What ails the soldier

Men and women of the armed forces are among the best in the world and are led by the finest leaders
Men and women of the armed forces are among the best in the world and are led by the finest leaders

Ethical conduct and disciplined behaviour are the two most important factors that define the profession of a soldier. Men and women in our armed forces are the best anywhere in the world and are led by the finest leaders. The nation is very proud of them. However, even a minor issue which is considered unethical by the common man becomes a headline as armed forces are seen as an island of discipline and moral values in a rotten system. It is perhaps high time that we discuss why the best in the country indulge, even if rarely, in acts unbecoming of their status in society causing a lot of pain and anguish to those who hold them in high esteem.

Armed forces are a sub-system of the country that must operate in a given environment. The term ‘environment’ refers to the totality of all the factors which are external to and beyond the control of armed forces. Environmental factors vary from country to country and these may also differ over regions within a country and over localities within a region. They may also differ over time and space. Since environment is the sum total of influences of history, culture, sociology, politics and economics of a nation, it is imperative that any study of armed forces is done in the overall context of the prevailing environment.

Ethical behaviour of individuals, groups, organisations and nations is developed in an appropriate ethical environment. The macro environment is made up of four major forces — Economic, Technological, Socio-cultural and Politico-legal. All persons, professional and others, whether in government, armed forces, university or any other enterprise, must be concerned with ethics. In Webster’s dictionary, ethics is defined as, “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad with moral duty and obligation.” The ethical environment then consists of sets of generally accepted and practiced standards of personal conduct. Behaviour is just and fair conduct which goes beyond complying rules and regulations. It means adhering to moral principles, being guided by particular values and behaving in a manner in which people ought to act. Ethics also refers to habitual character and values of individuals, groups, races, etc., and is developed by people and nations by conforming to ethical behavior within a given macro environment.

Economic environment has undergone the most dramatic changes in our society and the impact of these changes is seen to have transformed the behaviour of an average Indian

Discipline was seen by Henry Fayol, a French industrialist, as one of the principles of management: as ‘obedience application, energy and respect’. In the armed forces, discipline is generally seen to imply in ensuring obedience to strict and just rule. Discipline is applied all the time to a soldier as well as to any other duty-conscious workers. The ultimate aim of any discipline is to ensure that an individual adopts himself to the prescribed rules. In fact, the discipline which is observed under the watchful eyes of the enforcing agency is no discipline. It is often suggested that discipline is virtually the be-all and end-all of military life and that given the Military Law; officers in the armed forces face none of the ‘man management’ problems confronting those in authority in industry. The fact is that while every organisation needs some kind of discipline, its form and extent varies according to the political and social attitudes and with basic nature of the job as a whole. The concept of discipline as applied to any organisation/ institution is dynamic and changes basically with changes in the man brought about by fastchanging political, economical and socio-cultural standards and values.

As far as discipline is concerned, the following quote by Field Marshal Lord GJ Wolseley is relevant: “(Drill)……not only trains the body, but it disciplines the mind at the same time. It teaches men the first requirement of obedience; and if I were asked what is the greatest of all military virtues, a virtue even higher than courage, I should reply it was absolute unquestioning obedience.”

Changes in macro environment

Mega trends in each component of the macro environment and their implications for ethical behaviour and discipline are discussed in the succeeding paragraphs.

Indian economy is on the upswing, thanks to the liberalisation brought about by then finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh in 1991
Indian economy is on the upswing, thanks to the liberalisation brought about by then finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh in 1991

Economic environment has undergone the most dramatic changes in our society and the impact of these changes is seen to have transformed the behavior of an average Indian. Our economy has undergone cycles of recession, stagnation and inflation (stagflation), The economy is on the upswing now, thanks to the liberalisation brought about by then prime minister Narasimha  Rao and his then finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh in 1991. Fortunately, the present government has not changed the policy drastically, though it is making cosmetic changes to put its own stamp in the shape of economic reforms.

We have a very unique socio-economic order with numerous social problems and different prospects. Today, tension and frustrations of the society are more directly connected with higher aspirations and increased level of material needs, than it was in earlier days. Changing income and consumer expenditure patterns tend to divide the society not only haves and have-nots but has created many more levels, each trying to compete with the one at the higher pedestal, setting an unending rat-race. Though soldier remains relatively immune to these changes during the service span, yet he cannot escape their total influence.

Education and technological advances have great impact on the attitude of the soldier towards hi9s employment, which in turn have far-reaching bearing on his work ethos

During interaction with friends and relatives, some part of the socio-economic frustration rubs on him and consequently the service culture as well. Recent pay and pension increases by the central government, the discontentment as far as monetary incentives are concerned, has been reduced to an extent, yet the soldier feels that he has not got his due. This affects his attitude and approach to the norms of the society as well as the discipline and ethics demanded by his profession.

The most dramatic force shaping the lives of the people is technology. It has made possible many wonders in the fields of science, agriculture, medicine, engineering aerospace, defence weapons systems, equipment and so on. Apart from giving us the concept of fuel-free aircrafts, driver-less cars, hypersonic jets, it has also given us nuclear bombs and many other destructive machines. All these developments are closely observed by a growing population of educated Indians and also by the men and women in uniform. Explosion of information through social media, mobile phones, Facebook, WhatsApp , Twitter etc using internet has revolutionised the lives of citizens. Today’s soldier is equally adept at all these gadgets and uses them for exchange of information.

The knowledge of what is available and how it can be used for improving the quality of life has enhanced the general aspirations of the common man and the men and women in uniform. We are fortunate that technological platform and economic health of the nation lets us meet most of our aspirations. However, higher aspirations come with some unfulfilled desires and demands creating dissatisfaction, tension and all kinds of associated problems in the society. Our defence forces have quickly adapted to the internet-jeans-fast food culture and they expect the army organisations to cater to all such requirements. Any shortfall is fraught with dangers of demotivation.

Traditionally, the army lays a lot of emphasis on educating and enhancing the level of awareness of the men so that they do not remain blind and dumb followers but actively participate in all organisational activities. At the same time, it is a proven fact that an educated soldier is far more difficult to motivate and can get easily demotivated. This places special responsibility on the commanders to ensure that the soldiers under their command acquire enough knowledge to match the requirements of their job yet not overly exposed so that they do not become a stumbling block in the achievement of organisational goals. It must be remembered that education and technological advances have great impact on the attitude of the soldier towards his employment, which in turn has far-reaching bearing on his work ethos and discipline.

The society that people grow up in shapes their basic beliefs, values and norms. They absorb almost unconsciously, a worldview that defines their relationships with themselves, with others, with nature and with the universe. Ethical standards are involved not only in individual life but also a social life as well. The choice of army as a vocation or profession by those who join it in due to something higher than the monetary gain accruing from the job and is motivated by a purpose. In a way, therefore, the choice of profession in a society has a relationship with the ethical standards which, of course, differ from country to country and from profession to profession. Encyclopedia of Social Sciences highlights the fact that the problem of lower ethical standards is generally more acute in under-developed countries because the standard of discipline (self control/regulation) in such countries is at very low ebb.

Despite all that affects a modern soldier, we are fortunate to still have a reliable, simple and pragmatic soldiery
Despite all that affects a modern soldier, we are fortunate to still have a reliable, simple and pragmatic soldiery

In a pluralist society like ours, social institutions and systems developed through history, culture and heritage play very important role. With fast-changing social value and attitudes, most age-old social institutions are fast fading away in our country. Western values of individualism have caught our imagination, leading to changes in our attitude towards education, culture, politics, women, joint vs nuclear family system, etc. Some such changes are also very apparent in the army. The number of soldiers who want to keep their families in the station of their posting has increased manifold.  They have better understanding of their social needs and social interaction between their families has increased, they exchange notes about almost everything, including some issues which were considered a taboo in good old days. Their wives are more educated and they learn ways and means of supplementing their husbands’ income. All this makes a soldier think of a special place for himself in society, in the army hierarchy itself and his self-esteem (and ego) needs are aroused.

The man in uniform increasingly perceives that he is getting a raw deal and he is not being given his due by the society. When the response from Central/Army schools, CSD canteens, Military Hospitals, MES etc is not up to his expectations, he feels unhappy and frustrated over a period of time. He still has to travel in overcrowded trains without reservation because his leave depends on many factors not in his control; he does not get his due from the civil administration and judiciary and feels his financial status does not command him the due respect in the society. This leaves him agitated over his helplessness and he develops a sense of insecurity and is all the time worried about his resettlement. All these factors collectively can give a severe jolt to his sense of discipline, the taught concept of behaviour, code of conduct and ethical values.

Society is highly affected by the political developments of the country. In our context, since independence, the moral fibre of the nation itself has undergone major changes, primarily because of the nature and character of the Indian society and a sad, steep decline in political standards. This degeneration inspires little confidence in the polity. The only silver lining being the country’s commitment to participative democracy and freedom of speech. The soldier generally operates in a clean, honest environment where he is taught to have faith in good values of life. When he sees a totally different world all around him, while on leave or otherwise during interaction with bureaucrats, officials, shopkeepers and the common man in the street, he is left bewildered and totally confused. This manifests disenchantment in him because he feels helpless and agitated about the entire system which he finds completely uninspiring. All this is sufficient to cause enough pain and anguish to the good citizen that a soldier is and make him totally frustrated with the happenings around him. This has shaken his values and belief, hence the ethics. His lack of confidence in the system does show in his changed vision though, fortunately, he still exercises restraint and endeavours to stay scrupulously away from the undesirable.

How to keep soldiers ‘ticking’ It is a stark reality that our soldier is ‘evolving’ very rapidly in the vicious environment in which he operates. With courage, bravery and pride in the heritage as basic tenets of his personality, he is actively creating new patterns of identity. Despite all that affects a modern soldier, we are fortunate to still have a reliable, simple and pragmatic soldiery. But for how long can we afford to keep watching the situation without doing anything? What can be done about it? Can the jawan be insulated or isolated from the ground realities of present-day society? Obviously, it will be inept to think that the problem will vanish if we keep our eyes closed. As the world keeps shrinking, with technological development, anything important happening in any corner of the world will have a direct or indirect impact on individuals, and the problem will keep becoming more and more acute. So, what should we do to at least reduce the undesirable influence of the ‘hostile’ surroundings?

Despite all theories, history shows that whether it is in war or peace, men have been motivated most for shorter or longer period, mainly by the traits they perceive in their leaders

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to take the officers who are leaders of men and managers of other resources, back to realm of ‘zero-based daily doses of reality’. It simply means that our routine relationship with superiors, peers and subordinates must be based on openness, trust and mutual respect. Individuals must be treated as individuals and as assets rather than liabilities, which have to be ‘looked after’. If the expectations of a man cannot be met, he must be told so rather than giving him false hopes and contributing to his dissatisfaction with the system and hence demotivating him. This change in organisational culture is easier said than done. It needs sacrifices from officers at all levels.

Are we prepared to make such sacrifices? The soldier must be permitted to do the job which he is supposed to do. Of course, someone at the initial stage should have allotted him the job after recognising his ability to perform it. Nothing can be more demotivating for a man to be doing what he is not meant to do. If organisations have to be restructured to ensure this, let this be done rather than designing the organisations only to reduce manpower. Remember, we will have to pay a very heavy price in terms of declining motivation of men by applying guillotine to organisation at will. Permit personal and professional democracy to understand the point of view of the soldier and involve him in decisions which affect him directly. Technical Arms/Services, due to the nature of their work, perforce accept more of this, however, others must devise ways and means of monitoring the ‘smoke’ before it gets converted into fire and ‘fire-fighting’ operations have to be enforced.

We must not resort to undue and misplaced emphasis on welfare activities. This will only take him away from facts of life to a world of fantasy. Let him live in the world of realities to which he belongs by avoiding luring and manipulating him by unrealistic and shortlived hopes. The real welfare of a man essentially lies in his personal and professional development. If we can provide him the opportunity of enriching his job by training, his welfare would have been more than looked after.

Motivation and morale must be understood by all in the correct perspective. It does not mean creating a fear of failure. A number of officers, even today, are victims of this syndrome. As a matter of fact, we in the armed forces should understand better than anyone else, the fundamentals of motivation and morale. It has been proved by behavioural scientists that an average unmotivated person operates at 30 per cent of his potential. Maybe our men operate at slightly higher level but there is no doubt that they must be motivated further. And what could be a better way of motivating a man than by setting a personal example. By virtue of his training, a man in uniform respects and follows a good example set by his superiors, who take pride in leading them from the front. The leader who is ashamed of being seen in poor light by his men only can set a good example. Despite all motivation theories, history shows that whether it is in war or peace, men have been motivated most for shorter or longer period, mainly by the traits they perceive in their leaders. Major factors affecting the motivation and morale of a man in uniform, as given below need special attention:

My country, army and my regiment
Concept of izzat of individuals or groups
Concept of military honour and
pursuit of glory

Good cause to fight for
Mentally tough and robust
Discipline, fair and just punishment
and reward system

Good administration
Suitable training and

Though our army was initially raised to serve foreign masters, it is on its own one of the finest armies in the world. Churchill once referred to the over two million strong Indian Army of World War 2 as the largest volunteer force known to history (even today it is the largest volunteer army) We can also take pride in the fact that the Indian army is highly apolitical and we have a heritage in which no Cromwell, Bonaparte or Tikka Khan/ Pervez Musharraf has played any role. We must retain the soldier in a good enough state to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow by laying emphasis on his training to ensure disciplined behaviour and develop good values in him for ethical conduct.