The rot in the Indian Army

Maverick: In Arm’s Way
by Farzana Versey

The Asian Age, Op-ed, Oct. 16, 2007

What were the authorities in the armed forces thinking about when they asked Vivek Oberoi to join the Territorial Army? His father has been quick to assert, “Of course, Vivek won’t stop acting. He will join the Army on an honorary basis.”

The Territorial Army is indeed a buffer unit and operative during peace-time, but can be called upon during emergencies. Even if the actor gets recruited in one of the non-departmental units that cater for urban requirements, he will have to train on weekends throughout the year. Will the Army, that tom-toms its discipline, make exceptions? And if they need recruits why can they not tap the thousands of educated unemployed in the country?

The above-mentioned bit of information is particularly important in view of the fact that this year itself over 1,500 officers from the Army, Navy and Airforce have applied for premature release or retirement. The private sector awaits them with its fat pay packets.

The Vivek Oberoi honorary deal is a stinging slap and a total farce. People who have spent years want to leave because they do not have enough compensation. They are not endorsing colas and toothpastes and they are not coming back from the “ashes” (a typically weak tabloidy pun); they probably joined the Army with some ideals, like say teachers and doctors do. No, I refuse to talk about “doing something for the nation”. The nation has been sitting and fighting internal battles, protecting places of worship, deploying forces to lathi-charge morchas and manage devotees during festivals.

Most of us have a rather filmi and flimsy image of Armymen as the most respected professionals. People look up to them, think they are incorruptible and make us feel proud. That’s what surveys tell us. That’s what happens even in clubs smelling of old wood where a retired Armyman with his gin and tonic is looked upon with awe even if all he is doing is snoozing in a lounge chair or cracking off-colour jokes.

Some years ago I had met a particularly weird specimen of the species. Honoured and feted for sending his boys to ‘go for the kill’ he had transformed into a caricature. Yet, Colonel saab was a hero to youngsters, not because of what he did on the Front but because he talked rather loftily about the two pigeons he had shot dead in mid-flight with an air gun.

Two birds had slumped to the ground and Colonel saab had examined their plump flesh and wiped off the blood that had stained his fingers on his trousers and salivated over the possibility of a delicious meal.

He told the kids so, and they looked with wonderment, and I thought about the sort of hunger in people’s bellies. What kind of role model did they find in this Armyman – the patriot, the fighter, the raconteur, the wimp, the fool? What appealed to them – a man who had been isolated from their world or the chest-thumping victor? Did they believe he was for real or was he play-acting? Which would they have preferred, anyway?

If we were to take the Vivek Oberoi example, it would be the latter. The Army has to live out a fantasy of an imagined war-like situation. It has been a while since we went to a real big battle.

The problem is that peace does not suit them. The most obvious reason why men in uniform appeal is because they ooze power. People like to have someone to look up to, to feel confident that they will never be harmed. As a matter of fact, the power rubs of on those the powerful deign to associate with. For example, there is no reason why Army wives should follow a strict hierarchy, but their very position gives them this advantage. Look at the Army ‘brats’ who are into modelling and acting; they suddenly begin wearing a halo only because they have an Army background. What? Spanking clean cantonment, Army school, baked beans on toast, waltzing on powdered dance floors? There is a ghettoisation of sorts.

We are living in such a dream world of celluloid and televised gunfire that we don’t realise that the Army has become one of the most corrupt institutions in the country. There are cases of sexual harassment, of murder, of abuse of power. Not everyone can accumulate assets worth Rs. 50 crore as a serving major-general did and was discovered by the CBI. The small-time players indulge in small-time activities – sell rationed liquor and even high-altitude clothing meant for soldiers are sold by their own officers in the general market. A rather pathetic case was discovered in the Udhampur-based Northern Command where Army personnel were given show cause notices for supplying eggs lighter in weight than Army specifications; yes, that too is specified. What kind of minds can think up such devious ways of cheating?

Is it only money? After all, 50 per cent of the defence budget goes in salaries and other expenses for the soldiers. The problem is that a status quoism is thrust upon them of subservience to a goal and ideology they may not believe in. The number of soldiers who commit suicide or are killed by their colleagues exceed those killed by enemy fire.

If only we stopped glorifying the profession and treated it as another job, then perhaps there would be less pressure on the need to be macho. Trust an American millionaire Charles Burnett III to celebrate his 51st birthday in a Hampshire village by recreating the World War 11 theme. His guests were dressed in war gear, and there were low-flying planes. tanks and battle re-enactments. The prettifying of military might has never been so potently puff-cake.

Our boys are trying a reality version by roping in an actor.


  1. Blog
    Question is, why even we need any army?

    Just to kill other humans in the name of defence....

    Why humans are divided in to all these cruel boundaries to sabotage their own progeny, the human progeny...

    Honestly, I don't believe in any country, religion, caste, army or any other stupid forces....

    I believe this planet earth is given to us humans as a gift from God to use it equally with love and care.....

    May be I am still living in some sort of dream land....sigh*
    Or may be I am strangewr to this planet and I am from some other world.....again sigh*

  2. Circle, we need an army for we are human and have our human limitations.

    The army lifestyle in India is gradually going down if you would want to compare it with that of the colonial era. And yes, times have changed for all types of careers. The heat and dust of fighting internal terrorism has gone too far. It was so much better 20 years ago.

    There was an element of corruption in the forces always... but now everyone wants a piece of those big big row houses and swanky electronics and cars and and...

    The salaries in the Army are less as compared to the other 'jobs' and that could well be the only problem. The Army needs to be kept away from civil tensions/civil wars as much as possible. Their job profile is now diluted beyond repairs.

    The Indian Army has lost all charm and grace and is gradually becoming pale.

    If you would believe me... there was a time when you could point out an army man in a crowd of 20 people... but not anymore. Any guess why not?

  3. Umm...this post invoked different reactions in different parts. I agreed in some, disagreed in some (but your analysis is always bullseye). In the end I guess, the facts you have quoted aren't false, but everyone will jump to show you the 'bigger picture' etc etc.

    What is really confusing me about your dissatisfaction over Vivek Oberoi is that, didn't they recruit an unemployed?????

  4. Hello Farzana,
    It was an interesting read. However, you seem to be quite confused and could not really convey your point of view. So what is it that you are trying to say ? That the Army is corrupt ? The Indian Army stinks and we don't need it ? Yes, it has its share of corrupt people,like any other Government of India undertaking !! After all the society they come from is the Indian society and not one from US or Mars. For each one of the Colonel saabs you quoted as shooting two pigeons, there are dozens of poachers who kill Tigers, Elephants and other endangendered species. For each Major General that the CBI raids and finds wealth beyond earnings, there are hundreds of IAS and other civil servants that are not raided by CBI because after all they share their booty with the ministers and CBI folks.

    And there seemed to be a touch of jealousy showing up in your comments about the Army 'brats'. I am sure you miss that at some deep level or you grew up in their midst with a feeling of being denied the facilities (the clean cantonment and KV schools) they had access to.

    I woild really like to hear you say clearly what is the point you are trying to make. Otherwise all you write is summed up in this not so nice but apt phrase : "All Fart and No Shit" !!

    Hope to hear your response soon.

    Best wishes,
    Arjun Sirohi
    Seattle, WA, US.

  5. dear farzana,

    it is definetly interesting to find critics in this world. we were taught very early in the life that if you do not know the solution do not critise. criticism is a way of finding faults and offering solutions which would rectify those faults. IAS, IPS and politicians corruptions issue has become so mundane that people do not even think about it. it is an accepted fact that all of them are so, so what is new. in the army it was the worst form to cheat your troops. so they were given a lot of leeway in implementing things, even the case of eggs for the matter. but later came the indianised babu and the typical freedom fighter reporter and the critic. who did not know the solution to the problems indian defence forces were facing, how they could not crib about it to anyone. to protest against govt decision was mutiny, to accept it would have led to mutiny. so at a time the armed forces were forced to bend some rules like getting three or even five quotations when posted at siachen, where there were no shops.

    parzana, i am not trying to defend the army or anyone, just asking you to let everyone know, as to whose defence forces are they. are they their own army or are htey yours. i know since they are not doing anything for you personally you are not ready to accept they are actually your army. so if you denigerate them you are denigerating another organisation which has nothing to do with you personally. it is not just you, it is the case with everyone today; the reporter, politicians, babus, or even the common man. when a soldier dies they all shed some tears saying things like "poor chaps, look how they are dying for someone else". the police, IAS or other organisations of the govt give something to the masters (the politicians) either a favour, getting them out of tight situations etc. the defence forces like for you does not do anything for them personally. so why should they bother.

    why do you think The number of soldiers who commit suicide or are killed by their colleagues exceed those killed by enemy fire. it is because they have realised that they are not being looked after by anyone. their officers cannot do anything material for them. they cannot fight against the govt for them. in their villages they are outsiders because they have hardly lived there. when it comes to work, the army is a hard taskmaster, so it does not spare anyone. personal problems apart the job has to be done. in the corporate world this attitude would have had HR people gunning for him with fat salaries.

    anyway how does it matter to you. you wanted to critise someone, and why not the army, what is the harm?

    well the harm is today they realise no one appreciates their work. this demoralises them, makes them perform worse, makes them accept they do not have to be the best.

    anyway it should not bother you as it is not your army, or airforce, or navy. god knows whom it belongs to and whom does it work for. they must be fools dying for people who do not even accept them to be their own.

  6. monks:

    I found your comment perceptive and in a way touching. I have already answered most of the questions...

    Let me just say one thing: It is because we consider it our own that we question it and want to know more about it. I am not concerned about, say, the US marines, unless there is a specific subject.

    Criticism is a part of social discourse. I have got my share, not just here...

    Thank you and regards...


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