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The best way to select a service chief

New Delhi, Fri, 09 Mar 2012 ANI

New Delhi, Mar. 9 (ANI): Much has been said and written of late about the selection of service chiefs, especially with reference to their dates of birth.


While selecting the best man to head the services is indeed conceptually the best thing to do, there is an eminent comment available on record by Gen Thimaya, subsequently endorsed by Lt. Gen. Thorat and Maj. Gen. Palit, that at least at that point of our evolving democracy and political maturity, going by the seniority principle for appointing a service chief, would be the lesser evil.


The greater evil, Gen. Thimaya went on to explain, would be leaving it entirely to the political bosses to select the 'best' or the most 'meritorious' man, as it were, as the chief.


The latter system works well in Western democracies, he explained, because in addition to centuries of political maturity and deep rooted patriotic tradition, "there is hardly a mantelpiece in the living rooms of political bosses and numerous ordinary citizens in these countries which is not adorned by framed pictures of near and dear ones who were either 'KIA' or 'MIA' in numerous military conflicts that took place in various parts of the world!


This has deeply impacted those nations' psyche, institutionalizing a deep and abiding understanding of their men in uniform and of the heavy price of liberty those countries have had to pay time and again, cutting across region, class, occupation and religious persuasion lines. This has led to citizens of those countries developing great first hand, personal stake in the nation's military, without the need for contrived govt sponsored publicity and promotion.


War memorials and national cemeteries in those countries are places of worship and reverence. It is, for example, customary in Soviet Russia for newly married couples to first visit the local war memorials to pay obeisance, before proceeding elsewhere. Political bosses in those countries can by and large, therefore, be trusted with not holding seniority sacrosanct but putting military competence above other considerations when selecting a service chief.


In India, in sharp contrast, the polity perhaps still has some way to go to reach those high levels of probity in public life, genuine commitment to national security and patriotism, besides acquiring a deep and genuine understanding of the military."


This argument has been taken further by others to say that, going by the seniority principle, it is entirely possible that the odd relatively mediocre man may one day become the service chief.


However, the service (and the nation) may stand to lose much less in such a chief's short tenure of 2-3 years than what could happen for long periods if a carte blanche to pick and choose the best man were to be given to political bosses in countries like least in the foreseeable future! An insidious and almost certain fallout of such a practice in India would be rapid politicization of the armed forces where every other man in the upper Service echelons could begin to ingratiate himself with politicians! That will not only destroy army-navy-air force elan and discipline (as it has perhaps already happened in the Police and some other civil services and other organs of government) but would also destroy their a-political nature....a most assiduously nurtured and zealously guarded trait in the Armed Forces! Politicization of the Armed Forces would decidedly be the most undesirable thing to happen in a democracy like ours....both militarily and nationally.


Something that would greatly suit our neighbours and gladden the cockles of their hearts, if it were allowed to happen in India!


Secondly, a bunch of editorials in American national dailies, circa 1861-62, readily comes to mind. These roundly condemned Lincoln's decision to risk a bloody civil war on the slavery issue, alleging that he was putting his personal fads and beliefs above the national interest by risking huge bloodshed that was sure to tear the young nation apart, besides leading America to rack and ruin and making it the laughing stock of the world! The dailies also used the adjective "saddest decision"!


Admirably withstanding great mental pressure, Lincoln preferred a bitter and bloody 4-year national catharsis in order to preserve and protect the Union for once and for all. Although deeply scarred and at a huge price, America emerged more united and strong after the civil war, as Lincoln had predicted. Today, a grateful America pays homage to that great man, saying "IN THIS TEMPLE AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION, THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS ENSHRINED FOR EVER! Similarly but on an admittedly lower scale of grandeur and criticality, if there exist some fundamental and serious aberrations in the civil-military relationship in India that adversely affect the nation's higher defence organization, war preparedness and military deterrence, then these need to be resolved, for once and for all in the larger national interest.


In that connection, it may be and it's only a guess, that if Gen. V K Singh had won his case, it might have been a useful first step, however small, in that direction, despite the collateral (but unavoidable) damage it might seem to cause, prima facie, to the corpora and psyche of the Indian Army!! The long range gains might outweigh the short range losses. By Air Marshal Satish Inamdar (ANI)


Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The views expressed in the above article are that of Air Marshal (retired) Satish Inamdar


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