INDIAN YOUTH AND THE INDIAN ARMY
Col (Retd) TN Raman
Is Indian Army an unattractive career for the youth of our country? When this topic was being discussed, every one, unhesitatingly jumped to the conclusion of ‘YES’ first and then started the debate later to justify their conclusion. The fact is, the Indian Army alone has a deficiency of nearly 11,000 officers, out of its authorised strength of nearly 47,000. That is a little less than a quarter. Therefore, the assumption must be true.
One of the lead speakers opened the debate with a bombastic statement, “a strong professionally led Military controlled by a capable leader having impeccable credentials, strength of character and integrity is vital in the national interest”.
I was surprised. Is it not the exact quality lacking in our National Leadership for the past 65 years or so? At least the Army, to my mind, did not lack in this sphere. Therefore, this statement is more applicable to the Civil Leadership than to the Armed Forces. I told the audience that just remove the word ‘Military’ from the above statement and replace it
with the word ‘Nation’, and then everything will fall in their places.
There is no doubt that a career in the Armed Forces, especially in the Army is least sought after by the present day youth. This problem is not unique to our country, but it is a worldwide phenomenon, in all the countries which do not have conscription. Therefore, every Democratic Country is evolving its own response to address this grave deficiency. India is not an exception..
There are some inherent assumptions we make while formulating a strategy to address this problem. The negatives are service conditions, promotion prospects, job satisfaction, lack of freedom to retain the option of switching the job for better career prospect and post retirement provisions have deteriorated as compared to the Civil Services. After marriage, lack of avenues available to the wife to pursue her own career due to frequent transfers, coupled with lack of married accommodation, education and career planning
for the children and frequent separation from the family and so on.
The positive aspects are that a person who has been trained and had spent some time with the Forces, is disciplined, law abiding and can face various adverse situations boldly.
We have the finest training Institutions in the world. They not only churn out Officers
but also Gentlemen, which is a great contribution to the Society and to the Nation. Somehow, down the line this excellent aspect is being underplayed. A good engineer or
a manager does not necessarily make a good officer.
The Officers selected through the Services Selection Board (SSB) have been filtered through four main criteria which are, Intelligence, Aptitude, Medical & Physical condition and Leadership quality. Intelligence, aptitude and leadership quality are gauged through proven psychological tests, where many do not make the grade. Such a system of selection of the executives does not exist even in the MNC and other corporates.
Marketing Techniques are the recent innovation which the Armed Forces have embarked on to attract the Youth to join their ranks. Mckinsey and Co led survey report on War for Talent published in 2007, states, “the best of MNCs are facing challenges in attracting and retaining top quality talent despite savvy marketing strategies”. Granting Honorary Commissions to Sportsmen and popular Heroes from Cine world may have some marginal effect. But, the real slogan of all Advertisements published by the Armed Forces is “Do you have it in you?” is a challenge which goes unaddressed by the youth of our country. This reflects on the mood of present generation to go for an easy way of life, disregarding the quality of life and the prestige and status that go with certain jobs like the Officers in the Armed Forces.
Superior Salary and Perks
Enhancement of Pay and Perks alone will not attract the youth. After the Sixth CPC, the pay scales have been considerably improved, which as per the AHQ report itself helped in stemming the exodus of Officers seeking premature retirement, but did not attract more intake at the recruitment level. This is due to the fact that the youngsters, who opt for joining the Armed Forces, do not retain the freedom of mobility in the Career Market to land up with superior salaries. It is evident that these youngsters consider themselves fit for better career prospects in the corporate world, due to the experience and status gained while serving with the Armed Forces, and they want to cash on the same at the right moment in their lives. The Armed Forces need not take a pessimistic view on this attitude, and apply strict conditions for the exit process. Instead, voluntary exit schemes may be introduced to assist such aspirants, after every 5 years of service. This policy may initially seem to encourage mass exodus, but this option by itself will prove to enhance the recruitment at the intake level, in the long run.
Take Home Salary
In the final analysis, what the Youth is worried about is the net salary available to him every month for him to spend. For example, none of the Insurance companies cover the War Risk in their Life Policies. So, the Armed forces embarked on their own Group Insurance Scheme (AGIF). It is no doubt an excellent Scheme for which they should be congratulated. But, the premium for this Scheme which is deducted through their salaries is quite high. Even a Jawan contributes Rs 2,000/- pm. If the Govt considers paying this premium as part of the perks, the Take Home salary will increase considerably.
Trying to Recruit only the Above Average Category
The Armed Forces through their SSB aims to target only the top contenders. Instead it will be beneficial to go in for rough cut diamonds and polish them into perfection. The NCC is the ideal vehicle to achieve this aim. Students from the Ninth Standard onwards should be selected by the NCC Officers, who can be motivated and groomed to become the future Officers of the Armed Forces. As we have seen, majority of the candidates fail to get through the Aptitude and Leadership Tests in the SSB. The few selected students of the Schools from all over India, can be taken on tours to various Operational and Field Areas, to have first-hand knowledge of the conditions of service faced by our brave Officers and Men, to instil a sense of patriotism, pride and devotion to the Mother Land. As it is the NCC cadets are taken on Annual Training Camps. So, in financial terms also it will not be an additional expenditure. It will also give equal opportunity for the youngsters from the rural areas to compete with the others on an equal footing. In the long run, these methods of taking in rough cut diamonds and polish them to perfection, will pay rich dividends. The NCC as an Organisation will be fully utilised. In addition the NCC can also be of great help in recruiting the new 10+2 Technical Entry Scheme.
Short Service Commission (SSC)
SSC is treated as support cadre for Permanent Regular Commission (PRC), which is twice its strength. According to internal report, the short fall of 11,000 officers would be bridged in 20 years. If the proposal to take 2 SSC officers for every PRC Officer, this shortfall may be covered in lesser time frame, without affecting the pyramidal structure of the Army. To make SSC more attractive, the term of service could be made to 5 to 10 years, with a guaranteed 2 years study leave before their release. The present system of 10 years plus 4 years optional service, does not meet the requirement of job mobility, which the Youth nowadays are aspiring for. Further, when a youngster joins the Service, he has done so with the minimum educational qualification, required for the grant of SSC. Therefore, the organisation must also be responsible to prepare him for his subsequent rehabilitation, which should not be considered as a waste, since he had contributed the prime of his youth to the service of the Nation. Most importantly, he is reducing the pension burden of the organisation, which would be an enormous saving.
One more striking anomaly is that SSC Officers are not being granted PRC even after 10 years of service. If an Organisation can trust a person as an Officer for a decade with all the responsibilities including command, the selection to PRC should be automatic, except in very few cases. The same situation arose with the Emergency commissioned Officers (ECO). Most of the ECOs who had fought one or two wars and also employed in various CI operations were thrown out after 5 years of service. This was great injustice done to them. Let us not repeat the same mistake in the case of SSC Officers also. Grant PRC to those of them who would like to take Army as their profession.
The conditions, no doubt, have improved now. An Officer can become a Lt Col by passing some mandatory examinations. The selection grade starts only from the rank of Colonel. An officer can become a Lt Col in 13 years’ service and a Colonel in 15 or 16 years of service. Every Officer, including those who could not make the selection grade will definitely retire as a Col (TS) in 25 years. If the Civil Services principle of granting Non Functional Upgradation (NFU) is made applicable, an Officer who is passed over for promotion to the rank of Col would become Col (TS) at the service span of 18 to 19 years, instead of waiting for 25 years. This relief will go a long way in eradicating the disgruntlement and build up a healthy working atmosphere. In addition this guaranteed retirement at the rank of Col may also improve the intake.
Adopting to Changing Social Environment
With more women joining the Armed Forces as (SSC) and some having already gone to the Court for grant of PRC, and won the case alleging ‘Gender Bias’, the Armed forces must now come up with revised Regulations in respect of the Women Officers. This being a separate subject by itself is not being dealt with in this paper. Suffice to say that their intake will also go a long way in making up the deficiency in Officers cadre.
It may be tempting to suggest that increase in Pay and Perks will attract more youth to join the Army. It definitely is one of the ways but not the only way. The reality lies somewhere else. We cannot alter the geography of our Nation or our Threat Perception, to ensure a corporate style of working environment for the Officers. They have to serve with the men in all types of terrain and undergo privation, difficulties and much higher risks to their own lives. Even with increase in emoluments, only a few would prefer such a tough, risky and adventurous career. Most of the Youth of today, who have been brought up in a softer environment, would prefer a sheltered life even with half the salary offered by the Armed forces.
That can be no reason for the Govt to take shelter. Because, those few who have come forward to serve the Nation must be paid realistically, by applying the Supply and Demand Principle. The Supply as of now is limited. The Demand of the Nation is more. The 1.3 million strong personnel of our Armed Forces, is the main stay for our Democracy and Like Lord Wavel had rightly pointed out, “the stability of the Indian Army may perhaps be the deciding factor in the stability of the Indian Democracy”. Indian Army had stood by this commitment despite several derogative steps taken by the Political Leaders and the Bureaucrats. At some point of time the thread of subservience may snap. The wakeup call has already been given.
We must come out of our pessimistic thinking that the money spent on an officer for his training and grooming would become waste if he opts out of the service at an earlier period than contracted. Let us consider positively, that his training and education he gained in the Armed Forces would be utilised in some other means by some other organisation in the overall interest of the Nation. So, make the exit policy easy and allow him the option of job migration.
Ensure that all those who exit from the Forces either on superannuation or otherwise are given opportunity to enhance their qualifications and thus their esteem in the Civil Society.
Above all, the time is over due to restore the honour and esteem of the Armed forces which have been progressively degraded by various Civil and Political agencies.
Above all, creation of congenial and conducive working atmosphere, absolute transparency in the performance evolution of the Officers, freedom to bring out the deficiencies in the system including those of superior officers in accordance with the present trend in the country are some areas where we have to look into. These aspects have to be addressed by the Organisation and have got nothing to do with the Govt. The present day youth would not like to be just an’ Yes Man’. His Social awareness is on a much higher plane.
The Veterans’ Associations can play a major role in motivating the School and College Students in joining the Armed Forces. Let us be clear that every youngster is not going to land up in top corporate job. Considering the population of our country, 99.99 per cent of the youngsters would be landing up in the lower strata of jobs. Our endeavour should be to identify such targets and motivate them to volunteer for the Armed Services. They will turn out to be fine finished products after their training.