The Parliamentary Committee on Defence is reported to have recommended five years of compulsory military service for anyone who wants subsequent employment with the state or the central government. The committee apparently wants the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to prepare such a proposal and take this to the Centre.
On the face of it, the perception and recommendation of the Committee reflects the core feelings of most Indians that a dose of compulsory military training for ‘all citizens’ will only do good for the people and the nation. It is reflective of the deep reverence the nation has for its armed forces, their basic value system, discipline, training, sense of duty, and patriotism.
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However, on the outset it is necessary to explain that executing such a desire is impractical given the sheer size of our recruitable male and female population (gender equation being a compulsion too). Examples of nations such as Israel, Singapore, Switzerland or the Nordic states, which follow such a system, cannot be taken as a model. Their population bases and nature of threats are altogether different. However, giving the Parliamentary Committee its due, there is nothing such as conscription in the recommendations set out.
All that the committee has done is that it has sent a broad proposal concerning only aspirants for government service and that too for only gazetted ranks. Five years compulsory service in the armed forces will, as per its perception, achieve two things:
First, it will instil in the civil services (aspirants) an inherent discipline that the men in uniform follow, along with their regimentation, ethics, morals and values.
Second, it will help overcome the acute shortages that continue to persist, especially in officer ranks, the army in particular.
Advantages of the Proposal -
Some more advantages can be perceived with a closer examination of the proposal. Among them is the likely progressive improvement in civil-military relations as more civil services officers having undergone military service reach higher ranks of bureaucracy or police services.
This is an aspect of functioning in India which has drawn much negativity. In future years, the bond of the uniform, the respect for camaraderie built in the ranks, essentials of regimental bonding and much more will come forward to overcome traditional rivalry.
No one is denying that rivalry may still exist but denting it will help the system.
There can be no doubt about the fact that the proposal will need many summers before it can be approved, and refinement will include experimentation and lessons, besides a full look at terms of service for each type of personnel.
But the issue it will impact in full is the shortage of officers; there is no need to address shortage of soldiers as that is self-corrective, being an issue of exit and entry statistics at a given time.
The armed forces are always accused of having a pyramidal system for the officer cadre where wastage is extremely high. This is because the majority joins the ‘main cadre,’ thus becoming aspirants for long service and higher rank. This makes competition intense. Existing alongside is a ‘support cadre’ – those in service for a shorter duration and not aspiring for long service and higher selection rank.
Bolstering Support Cadres, Overcoming Deficiency -
Ideally every service of the armed forces should have a large officer based ‘support cadre’ and a lean ‘main cadre’ so that the force remains young in profile with quicker promotions and less competition. In India, however, it’s the other way around. Any reversal of this cannot happen in isolation.
Those exiting also have to be taken care of, by side stepping them into other services that don’t require stringent standards of physical fitness. In India, no other service accepts them despite a Cabinet-approved proposal of 2004, on what is called the ‘peel factor’ (employing those peeling off from the cadre at different stages).
The induction of civil service aspirants will obviously be to the ‘support cadre’ to strengthen that and overcome the problem of deficiency of officers. Both men and women aspirants can join the support cadre through a short service commission for five years or so.
Stringent medical and physical fitness standards will need to be adopted and can be anticipated as one of the obstacles to the final clearance of this proposal.
In addition, there can be consideration for ante date seniority for those who do military service and then join the civil services; that is if the civil services cadre could have acceptance with a dual intake pattern, combination of those who serve the armed forces and those who come in directly. All these details will obviously be examined with a fine tooth comb, and the DoPT is adept at evolving cadres with varying terms and conditions.
What the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee do not deserve is outright rejection as some kind of a hare-brained idea. It needs to run the gamut of serious examination followed by short-term experimentation. If successful, it will have achieved much, but a conclusive decision appears to be a good distance away.
(This article was originally published in 'The Quint' on March 16, 2018 and has been republished here with the permission of the author. Read it here.)