“Ab raja ka beta raja nahi banega, ab raja woh banega jo haqdaar hoga,” this famous dialogue from super 30 may not really be appropriate to begin a write up, that’s about the officers of Indian Army but this perhaps encapsulates the essence of what I intend to convey, in the best possible manner. The second objective of this write up is to discuss as to why our army is still short of 7,399 officers (As per the written reply by our Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Rajya Sabha on Jan 1st, 2019) despite the perceived superior and distinct lifestyle that its ambit promises.

Coming back to the first point, there cannot be any denying that army’s social milieu has been changing for the last few years in an irreversible manner.

While its soldiers are more educated - matriculation being the minimum qualification for recruitment since 1980 - its officer class is being fed more and more by the offspring of achievement-oriented lower middleclass families. As in times of old, it is also becoming a class apart with an increasing proportion of new entrants being sons of army men. And a lot of people (officers’ class of the yore) I interacted with, didn’t seem to be comfortable with the idea. “What has the Army come to! They can’t talk even one line in correct English!” some of them uttered! ( I too am guilty of harboring this thought at one point of time)

Really!!!!!! Should that be our concern that the officer is not being able to converse in English or not playing enough golf, polo and croquet! Somewhere I had read that the Indian army is more British than the British Army and I suppose it’s time that we change that, and it makes sense. Indian army can’t be anything but Indian.  It’s time that we equate quality with correct parameters and not one’s ability to stick to the British era customs and traditions.

If anything, we should be proud of the officers coming from the humble background, assisted only by their aspirations and hard work.  And that’s where that dialogue came into my mind. Any individual, of any background, with the right set of values, leadership qualities and intellect (English speaking ability can not really decide one’s intellect, at best it can only be an added facet) can qualify to be an officer or anything that he wishes for.  There are IITians, MBAs, Doctors coming from all walks of life, doing very well in their chosen fields. They are not scrutinized based on their perceived class! Gone are the days when the kings and Officers children only could come into the army. And this reflects how far we have come as an inclusive society and to me, this call for celebration.

But only as long as the best minds, irrespective of the caste, class, religion, come into its fold.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case and army no longer seems to be the first choice of the crème de la crème of the academic fraternity. Besides, there is a shortage of the officers signalling that today’s youth is shying away from joining the defence and cumulatively both these trends could have profound negative implications in the coming times! This is rather telling, when you consider the fact that according to the UNFPA State of the World’s population report, India has largest youth population in the world. In this background, it’s surprising that the requirement of the Army is still not being met!

“I did sit for the 2018 April, NDA written test, just to test the waters and cleared it too. But didn’t go for SSB as at that time (Jan 2019) I had to prepare for my 12th board and JEE, which for me was the priority. Also, they take so long for SSB,” says Nilay Rastogi* Clearly for him, SSB wasn’t the priority. When probed further, it turned out that it wasn’t the money that was the yardstick for him to accept or reject army. It was its steep promotional structure along with the fear of stagnation that bothered him.  Another boy pursuing B.Tech from IIT Kharagpur conceded that while there was this liking for army in his heart, he felt that it wouldn’t give him opportunity to grow beyond a point.

Maybe they had a point. Afterall, while an IAS officer reaches the rank of joint secretary in just 18 years of service, an officer takes, on average, 30 years of service to reach the equivalent rank of Maj Gen, that is if he keeps getting promotions which in itself is not easy.This fact also prompts an uncomfortably large number of mid-career officers to leave army!

And then there are some other aspects too, to be considered. “Once in Army, it’s not only the officer, the family too suffers. They face an unsettled family life, staying away from their wives and children for months or years at a stretch, losing out on the crucial formative years of their children. Postings lead them to staying put in remote areas and harsh climates for two years at time, with hardly any civilization nearby. The compensation or incentive provided to the army personnel is simply not at par in comparison to the commitment that is asked of them,” says a retd senior Officer. He didn’t want to be named. Contrast it with the corporate sector which is offering attractive packages with the promise of growth for the ones who are ready to work hard and all that with a settled family life!

Sensing the growing disenchantment, govt is trying to bring in structural changes, the talk of time scale Maj-Gen is one such prospective change among many. Hopefully the changes shall not only make our Army more meaningful but once again will make serving for one’s country a worthwhile passion. A significant change, which shall attract the young and the best to join army beyond the rhetoric of patriotism, for serving in army is not the only act of patriotism, working in the field of science, sports, humanities and arts can equally be patriotic if that brings laurels for the country, employment, better living for the fellow citizens!

*Name changed

Copyright © Aradhana Mishra.