Monday, December 17, 2012


The recent petition filed in the Supreme Court challenging the Army's caste, religion and region-based recruitment policy for its soldiers has not had the desired amount of discussion in the fora of defence intelligentsia. Though it is correct that this issue has been debated at many levels in the past, it may not be wrong to approach it once again in light of the petition filed in the SC and the importance given to it by the court given the fact that the Solicitor General has been asked to assist the court in the case.

In the immediate aftermath of the unfortunate events of the 1984 desertions in Sikh units, the Army did try amalgamation of regiments/units to a certain degree by changing the 'pure' composition of caste, religion, region based battalions to a 'mixed' composition. The experiment did not work out to satisfaction and was discarded in time.

At the point of time when the practice of mixed battalions was still in vogue, I chanced to speak to a second-in-command of a Dogra battalion who had a company each of South Indians, Rajputs, Jats and Dogras in the battalion. The officer was not very happy with the state of affairs. He felt that the effectiveness of the unit was reduced as a fighting force and that the essence of the Dogra Regiment was lost by having such mixed troops and in time of actual action there might be a loss of cohesiveness in the troops.

The option of having mixed fighting units with pan-India composition appears very reasonable to many, including the gentleman who has filed the petition in the Supreme Court. Arguments of such individuals often is that this system had been devised by the British for their use and efficacy in that day and age and in present day India there was no place for such a system.

However, the fact remains that despite India being one country, we are a country where language, culture and customs change every few hundred kilometers. Our uniqueness lies in the fact that despite our diverse nature we still retain our ability to bond with each other at the macro level.

Thus, when it comes to fighting, killing and dying for the country, Indian Army cannot be compared with other armies of the world where such regimental system does not exist. Everything which the British did was not bad and the basic framework which they have provided was based on their own experience in the British Army where they had region-based regiments which catered to that specific area only. It was a time tested system which was introduced with suitable amendments in Indian conditions.

The challenge to this system from external factors like sceptics going to the Supreme Court can be withstood but things may indeed change internally with the march of time. As the nation develops and better and more lucrative opportunities arise, young men may be lesser inclined to join the service. As it turns out, during the recent session of Lok Sabha Defence Minister AK Antony has admitted to a shortage of men in the enlisted ranks. This is the first time the MoD has publically accepted this fact.

Therefore, it will only be some years or decades down the line when the regimental system may have to be amended once the Army finds that it cannot muster adequate number of young men from the particular religion, caste or region to fill its vacancies in the various regiments. A case in point relates to the already existing crises in the Sikh Regiment and Sikh Light Infantry Regiment of the Army where the recruiters are facing difficulty in filling their quota. Alternate job preference, poor physical condition etc may be the cause behind it but this could replicate in other regiments too. The Maoist threat to turn of the tap of Gorkha recruitment in Nepal a couple of years back must also be borne in mind.

It is in this context that the Army may have to fine tune its policy in the years to come. As of now, however, the system is working perfectly fine. As the Americans say, 'If it ain't broken, don't fix it".


Saturday, December 8, 2012


Delivering a sharp rap on the knuckles for not adhering to a judgement given by it and causing undue harassment to a petitioner, the Kolkata bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal has directed the Military Secretary, Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain to express regret to the petitioner.

Giving its directions in a contempt application field by Col Arun Dattaji Patole (retd), naming the Military Secretary, Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain and the Chief of Army Staff, General Bikram Singh as respondents, the AFT bench has also come down very hard on the Col MS (Legal) for not taking the matter seriously. The bench has found his attitude to be "callous" and recommended action against him by higher authorities, if they so desire.

The genesis of the order lies in an order given by the bench earlier directing the MS to hold a special promotion board of the officer to the rank of Brigadier and intimate the result to him with complete reasoning. He was also directed to provide a personal hearing to the Colonel if he was not satisfied with the reply.

The Army did hold a special promotion board but communicated its result in a perfunctory manner without giving any detailed reasoning:

"I.  Ref WP 15548(W)|2OO3  filed by you in the High Court at Kolkata.
2 . Consequent  to  the relief granted by Kolkata High Court in WP 1,5548-w/2003  vide order dated 2 Feb 2, you were considered  as Special  Revielw  (Fresh) case of the 1971 batch of AOC by the No. 2 SB held from 06 to 0B Apr 2011,  under the previous system of selection  (value judgement) and not approved  for promotion  to the acting rank of Brig."

When the officer reminded the MS of the directions of the AFT bench and that he wanted an interview with him he received an arrogant reply which bordered on dismissive attitude:

"  In case you want to  have personal hearing you must intimate  the date so that date is fixed and case be
explained about non  empanelment along with  the reasons as directed by  the  Hon'ble Armed Forces
Tribunal.  lt is clarified  that you have to come on at your own expenses  for the said interview,  as no funds are allocated for  calling retired  officers for  personal hearing."

Clearly, not pleased with the action taken by the MS Branch in pursuance of the orders given by it, the Bench passed the following hard-hitting order.

 "We direct that MS, during his visits to various Command HQs. including Pune and Kolkata (where

the appricant  usualy resides)  must intimate the applicant  and grant all possible facilities  to give him a personal hearing in which all aspects must be explained  to  him in detail within the limits of security.  The applicant  should be apprised  as to why he was low on merit and whether ail points that were to be covered
have indeed been covered  while considering  his case in the special  board. subsequent  to such a personal  hearing,  it will only be appropriate  for the MS on behalf of the respondents to express  regret to the war veteran for the delay and agony thus caused.  Thereafter,  the MS shall pass a speaking  order in writing explaining  the detairs of the interview and the reasons  for non-empanelment  of the applicant  in the special
board that was conducted  on the order of this Tribunal".