Military Academies: Cradles for Indian Military Leaders

 By Tejusvi Shukla

“Don’t come up, I will handle it.”

This line to his fellow soldiers by Maj Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Ashoka Chakra, an NDA alumnus, who laid down his life during the hostage-rescue operations of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, epitomises the leadership, valour and strength of character of the officers upholding the finest traditions of the Indian Armed Forces.

The Indian Armed Forces are considered to be one of the best in the world, and this consideration stands tall because of the fine officers they produce. The Indian military training institutes shoulder the responsibility, as well as the credit, of this honour. Disturbingly, the various controversies regarding the degradation in the curriculum and infrastructure that have been lately surfacing, terming them as nearly “failed institutions”, urge one to critically re-examine the situations before producing disturbing conclusions based on half-baked facts.

Transformation Phase: Camaraderie and Resilience

 “It is empirical wisdom that leaders are not born, they are made.” Rightly said. The youth of this country from their teenage years of cosy civil life come to these academies to be one among the aforementioned. Of almost 6 lakh candidates who appear for the NDA examination annually, only 300-350 make it to the Academy, who shall shoulder the responsibility to guard the national security and prestige in the future. For an extraordinary life that can be both exhilarating and full of hardships, simultaneously or alternatively, a training that inculcates the required physical, mental, and psychological strength becomes a basic necessity.

Apart from the formal training that the cadets are imparted by their instructors at these academies, an informal training is imparted by their senior cadets, which is often wrongly equated with“ragging” in civil terminology.A Major General, in an interview with Outlook in 2016, opines that such “methods are employed unofficially by senior cadets to transform awkward, unfocussed teenagers into confident soldiers.” Reiterating the same, an IMA cadet, in an informal personal conversation with this author, mentions that this rigorous training, formal as well as informal, “prepares future officers for the worst circumstances one might have to face”, and builds the required level of resilience required at the line of duty. He further adds that this informal interaction “builds camaraderie among cadets that lasts for a lifetime”.

While reports of “misbehaving” seniors at the academies have occasionally surfaced on various social media platforms, on their individual examination, one realises that suo motu cognisance had already been taken by the institutes in each of the quoted instances. Still, it cannot be denied that the instances of the seniors going overboard indeed hold some truth, as across civil and military educational/training institutions globally, due to which a system of checks-&-balances is already in place to prevent/punish such occurrences. If reported of any misbehaviour, the senior cadets are charged with an immediate loss of a term (each year of training comprises two terms of six months each), and in the worst case scenario, can also be expelled. The demotion of 16 under-training cadets by the IMA Dehradun, as reported by The Hindu on 18 October, 2016 corroborates this fact.

It must be acknowledged that while“errors of judgement” is a part of human nature, it is the corrective actions against such occurrences that define the strength of the systems in place.

16-20% drop-outs in the past decade: Excessively hard training?

It cannot be denied that the changing lifestyle patterns of today’s youth, which is comparatively less used to hardships, has indeed made it challenging for them to match up to the strict standards of military academies. Additionally, as in the case of NDA, the erstwhile minimum required qualification of High School (Xth standard), which has currently been expanded to 10+2, has made candidates simultaneously eligible for various professional courses through entrance examinations for CLAT, GRE, IELTS, NIFT, and Mass Media and Journalism, among others. Similarly, a host of recently evolving career options globally, which offer a comparatively secure and stable life, form obvious attractions against the exhilarating, yet equally challenging military life. The recent rise in the cadets’ drop-out figures, in this regard, is beyond contention, therefore needs to analysed rather contextually.

Regardless of this, to ensure that India produces officers capable of not only adequately reacting and resisting adversities, but also leading their men from front, instead of producing “chocolate-creamy soldiers”, compromising with the existing training standards becomes unimaginable. But, this does not justify any misbehaviour with fresh cadets. The academies are thus committed to act with utmost urgency, as they have whenever required, upholding their own principles that lay as much emphasis on ethics and probity as on physical and mental training.

Outdated Syllabi: A reality check

Further, while it appears valid to question the academies’ “outdated syllabi” at first glance, along with the redundancy of the practice of future military leaders graduating with regular B.A./B.Sc. (now even B.Tech. for Indian Navy) degrees like their civilian counterparts, the underlying reasons of the continuing practice go mostly unexamined.

At the primary stages at NDA, cadets are modulated to suit the Armed Forces’ requirements. The Academy is primarily expected to impart a foundational understanding of military education for three years, after which, the cadets undergo a specific one-year training at their respective academies, according to one of three services of their choice.

Contrary to this, the recommendations regarding a strictly military curriculum, even at primary stages, come with their own set of ramifications. A formal degree is required to make the cadets aware of their immediate surroundings and keep them in sync with the contemporary societal set-up outside their military life. This basic awareness in turn impacts their ability to perform in their forthcoming years of service.

Need for Reforms: The Way Ahead

The Indian military academies have by far produced some of the finest cadets, and some of the bravest soldiers. Despite all of this, scope for reforms widely exist, and must be addressed on an urgent basis. Foremost among them are the occasional cases of incompetent Commandants at the academies that may be refined by the introduction of a more focussed set of procedures pertaining to their appointments. A senior officer says, in this regard, that “a good student may not necessarily be a great instructor.” After all, a good instructor is supposed to be a Role Model for his cadets who masters the art of motivating and boosting their morale through self-demonstrations. Appointment of Commandants with greater care would ensure their positive contribution to the grooming of future leaders of the country. Another area that needs reforms is identifying the latent aptitude of the trainees. This would require a graduated training in terms of identification of the individual calibre of the cadets, apart from the academic curriculum, and imparting the required resources to build on that calibre. Producing highly capable young athletes, sportspersons, etc., must be one of the prime ambitious objectives for the faculty at the academies. Simultaneously, as a senior serving officer suggests in a personal conversation with this author, introduction of counsellors and psychologists at these academies, in order to build on the psychological strength of the cadets, could be a progressive initiative.

Overall, while reforms are a requirement for any institution, or nation, to continue growing and creating new milestones, that the Indian military academies have stood as some of the finest institutions of this country, and of the world, despite certain aberrations, is an evident fact. These academies have given the best military leaders to the Armed Forces who incessantly strive to“keep ourselves physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight, that in doing our duty to Thee (God) and our country we may keep the honour of the Services untarnished”.