Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Promoting crisis within the military


An ongoing spat between the MoD and Army HQ is keeping key positions empty. A codified army promotion policy will put an end to such face-offs


by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Apr 11

South Block is being roiled by a face-off between military and the ministry of defence (MoD), which co-exist at the best of times in mutual loathing. Since September, the MoD has blocked the routine promotion of army officers to the senior-most levels of command. Today, the commanders of several army divisions and corps – combat formations that are headed by major generals and lieutenant generals, respectively – are serving extended tenures since nobody is being promoted to relieve them. The Indian Army’s elite 1 Corps, which strikes deep into enemy territory in war, currently has no commander. Two major general posts in the crucial Military Operations Directorate and one in Military Intelligence Directorate are lying vacant.

Such a situation is unthinkable in India’s security environment, where a combat-ready military is regarded as the deterrent that holds back more Mumbai-style terrorist attacks. Even before terrorism became a factor in our security calculus, the military valued smooth succession at higher levels of command. When former army chief and India’s military legend General S H F J Manekshaw found the MoD dilly-dallying on the appointment of one of his army commanders, he unilaterally issued an order posting a suitable general and asked the MoD to regularise it in due course.

But that was a different era and Manekshaw was Manekshaw. Since then the MoD has asserted its supremacy, especially in the 1998 sacking of navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat for refusing to implement the government’s appointment of Vice Admiral Harinder Singh as deputy chief of naval staff.

The cause of the ongoing confrontation is as follows: three years ago the army chief at the time, General Deepak Kapoor, implemented new criteria for promotion, in which subjectivity was minimised in assessing an officer’s suitability for higher rank. The new “quantification system” sought to translate into a set of numbers every measure of officers’ performance — in day-to-day functioning; on courses of instruction; special appointments; honours and awards and so on. This was to eliminate subjective judgement, which could scuttle a deserving candidate or elevate someone relatively less capable. This system was to be evaluated for three years and then tweaked if required.

When General V K Singh, the current army chief, took over from General Kapoor, feedback gleaned from army officers suggested changes in the quantification model. The new chief also decided to roll back another Kapoor-era policy to divide generals into two streams: those cleared for commanding combat formations and others who were cleared only to fill staff posts in headquarters. The army headquarters sought permission from the ministry, but the bureaucrats wondered why each new army chief had to tinker with promotion policies. For months, the matter hung in limbo.

Eventually, in January, the army promulgated the new quantification model and conducted promotion boards to the ranks of major general and lieutenant general, clearing all successful candidates for command and staff. Predictably, the MoD has refused to clear the board results. The army chief has met the defence minister, but there is no resolution. Mr Antony appears to agree with his bureaucrats who point out: every new army chief sets about reversing his predecessor’s policies.

Watchers of the Indian military believe that the absence of a formal promotion policy allows the flourishing of patrimonial interest, where policy changes are manipulated to benefit supporters and service constituencies. Unlike the civil services, where an iron-clad promotion policy has long existed, the military’s rulebook takes the form of policy letters, many of which are superseded as each new chief implements his ideas. This theoretically allows for responsive and adaptive promotion policies, but it also creates suspicion about the motives behind policy changes.

Noting that frequent policy changes have sharply increased the number of generals who approach the courts, the army’s former Judge Advocate General, Major General Nilendra Kumar, believes that, “When policy is changed almost every alternate year it indicates lack of consistency and suggests efforts to favour or bail out certain people. This leads to uncertainty and anxiety within the military.”

It also leads to poor policy, like the “pro-rata” system that the army implemented a decade ago. This involves allocating vacancies to each arm, at the rank of brigadier, in proportion to the number of officers in the arm. If the infantry comprised 55 per cent of all officers, they would get 55 per cent of all brigadier vacancies. Slammed by critics as the “Mandalisation of the army”, this divisive policy, backed by heavily populated arms like the infantry and the artillery, threw out the meritocracy that had governed higher rank in modern armies ever since the famous Prussian general staff had demonstrated its advantages.

Instead of learning from history, the army extended “pro-rata” to selecting major generals and was all set to extend this to the lieutenant general rank as well. Fortunately, when the proposal came up for discussion at the Army Commanders’ Conference in 2008, the famously outspoken Lieutenant General H S Panag acidly observed that the logical next step would be to select the army chief, not on merit or seniority, but turn by turn from each arm. That effectively quashed the proposal.

It is time to end the uncertainty caused by this endless tweaking of promotion policy. High-grade officers are retiring before their time, while the MoD refuses to release their promotion board results. The MoD must clear the army’s current proposals and ensure that all three services codify promotion policy in a simple rulebook.

14 comments:

Abid said...

When an Army Chief promulgates a new policy, it has the support and consent of other commanders and heads of departments. When one of the supporting commander is elevated to be the Chief of Army Staff, if he rollbacks the policy of postulates a contradictory policy, he is negating his previous consent. This overall takes the toll on institution of army. Therefore, a mandatory term validity of all new policy is required, for example, a term of minimum 4 years before the policy can be shelved. This only can absolve the crippled command and retain the statuary structure of armed forces.

Anonymous said...

Saint Antony please use your brain. At least for once run your ministry by yourself and give break to baboos. Trust me! if you decide in favor of Army Chief's proposal your sainthood will not be tarnished....God promise...see even Sonia madam is nodding her head

Prasanna said...

Whom do we turn to then? Our own fraternity has tarnished its reputation for integrity and honesty. But that doesn't absolve the Minister and his lackeys from taking a decision, one way or the other. Can no one intercede on behalf of the Services? Are we reduced to such moral penury that our entire system can be held to ransom by a faceless few?

A G REDDY said...

institutions and the system is abused by self styled adoption of so called policy . CsOAS are no exceptions.What was MOD doing without due participation /vetting of such important so called policy by every individual chief.it is time chiefs understand difference between institutional policy and individual fads/choices.MOD was absolutely RIGHT in their Q,contention ,wisdom and invoking authority.

Avenger said...

I think "someone" is waiting for directive to come from foreign shores on who to be promoted to the top positions.

Anonymous said...

probably, this explains why our beloved col was not promoted to brig.

Anonymous said...

The lesser said the better.We lack a voice and the system is getting what it deserves for accepting the continued deterioration of its status.

Rohit Agarwal said...

For salvation of the organization, we need to rise above the personality cult. While individuality and personal quirks serve as good leadership accessories, taken to sycophantic extremes they serve to harm the organization. They result in policy changes and turbulence every time command changes at unit, formation and the army level. Specially when combined with the tendency to believe that everyone preceding one was a fool.

The idea of a moratorium on tinkering with a policy for a minimum period is a good one. But who will implement it and how? This policy itself would be susceptible to change when the person promulgating it changes!!!

PS - Am flattered by the refernce to Mandalisation of the Army

Anonymous said...

Well, the skewed promotion policies and especially regionalisation of promotions is for all to see amongst our defence forces. The best of the officers are being laid off for no fault and inspite of terrific performances. Kindly have a look at the Malyalis going upwards wherever the Personal Branches are being headed by them. Its a shame that we are generating rats and not fighters. The rights are not equal in Fauj also which is suuposed to be the last bastion of ethics and morality. Jai Hind

DEVASIS said...

Only the IAS guarantees that blockheads make it to the Secretary level posts.
Race horses or mules all make it to the winning post.
The army should have flexible policies to reward the the performers and do away with a iron clad seniority rule

Returned to Unit (RTU) said...

I think it was FM Manekshaw who had once said
"I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerrilla from a gorilla, although a great many resemble the latter."

Promotions and rewards are "A" matters and should be left to the various Chief of staffs. The MoD should be nothing more than a rubber stamp. How to ensure this? Well let the the Service Chiefs decide how. It is their prestige which is at stake.

Centre for Land Warfare Studies said...

Army policies have to be steady and not change at the drop of a hat. I think MoD babus are correct in this respect

m r pattar said...

promotion policies are invariably tweaked to ensure the reigning chiefs agenda is fulfilled be it the promotion of his lackeys /personal staff/his kinsman (read as pind). to cite some egs withholding of the 1974 brigs bd by the now adarshs fame N C Vij in 2002or the introduction of a rule that any one with a 7 pt grade will not even be considered for promotion to a maj gen by J J Singh in2006 are but a few examples.Little wonder that the ethos of the services has been eroding over the years even as the quality of generalship is in a reverse gear. the mod has only exploited the situation and is having all the fun. there is a serious need to ensure only competence and merit matter and not the lanyard or the pind factor

Anonymous said...

I really do not know what all you say. When a policy is formulated and put to practice, the shortcoming of the policy become evident.

So does the forum say that one should continue with deformities of the Policy in the name of continuation or brings desired changes.

If the COAS has hidden agenda in changing the policy, what is MoD's hidden agenda in continuety?

Policy should be dynamic process. If the constitution can be amended why not evolving policy?