Military Veterans — A Superb National Resource being Underutilised
While reading Sir John Bagot Glubb’s study on ‘The Fate of Empires’, I was struck by his findings, some of which resonate with my life experience and observations of the state of the Indian nation. He examined the rise and fall of 11 empires over 3000 years and found that most of these had an average lifespan of two hundred and fifty years. Glubb also found that the general pattern of growth and decline of these empires was common and could broadly identify the similar phases in their rise and fall. In the first two phases, the pioneers and warriors drive an empire to gain power and expand through explorations, conquests, sacrifice and hardships as the empire grows and prospers based on altruist motives. Later, as the ages of ‘Commerce and Affluence’ follow, businessmen and merchants, who normally value material success, take over at the highest levels of society and brush aside the cherished values of the pioneers, explorers and warriors. As business and commerce builds wealth there is evidence that moral decay sets in along with the gradual decline of strong character values such as self-sacrifice, courage, enterprise, discipline and a sense of duty amongst the people, which led to the Empire’s creation in the first place. Pursuit of money replaces honour and adventure as the objective of the best young men who now seek wealth for themselves, and not for their nation or community. Education also undergoes the same gradual transformation. No longer do schools and academic institutions aim at producing brave patriots ready to serve their country or to discover great things for their nation. Parents and students alike seek educational qualifications which will command the highest salaries and teachings are oriented towards financial success. Glubb observed, that the empire’s heroes also change alongwith the changing values. Soldiers, builders, pioneers and explorers who were initially national heroes are relegated and are replaced by sportstars sportstars, entertainers and business icons. He also noted that in declining empires, religion weakens alongwith morality and men were more likely to ‘snatch’ than ‘serve’. Finally, he observed that civil dissensions and the intensification of internal political hatreds emerge in a declining empire and unreconciled internal differences lead to collapse.
The thrust of the journey of our nation since independence has been to bring prosperity to an impoverished people. But strangely, we seem to be exhibiting many of the signs of decline identified by Glubb, as our national trajectory remains well below par. We are probably going through our most turbulent time as a nation due to the Pandemic. The extremely poor human indices of public health, education, employment, poverty, nutrition, child mortality aside, a floundering economy, divisions in society, lack of credibility, faith and belief, hostile neighbours, natural calamities such as floods, cyclones, earthquakes, locusts — you name it! To top it all, corruption is deep rooted in all spheres of life and profession, government or civil, as it is each to himself. History does not lie and it tells us that if we continue this way, our national journey may remain suboptimal. History also tells us that the system of governance does not matter — monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy, theocracy or communist for there are abundant examples where each system has floundered or flourished. What matters is the quality of human resource managing the system. This is, therefore, the time for sterling national human resource to come to the fore to build narratives of commitment, honour, faith, trust and honesty and not of corruption, exploitation, parochialism, cronyism, and self-aggrandisement. And government officials who put the nation and people before themselves as our Armed Forces constantly do.
The officers of the Indian Armed Forces are the only professionals in India who are selected after detailed psychological analysis and mental deconstruction for requisite character qualities. No other office in India, however mighty, has this pre-requisite. The fact that year after year, national polls vote the Armed Forces as the most respected and trusted profession, is testimony to the sterling character qualities of the men and women of the Forces. Commitment to duty, integrity, ethics, discipline and good character are religion to the Armed Forces. In addition, Armed Forces personnel routinely practise leadership, teamwork during military service and the ability to bring people together to pursue common goals. They learn to react quickly, creatively and precisely in dynamic, high-pressure situations which entail problem solving, effective decision-making and attention to detail. As failure is not an option for them in military operations, military personnel take pride in the successful conclusion of their mission and being accountable is second nature. They are trained to work in an organised manner, and in light of the high-tech weapons and equipment they handle, they possess a variety of cross-functional skills including technical capabilities. Men and women of the Armed Forces thus exhibit a rare cocktail of valuable capabilities, but are sadly wasted post-retirement.
Ask corporate honchos what they value the most in employees : professional brilliance but suspect character versus strong character but average professional brilliance — all will vouch for the latter. Unfortunately, close to 60,000 personnel of the 1.3 million-strong Army retiring every year to their villages or homes are wasted to the nation, a large number of them between the ages of 32 and 46. These include those qualified in various engineering disciplines and trades such as clerks, chefs, PAs, etc and a sizeable number of general duty personnel who can easily be re-oriented into specific skills. Our governments have been unwilling to employ them in public offices post-retirement, where they can bring these same qualities to deliver meaningful developmental outcomes to the citizens at large. Even the limited government job reservations that are mandated at lower levels mostly go abegging. As per an IDSA study of August 2020, there are a total of 3,98,422 defence civilians employed under the Ministry of Defence, in various capacities from Groups A to D, in verticals such as the Armed Forces, Armed Forces Headquarters Cadre, Canteen Stores Department, Armed Forces Tribunal, Department of Defence, Department of Defence Production, Ordnance Factory Board, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Director General Quality Assurance (DGQA), Military Engineer Services, Army Ordnance Corps, Army Service Corps, Naval Dockyards, Base Repair Depots, Equipment Depots, Army Base Workshops, NCC, Defence Accounts Department, Defence Estates, Border Roads Organisation, Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry and the Coast Guard. While the Armed Forces having being crying hoarse about lateral induction of Armed Forces personnel into CAPFs and organisations under other ministries, the trail needs to be blazed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) first, by absorbing serving and retired armed forces personnel within its verticals. This is a low hanging fruit as it would not only enable easing of the steep promotional pyramid, but also majorly reduce the pension bill as most of these billets can be effectively tenated by retiring personnel. Unfortunately, retrograde steps are evident as defence organisations such as DRDO, DGQA etc, that earlier used to enable lateral side-stepping, have now stopped.
The Ministry of Defence must also actively engage the other central ministries to follow suit. Sidestepping of willing officers and Other Personnel into the CAPF is another extremely viable option recommended by many committees, which has unfortunately is not allowed to go through by vested interests. This would not only majorly reduce the salary and pension bills in the MoD, but would also reduce training costs in the Ministry of Home Affairs, besides bringing the Armed Forces ethos and enhanced credibility to these organisations.
Compare this with nations such as USA, Canada, Australia, UK, Singapore, New Zealand, Sweden amongst other first-world nations, which prize these qualities and utilise their veterans in different capacities after re-orientation where needed. In India on the other hand, we are witness to the same officials who have been unwilling or unable to deliver corruption-free governance and outcomes while in service, being rewarded with post-retirement positions for compromised principles. Perhaps that is why we remain an impoverished nation while other country that started their journeys with us have prospered. We are at a critical juncture of our national journey with major geo-strategic opportunities before us. Unless we leverage our most reliable human resources to deliver key outcomes, we may continue to languish in the ‘Third World’, for, as Theodore Roosevelt famously said, ‘Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike’. The central government has embarked on many bold reforms, to implement which it needs its best human resource. It is now time for the boldest reform — leveraging of its veterans appropriately to deliver the outcome it seeks from these reforms.