General. Deswal handed over the customary baton to senior Indian Police Service (IPS) office Sanjay Arora at the force headquarters.

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