Bangla Saturday, August 15, 2020

Indian Army's 'Tour of Duty' proposal is both wasteful and counter-productive

SUNDAY SPECIAL-ENG-31-05-2020

I saw three episodes of the 'Tour of Duty', an American military television drama series based on events in the Vietnam War, that ran for three seasons on CBS between 1987-90. It examined issues of politics, faith, teamwork, racism, suicides, fragging, sexuality, drug abuse and so much more.

So when the Indian Army announced the 'Tour of Duty' scheme recently, there were hopes this might be an interesting way to attract talent to one of the world's most professional armies -- brilliant IT graduates to counter Chinese cyber-warfare operations, management professionals to handle logistics and chartered analysts to handle military finance, a real weak point in the Indian military.

First, let us see what an Army spokesperson listed as features of the 'TOD' scheme:

* A novel proposal to make up for chronic shortages of officers

* Young and fit volunteers to be offered positions in the Army for a duration of three years including in combat arms

* There will be no relaxation in selection or training criteria. Only those found fit shall be given the offer.

* This engagement is to accrue benefits to the Army as well as the individual, details of these benefits are under scrutiny and will form part of the main proposal which may be forwarded to the government soon.

* As a matter of interest, the performance of the officers and jawans under three years of service during all operations including Ops. VIJAY were found to be exceptional in gallantry. The main argument in support of the proposal is that it will help reduce the financial burden on the Army and ensure more funds for modernization.

Also Read: Indian economy in free fall

"It may save money, but at what cost? It is often said: machine doesn’t matter but the man behind the machine mattersWhile the corporate world is focusing on improving Human Resources quality dimensions, the Indian Army is focusing on modernization at the cost of the very man-behind the gun," said Brigadier J M Devadoss, a management expert who commanded an amphibious brigade and other formations during his army tenure.

Devadoss said this scheme will be “detrimental to Army values and ethos and counterproductive to national security.” 

“Is fund management and allotment for modernization of the armed forces, a responsibility of the Army or the political executive?” he asked. “The Army will compromise its core roles if it went looking to finance itself, the force is not a commercial start-up.

“The trial results of limited numbers cannot be taken as a yard stick for implementation of ToD across the Army. Men are not guns or tanks and no two men are the same. Hence it may be prudent to reconsider the trial of ToD in full-scale but in onetime intake trial with conditions," Devadoss said.

When TOD soldiers and officers are released after three years, they are still ‘green soldiers’ (not yet battle inoculated), implying their poor utility, he argued.

"The TOD will be a waste, a neither here nor there kind, and if these TOD recruits are politically motivated on divisive religious lines, they can play merry hell with the essential secular ethos of the Indian army," said a Lieutenant-General. “This will impact on the army’s conduct in internal security zones like Kashmir or the Northeast,” he added.

It is rather surprising to see that the Army is opening up ‘internship’ when corporates are scrapping it. “Interns spoil their Organizational Culture (OC) and cause a negative influence in Organizational Behavior (OB)," said management professor Subrata Ray. 

“The impact in the Army which thrives on regimental bonding will be worse,” he added.

Three retired Lieutenants General, who did not wish to be named, told South Asian Monitor that regimental bonds and traditions will be ‘seriously undermined’ by the 'green interns', who will not have enough time and exposure to fit into it.

"You can never expect these green interns to face hard battle situations, be it in regular war or in tough counter-insurgency," one of them said. 

Old Regiments of the Indian Army do not allow and encourage ‘green soldiers’ (three years or less) to be launched into fierce battle or in stand-alone operational tasks but are given sheltered duties in the rear and in safer areas.

"The TOD will be a waste, a neither here nor there kind, and if these TOD recruits are politically motivated on divisive religious lines, they can play merry hell with the essential secular ethos of the Indian army," said a Lieutenant-General. “This will impact on the army’s conduct in internal security zones like Kashmir or the Northeast,” he added.

"So, we can visualize a flow of saffronized youth walking in and out of the army to provide the muscle for a future Hitlerite Brownshirts, an armed wing of the Sangh to badger opponents and minorities or whoever opposes them. As they grow unpopular, the saffron brigade would need force to stay in power," she told South Asian Monitor.

Assam Congress politician Bobeeta Sarmah, who follows the army, expressed the fear that the ruling BJP-RSS can influence recruitments because cadres in 'Shakhas' are subjected to physical training and basic use of arms (perhaps firearms in some cases).

"So, we can visualize a flow of saffronized youth walking in and out of the army to provide the muscle for a future Hitlerite Brown shirts, an armed wing of the Sangh to badger opponents and minorities or whoever opposes them. As they grow unpopular, the saffron brigade would need force to stay in power," she told South Asian Monitor.

“Now they have internet troll armies. Soon they will have armed groups,” Sarmah added.

Regimentation is the strength of the Indian Army in general and the fighting arms in particular. It plays a vital role in the Army’s effectiveness and is a key element of competitiveness in Army.

"Regimentation is not an overnight process but built by bonhomie and brotherhood over a period of time. War cries are a manifestation of Regimentation," says Brig Devadoss.

The “Tour of Duty" scheme does not fit into the required time frame for the development of regimentation and esprit de corps. “The effort put into developing regimentation is futile at the end because, by the time he gets knitted the soldier is due to be released from Army," Devadoss pointed out. 

In the normal course, a regular Sepoy serves for 15 years but in ToD he will serve for only 3 Years. Relief of a regular soldier from hard tasks by a green soldier of ToD can never happen because ToD will turnover men every three years.

“Thus a Regular sepoy will not get relief from ToD till his retirement. Besides getting tired, all his parenting efforts will go waste every three years. He will lose interest in establishing bonhomie with the new arrivals,” Devadoss said during an elaborate interaction.

Battalions will also have a permanent burden of green soldiers in them at all times. High turnover causes other serious administrative problems like recruitment and training.

On the financial front, the TOD will prove to be "pennywise, pound foolish" step. "If a normal soldier or officer serves 15 years and a ToD 3 years, the recruitment- training-absorption cycle will have to be done five times over. Similarly, logistic loss in personal clothing and other items also sees a fivefold increase," said Mihir Gupta, a former senior official in Defense Accounts.

Recruitment every three years will be a tedious and expensive process across India -- advertisement, conduct of rallies, simultaneous conduct of exam across India, evaluation, education and security verification and so much more. A hoard of other activities will see a five-fold increase. The concertina effect of turnover every three years manifests in additional staffing for recruitment, training, admin & logistics, clerical staff etc. Even equipment maintenance will suffer and loss of equipment will increase.

What happens to the TOD recruit after 3 years? Who employs him? Industrialist Anand Mahindra has said he would prefer to employ them, but management expert Sujit Roy says Indian corporate culture is fast changing and the young soldier will find it difficult to adjust and compete with direct corporate trainees. 

Also Read: India's Rakhine dilemma

"They will be neither good soldiers nor good managers. Perhaps they may have a political value if they join a party as a paid volunteer," Roy said. 

Former Deputy Chief of Indian Army Lt Gen Raj Kadyan wrote in The Wire that the TOD scheme will benefit everybody except the Army.

"The downside of the proposal, by way of its negative impact on the Army, seems either to have escaped the notice of the planners or has been glossed over. The pre-commission training of officers is long and sustained in different academies. For ToDs, in view of their truncated service in the uniform, a long period of training will obviously not be cost-effective," he wrote.