By: M S Venkateshwar – A retired officer from the Armed Forces of India
The Agneepath scheme announced by the government recently has invited extreme reactions from a section of people, both within the armed forces and outside, with some – from within the forces too – going to the extent of claiming that one of the most dangerous outcomes could be ‘ militarisation of society – an extremely serious charge – when viewed in the context of the number of veterans in society today.
While the senior leadership of the services has become the object of derision and memes, significant blame has been laid at the doorstep of the political dispensation too, on issues concerning the execution and nitty-gritties of implementation, which is beyond their scope.
What is the truth and what should be the way forward ?
A lot of discussion has centered around a narrative already created – as an offshoot of opposition to anything that the government of the day does. The same cynicism applies to military leadership at the higher levels too, with the retired fraternity being fairly unsparing in showing a mirror of ‘ virtuosity ‘, probably forgetting their own recent past in the very same positions of authority. Some comments – in the form of memes – have been downright derogatory and unbecoming of conduct expected from the ‘ services ‘ community.
There has been an attempt at confusing the roles of policy making, and execution. Policy is made by the government and execution is left to the services. The government directive would have been to work out a scheme on the lines of the short service commission for officers, with financial implications being specified, if at all. It is presumed that it would have been a consequence of a study, since policy making does not happen in a vacuum. The nitty-gritties thereafter, would have been left to service HQs, to work out the modalities. Hence, the issues of the rank structure, etc. would have been worked out by the services themselves. To say that government has dictated issues like rank structure is to deliberately muddy the waters !
The difference between policy making and execution/implementation needs to be understood clearly to assign culpability if any. However, from a holistic assessment, it can be safely surmised that the benefits likely to accrue to the individual as well as society make it a win-win for all.
The positives of the policy
At the end of the tenure of four years a few thousand well-trained youth at the peak of fitness – both mental and physical – will be joining the civilian society with no individual family commitments . At the individual level, it will provide them the ability to take risks – which becomes a great handicap a few years down the line – in whichever career option they choose. The liberal options being announced for pursuit of higher education for those who wish to, makes for availability of very promising alternatives to the youth. For the country, there will be a few thousand trained youth – every year – to absorb, and make the best use of. And these are youth who carry no baggage – hierarchical or otherwise – and can be groomed by the organisation they join. It is a given that the organisation will be the gainer since they will have a bunch of dedicated, motivated and most importantly, trained manpower who can be moulded, and entrusted with responsibilities beyond capabilties of normal people, secure in the belief that their integrity would be beyond reproach. And the tenure in the armed forces will be their USP .
Benefits to Society
The fall out of youth with integrity and character joining the work force will not be lost on the rest of the people who come in contact. This will have a ripple effect on the rest of the organisation in terms of efficiency and morale, since this will be an annual feature. It would not be mere hype to predict that a lot of organisations would be waiting to induct these Agniveers , mainly because they are an extremely well trained resource being made available.
Over a period of a few years, the change in society itself will be visible, since the forces have always been considered as a classless – albeit hierarchical – community. The same will rub off at the grass roots of society too, since most of the intake is from the rural areas !
Effects on the Military
The most important effect on the armed forces and hence a huge responsibility will be to ‘ manage change ‘. The arguments being bandied about – about the turnover and short duration of tenure – doesn’t not paint the leadership in a good light. The management of change in the units will rest upon the officers. The ability to extract the best from the men under command does not change, whether they are in permanent service or short service . If the template of the short service commissioned officers be any yardstick, are they – in any way – lacking vis-a-vis the permanent commissioned officers ? If so, the blame has to be taken by the leadership, and the same should be applied here too. There should be no leeway in any aspect of service. There are enough processes to weed out the bad apples by strict punishment being meted out and an example being set.
Today’s youth are growing with technology and are far smarter, if the adage of ‘ every succeeding generation being smarter than the previous one, since our ancestors were apes ‘, holds true. Therefore, the fear of them not being up to the task or being found to be wanting in any way, is unfounded.
Issue of Rank and Dress
This should not even be an issue, since these are mere cosmetics. The authorities – the Service HQs – should and probably would, certainly have the flexibility to change these since these issues are an internal affair, and beyond the scope of the civilian beaurucracy and politicos.
Fear of Militarised Society
Those among the experts – retired, serving or civilians – putting forward this apprehension really need to introspect. It is the kind of charge which points all the fingers at the one pointing it. It is akin to saying that the training in the armed forces churns out criminals ! Nothing can be farther from the truth than this misplaced charge. In all these decades of highly trained men – with huge experience – leaving the forces, the number ‘ turning rogue ‘ has been a statistic that armed forces all over the world have been extremely proud of . To raise such fears is to indulge in runour-mongering to prove a point and ‘ is an insult to the ethos of the armed forces* . However, should it happen, exemplary punishment to the initial cases should settle the issue once and for all. But to use this argument for withdrawing the scheme is to hold the country to ransom. Also, it implies a failure of the forces in training their soldiers, sailors and airmen.
The charge of 75 percent being perceived as rejects does not hold water since it is in nature of service in all military organisations. Even amongst the officer cadre, the steep pyramid ensures that only a miniscule number make it to the top. Those being overlooked is always construed as a limitation of the organisational structure rather than a failure . The same is a part of the formal counseling process, an aspect that needs to be inculcated in this case too. Needless to say, it is extremely important to ensure these kind of negative vibes are avoided at all costs, to avoid a spiral and prevent a culture of despondency at the very beginning . It assumes greater importance in these times of toolkits, which are highly effective in inflaming passions .
For the naysayers and the non-believers, one would only request them to go back in their career and recollect how they felt when they were immediately out of training, and freshly-minted commissioned officers who felt ‘ the world was their oyster ‘ and they owned it , purely on the strength of the confidence in their abilities , arising out of their extremely good training in the forces.
The same privilege should be accorded to the future Agniveers too , rather than make them dependent on doles, in the form of permanent absorption as the only option.