Need for a revamp in selection and training of armed forces officer cadre

Shashwat Gupta Ray
Saturday, 26 August 2017

Last year, in a seven part series, I had extensively reported on the need for revamping training and selection system, and overall administrative process in the armed forces, that has not produced sufficient quality military leaders over a period of time. 

On the ill-fated day of August 18, two first term Gentlemen Cadets (GCs) of Indian Military Academy (IMA), Deepak Sharma and Nabin Kumar Chhetri, passed away due to exhaustion and dehydration while participating in ‘Exercise Pahla Kadam’ training camp for first term GCs of IMA, which has put the spotlight back on the issue of archaic selection and training process of armed forces officer cadre.

Last year, in a seven part series, I had extensively reported on the need for revamping training and selection system, and overall administrative process in the armed forces, that has not produced sufficient quality military leaders over a period of time. 

This chronic problem has been well documented in a three-part book series titled ‘Quality Military Leadership – A Key to Victory India’. The news of deaths at IMA reminisced of a similar incident that rocked National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune, when a fourth-term, 19-year-old Army cadet, Cadet Ajitesh Anuj Goel collapsed and died on February 2, 2013, while participating in a routine training activity. 

The book questioned the unscientific training process, hauled up the SSB system and raised concerns on the high level of injuries sustained by cadets due to weaker physical composition; the training regimen that was pushing the cadets too hard, without allowing them to get acclimatised with the conditions, even though it was a three-year course.

The book had no takers. The military and its institutions, including the training academies, have always been given a hallowed status. This resulted in a lot of unacceptable things continuing, while the authorities turned a blind eye.

It took the sad demise of a cadet for the establishment to wake up, albeit reluctantly. The incident was alarming, considering that he was the fourth cadet to die during training at the NDA in the seven years. What was going wrong? 

Then Volume 2 of this book got published, and later the third volume. Each of these editions took macro issues, after having dealt with micro issues of selection and training. Gradually, the subsequent book volumes started questioning the appraisal system, with special focus on the outdated Annual Confidential Report (ACR) based promotion system. It questioned the basis on which meritorious officers were getting sidelined, while those not competent enough were rising up, which was having a telling impact on the performance of the Armed Forces, particularly army.

These were all difficult questions that were asked for the first time, that too bluntly, without sugar coating the words. Armed Forces always held a hallowed position in society. In fact, it still does. It has been able to market itself very well, as an institution that could do no wrong. Being the custodians of national security, they are not liable to be questioned, nor liable to answer. When there is a bulwark surrounding the hallowed image, it becomes difficult to point fingers at the same institution.

But Team Victory India has been successfully able to puncture the inflated egos at many points, which has been grudgingly accepted by the powers to be. Being a more closed institution than Air Force and Navy, Army will take much more time to initiate the changes and ironically, it is the Army which needs to come out of the colonial era mindset.

Be it civilian-soldier/officer conflicts in areas under cantonment boards, where civilian and military population co-exist, or physical duels between jawans and officers, junior and senior officers, wives of junior and senior officers, scams, scandals, rising battle casualties – they all point towards systematic failure of leadership system in the Armed Forces. 

The first onus lies on the Company Commanders of the training academies to ensure that nothing untoward takes place in the name of ‘ragda’. There was a video of a cadet being thrashed with a hockey stick by a senior cadet inside the academy, that went viral. This created huge embarrassment to the administration and armed forces fraternity. In today’s era of mass communication tools on the prowl everywhere, it is important that the academies rein in the seniors and don’t land up with their face in the muck.

Next is the commanding officer of a battalion. It is here that a junior officer is groomed into a future leader, starting with being a section commander, then platoon, company and finally the unit commander, before entering the general cadre. The legacy left behind by the commanding officer will decide what will be the learning for the young officers. 

History has been repeating itself almost regularly. Be it Pakistani intrusion in 1948, China attack in 1962, Pakistani aggression again in 1965, 1987 failure of Sri Lanka peace accord and combat with Tamil militia LTTE, which was ironically trained by Indian Army, and Kargil – we have been caught napping. The lack of intelligence inputs and non-cognisance to this critical aspect of war preparedness has resulted in the country losing thousands of its brave sons in the battlefield.

Despite these failures, if the battles and wars are being won by this Army, then it is again due to the quality leadership that has been displayed by the junior officers. Gallant officers like 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal, Capt Vikram Batra, Maj Hoshiar Singh, Capt Anuj Nayyar, Lt Col Ardeshir Tarapore, Maj Kuldip Singh Chandpuri are legends.

We have such great leaders coming from every generation. So there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Team Victory India has shown, through their persistence, that they mean business. The letters of appreciation from various quarters – including top ranking officers, defence minister, all show that there is an endorsement of their views. But now, the time has come for implementing the findings of this trilogy and the fourth volume, which is due for publication.

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