By Group Capt Murli Menon (Retd.)
Indian Air Force
"Breathes there a man with soul so dead , who never to himself
Hath said .. This is my own , my native land..."
"Patriotism" - by Sir Walter Scott
As I pen this piece, the ruling and opposing dispensations are yelling at each other, a hoarse attempt to define their versions of “nationalism” and the average Indian fulminates over the misplaced and pointlessness narration.
As a military man, one has a different take on the entire issue. In a nation where hardly a single politico scion has chosen a vocation of arms, it was heartening to read about HRD Minister Mrs. Smriti Irani’s proposal to employ retired armed forces JCOs as PT Instructors in schools, multitasking as "motivators" to make youngsters imbibe the nationalist fervor. Die-hard detractors who resist the promotion of any kind of military ethos in a diverse secular nation such as ours would rile alright but suffice to say that a dose of "FAUJI" inoculation as proposed would not hurt our countrymen one bit.
In India, we have consciously chosen to have a volunteer military service, but this happens definitely at some cost to the national psyche and general sense of discipline amongst our countrymen. Countries such as Singapore and Turkey have had worthwhile experiences with compulsory military conscription, but that's another matter for discussion altogether.
Taking off from the HRD Minister’s suggestion, there's no gain in saying that a systemic methodology of laterally moving military veterans into the civvy street would pay rich dividends down the line. The idea of lateral mobility for defense personnel is not new and has been mooted over the years, including in an erstwhile Pay Commission as a recommendation. However, only cursory opportunities exist for this (as of now). Traditionally in India military professionals have found viable second careers in organizations such as the DRDO, Civil Aviation Companies, or the HAL. But other bastions such as the bureaucracy, police, academia and intelligence have been virtually shut out to ex-Defence officials to pursue a meaningful second career. By this, I mean, the opportunities for career progression akin to other regular entrants in that organization and not as "guest artistes".
As for the private sector, the military professionals increasingly found their way into corporate boardrooms, rather than being consigned to few cliched slots for Security and Firefighting!.And mind you his training as a "jack of all trades" ably qualifies him for the vagaries of most callings, including corporate life. Pilots and medical doctors from the military find it easier to transition to a civilian second career. But the majority of service personnel do not have any such opportunity, being left on the shelf to idle their worthwhile grey-cells in innocent retirement.
Countries such as the USA have chosen to keep the upper age limit for entry into government service (State Dept for Example) at 45 years , enabling several retired militaries and those from academia to have a crack at a diplomatic or Intelligence career, after they have had a regular primary career. In India, unfortunately, we have created fiefdoms over the years, cartels key areas of government activity to vested interests, the domination of police in our Intelligence wings being a case in point coupled with a duplicity in Career objective priorities, such as seeking greener pastures in the States by the Police fraternity for one, this often leads to a critical organization being rendered wanting In “ esprit de corps” and any sense of belonging. Re-streaming of some short service commissioned officers into the IAS and IFS has served us well in the past. IPS could also open its doors to military officers and men after suitable entrance mechanisms are put in place.
It is an established fact that the armed forces have a pyramidal structure, warranting regular "wastage" at various levels of career progression. But imagine the benefits that would accrue to the society at large if sizeable numbers of Defence veterans migrate into various sectors of our social fabric. The huge investment a nation does in training the military professional could be recovered largely by facilitating second careers for our veterans, taking them to reasonable retirement ages of 60 or 65.The basic mental makeup of a military man is secularly nationalistic and patriotic. Every military campus has every religious place of worship and the intensity of nationalistic fervor has to be experienced to be believed. Stories abound of Muslim COs in Hindu or Sikh Battalions who virtually adopt the identity of the platoon they command.
A deterrent factor so far in facilitating easy lateral mobility for defense personnel has perhaps also been the lack of trust of the powers that be in the Military. Given the unsavory experiences of some of our neighboring countries, where the army has often usurped political power, this was perhaps understandable in a bygone era.
The nation needs to understand the basic strengths of the Indian Armed Forces as a uniting entity, which harbors no political ambitions and can deliver required outcome when mixed with civilian establishments.We need to find ways to integrate them into the social milieu after their "color service". Not only would such an approach benefit the country directly by enhancing its “ discipline quotient”, it would make the veterans feel more wanted in society. Also , meaningful utilization of their disciplined energies would give added impetus to nation building.
There is, therefore, a crying need to review, holistically, our government’s policy on lateral mobility for military veterans. Maybe, a suitable Parliamentary Committee should be called for to assess the sectors where veteran's military expertise could be gainfully employed .In a budding superpower such as India, the aggregate of such lateral deployment would be a force multiplier in more ways than one.
In today's modern world youngsters are bound to get alienated (increasingly) from “esoteric” emotions such as patriotism ( which came naturally to us older fogies! ) global citizens as they all increasingly are . Military veterans integrated sensibly into all walks of society would help not only ameliorate our manpower issues but more importantly serve as a bulwark for instilling desirable patriotic fervor in our younger countrymen. The time could not be better to push for substantial ways for showing respect to our men in uniform. The latest fiasco of course is the treatment meted out to the armed forces by the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations, wherein the military has been given short shrift as compared to the IAS/IPS. There has been no military membership on any Pay Commission ever.
Money may not be everything, but a veteran is surely concerned about his elan in the national psyche. Lateral mobility to other fields of human endeavor is must, therefore, to integrate and maximize the inherent strengths of India’s Armed Forces. Existing adulation amongst the common man for the military needs to be nurtured. Any nation that does not truly understand this facet of national security is bound to suffer adverse consequences down the line.
Another key aspect that needs to be put in place for “lateralization” to be meaningfully effective is that of "equivalence". The bureaucracy has found it convenient to downgrade defense officers visa vis their civilian counterparts. From No.1 rank during the Viceregal era, the military Chiefs have been brought down steadily and systematically to the present 38th or so in the Warrant of Precedence. The perennially perceived insecurity felt by the civilian dispensation about men in uniform is perhaps behind this sorry state of affairs. It is logical in today’s context to equate a Colonel with a Director and a Brigadier with a Joint Secretary. By extending this higher up the bureaucratic ladder a Maj Gen would be equivalent to an Additional Secretary and a Lt. General a Secretary. The CDS needs political expedition and positioned directly below The Raksha Mantri, above the Defence Secretary. The Service Chiefs should be at par with the Defence Secretary. An integrated Ministry of Defence, of course, a natural corollary to all this.
It is not only emoluments but the vastly disparate years of experience between service officers and equivalent civilian functionaries that warrant this. A separate Pay Commission for Defence Forces and aspects such as NonFunctional Upgrade are other aspects sine qua non in this context.
Soldiers who transition gracefully into society after a wholesome employment spectrum would also continue to contribute as active members of bodies such as panchayats and resident welfare associations, providing an intangible X- factor to the enhanced nationalistic bent of mind across communities and cultures.
About the Author:
Group Captain (Retd.) Murli Menon served in Indian Air Force for 32 years, transiting it tactical, operational, strategic and conceptual appointment spectra with credit. He was India’s Air Advisor to Indian High Commission at Islamabad, Pakistan (2000-2004). In his second avatar, he served for 8 years with India’s Cabinet Secretariat, including a stint as Consular at Ankara, Turkey from 2008-2011.
He was one of the pioneers in the IAF’s Doctrine Think Tank – “Air War Strategy Cell” that produced India’s first Air Power Doctrine, the IAP 2000 in 1995. His interests include strategic studies and since post retirement, he contributes to various think-tanks based out of New Delhi, India.