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Armed with ethics

A wave of negative publicity has hit the Army over the last few years giving an impression that something is drastically wrong with the health of an institution that is still considered to be the final bastion of the country and is undoubtedly the most respected. Has serious erosion taken place in the Army’s ethical standards? Is the moral fibre of the officer cadre under strain? What corrective measures are required? These are the questions being posed and which need to be answered.

The media has done a remarkable job in exposing wrongdoing within the Government, in the corporate world as also within the media itself. In the process, certain shortcomings within the Army too have been highlighted but unfortunately, the colourful epithets describing the misconduct by some officers have stuck to public memory and are constantly invoked whenever any misdemeanor takes place. This is why phrases like ‘ketchup colonel’ and ‘booze brigadier’ invariably become part of the discourse in any discussion on the Army. This gives an erroneous impression that on matters of financial and professional probity, the malaise runs deep within the Army. Nothing could be further from the truth.

On professional integrity, the record of the Army’s leadership is better than any of the professional armies of the world. The Indian Army has been engaged in sub conventional conflict in Jammu and Kashmir for over two decades and in counter insurgency operations in various parts of North Eastern India for an even longer duration. During this period, thousands of commanding officers have showed exemplary conduct while serving in extremely hostile and trying conditions. On this canvas, transgressions by a few army officers would be in the region of 1:1000, translating into 99.9% of the officer cadre performing their duty with due diligence and probity. This record is something which the nation must view with pride.

On the question of financial probity, practically every officer has at some time or the other handled financial transactions. Yet we find that cases of financial impropriety are extremely rare. An analysis of decadal figures of financial misconduct has not been carried out but should such an exercise be conducted it would reveal that in percentage terms such cases are not on the rise. The care and probity shown by officers while dealing with regimental funds is extraordinary and such diligence is rarely exercised by personnel outside the military domain. In any case, all cases of financial impropriety are dealt with swiftly and ruthlessly – something which the rest of the country could well emulate.

What makes the Army stand out from other government organisations and institutions when men are recruited from the same human resource pool? Why do the men in uniform have a reputation for exhibiting higher standards of probity in their dealings? Perhaps it has a lot to do with their training and motivational levels, their unit élan and esprit de corps, and the concept of honour which is deeply ingrained in every officer and soldier. For the unit’s ‘izzat’, men will willingly lay down their lives. Which country can ask for more?

For the Army, grooming of personnel and their motivation is an ongoing task and an important part of military training. In today’s world, this perhaps needs added emphasis with each passing year. Or as the Red Queen said to Alice, ‘we need to run twice as fast just to remain in the same place’. But a lot also needs to be done in improving the environment in which the Army works. We still have archaic rules and procedures which breed delay and inefficiencies and this in turn leads to corruption. Reforms are required in the existing system of financial controls being exercised by the regional Controllers of Defence Accounts as also the role being played by the financial advisors with the army who need to be held accountable for their actions. Unless the stranglehold which the civilian bureaucracy exercises over defence financial matters is reduced, and accountability is imposed on the civilian officials, not much headway can be expected in this direction.

Finally we must remember that the Indian soldier is human too. Let us not put the mark of sainthood on him. As the great Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw sagely observed, ‘the man who neither drinks nor smokes, nor dances nor philanders, who preaches and occasionally practices piety, temperance and celibacy, is generally a saint or a Mahatma – or more likely, a humbug – but he certainly won’t make a leader’. We have a great set of officers and men. And yes…we are better than the rest.

Maj Gen (Retd) Dhruv Katoch is the Additional Director in the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi

Courtesy: The Indian Express, 15 January 2011

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Sandeep Sharda
The article puts the correct perspective on the issue.The financial propriety displayed by 99.999% personnel in the Armed Forces should actually be the thing that needs to be emulated by all.

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Brig vsgulia (veteran)
Dear sir
I concur with your views. However what has led to the present circumstances is the top echelon forgeting the ethos imbibed in their regiments. it is the greed of few which has let down the image of the army. we need to have greater financial probity at higher levels. In the instant cases, the Defence estate officials , MOD , IAS and politicians have taken our top brass for a ride. some of our black sheeps who could not be recognised earlier fell pray to the greed and let down the entire army. we need to introspect and have internal mechanism to audit our actions.How do we rein in the personalities at top echelon---is the crux and food for thought& analysis. regards . vsgulia
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