Compulsory military service for entry into the central services will also result in giving civilian bureaucrats a better understanding of India's defence and security interests and needs and will create a permanent bond of camaraderie and friendship between Civilians and the military. In sum, compulsory national service for recruitment to the central services will be a major step forward in resolving the perpetual shortage of officers in the armed forces.
A great deal of media attention has recently been focussed on the shortage of approximately 13,000 officers in the Indian army and its deleterious effect on its fighting capability, particularly on its performance in counter-insurgency operations in J&K and the north-eastern states. This shortage was also felt during the May-July 1999 Kargil conflict.
It is too early to assess the long-term impact of the Fifth Pay Commission, with regard to the pay and the allowances of the ‘armed forces’ on the minds of the Indian youth. However, it is clear that joining the army is likely to remain low priority as even the new scales of remuneration are uncompetitive when compared with what is offered by the corporate sector.
Parliament’s standing committee on defence has indeed taken serious note of the shortage of officers, without, however, suggesting viable measures to resolve the problem. Obviously, there is a limit beyond which it is not possible to further increase pay and allowances to attract the best and the brightest to the army. In any case, pay and allowances alone can not enthuse and motivate young people to opt for a career that calls for hardship and sacrifice and demands that a young man put his life on the line for the country.
As the shortage of officers is primarily in the ranks of Captain and Major, the solution apparently lies in revamping the short-service entry scheme which offers lateral induction into civilian jobs after five to eight years of service in the army. Such a scheme would offer the twin benefits of filling all the vacant positions and reducing the pension bill. However, the jobs on offer for lateral absorption would have to be attractive enough to induce talented young men and women to join the army.
The corporate sector is unlikely to accept officers with five to eight years of service in the army in mainstream management positions. Given the present mindset, army officers will continue to be welcome only in security-related jobs. The public sector undertakings, clamouring as they are for greater autonomy, are also not likely to view non-MBA officers as potential managers. It is indeed a pity that so much importance is attached to theoretical fundamentals and so little to hands on leadership experience in the field.
Clearly, the only pragmatic option is for the central government to absorb all the officers scheduled for early release from the three services. The most practical method and the one with multifarious benefits to the nation, would be to make “military service” compulsory for all aspirants to the central services, including the Indian Foreign Service, the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Police Service, other Allied Services, the Central police and para-military forces and other similar organisations.
Direct recruitment to the IAS, the IFS and the Allied Services should be stopped in a phased manner and all fresh entry into these services should be channelled only through the armed forces, for men as well as women. Entry into the army, the navy and the air force should be through the Union Public Service Commission conducted Combined Defence Services examination for the National Defence Academy at Khadakvasla. On graduating from the NDA, the cadets should receive further training at the respective academies of the three services and then pass out as commissioned officers.
After five to eight years of service, all volunteer officers should be given three chances each to appear for the UPSC examinations and’ for lateral transfer into the IAS, the IFS and the Allied Services and the CPMEs. Those who do not wish to leave or do not qualify can continue in their respective services.
Assuming that the bait of an eventual transfer to the centra] services would he a lucrative enough inducement for talented young men and women to join the armed forces.. such a step would not only eliminate the shortage of officers over a few years, but also considerably enhance the quality of the junior leadership in the services.
As most counter-insurgency and internal security operations are conducted at the platoon and company levels, this would increase the effectiveness of the army when employed for such purposes.
However, such a move is bound to meet stiff resistance and would require a supreme political will to implement it.
Critics will lament the fact that qualified MBAs and engineers with experience of their trade, will no longer be available in the central services and that the age profile will be distorted. It is debatable whether the “generalist” central services really require MBAs and engineers. Graduates of the NDA receive BSc degrees, as the armed forces require a fairly degree of scientific knowledge. The syllabus can be suitably modified to accommodate the special managerial requirements of the central] services. A recognised management diploma can be included in the syllabus, particularly at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, and the corresponding academies of the navy and the air force and, if necessary, the duration of training can be increased to two years to enable gentlemen cadets to acquire an MBA degree.
At present, officers from the NDA get commissioned at 21 to 22 years of age. Those selected for the central services after five to eight years of active service in the armed forces would be absorbed into the IAS at about 28 to 29 years of age.This would be only marginally higher than the present average recruitment age of IAS officers. Officers from the armed forces joining the central services would have the advantage of having graduated from the NDA, arguably the finest training establishment with the best all-round curriculum and personality development programme this side of the Suez. They would also be trained leaders of men. Above all, they would have had served the national cause in many strife-torn corners and rained first hand experience of the problems of the local people.
It has been accepted by perceptive observers that in these times of rampant corruption, political expediency and nepotism, the three services in general and the army, in particular, have played a stellar role in holding the nation together as a viable political entity.
A disciplined way of life, highly advanced and pragmatic man-management techniques and a no-nonsense approach have helped the services ta avoid falling prey to the maladies afflicting the other organs of the state. The officers moving to the central services from the armed forces are bound to carry with them these attributes and succeed— in transforming the bureaucracy.
Compulsory military service for entry into the central services will also result in giving civilian bureaucrats a better understanding of India’s defence and security interests and needs and will create a permanent bond of camaraderie and friendship between Civilians and the military. A high-powered committee will need to be constituted to evolve the modalities of this arrangement. The-issue should be debated widely, including in Parliament, so-that the maximum benefit can be derived from its implementation.
In sum, compulsory national service for recruitment to the central services will be a major step forward in resolving the perpetual shortage of officers in the armed forces. It will also result in better-trained leaders who are more aware of the problems of the common man entering the civilian services. It is a universally acknowledged fact that there is something ennobling about military service. Young men and women who choose to make a career in the IAS, the IFS, the IPS and the Allied Services will definitely benefit from their stint in the armed forces. The services will have friends in the bureaucracy who will view their problems with compassion.