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Friday, December 3, 2021
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In forces, promotion should be on the basis of merit only, not on politics and influence.

The Indian military is the only organisation that has not only functioned well but has also risen to the occasion in a grim public administration setting. The Indian soldier has remained the standard-bearer of constitutional norms, discipline, patriotism, secularism, and ethical conduct as he stands as a bulwark against Chinese soldiers in the Himalayas today.

Integrity and ethical behaviour are essential. In order to win a war, warriors must have entire faith in one another. As we saw in Galwan last year, the Indian commander in the junior ranks has always led from the front, taking a high number of fatalities in battle and winning not only worldwide admiration but also his men’s trust and confidence.

However, as he progresses up the slick promotion ladder to higher ranks, an idealistic young officer may face numerous ethical stumbling blocks, the majority of which are founded in the very human trait of “ambition.” As a result, it is critical for services to guarantee that the promotion and advancement system is as just, fair, and transparent as possible, so that the ranks and file believe that the leaders they blindly follow are deserving of their positions.

The military has a highly fair screening process for officers aspiring to be promoted from Colonel to General (and equivalents in other services). The fact that 60-70 percent of officers fail to advance at each stage of their careers demonstrates the tough competition and stringent selection criteria.

Promotion boards, which meet on a regular basis to place officers on a “select list” for promotion to Colonel and higher positions, only look at annual confidential reports on candidates. ACRs include numerical gradings for a variety of criteria, as well as a “pen picture” that summarises and substantiates the grading. As a result, the single criterion for selection is ‘merit,’ and a batch of 100 officers may be cut to 10-12 officers by the time they achieve 3-star rank.

The fact that service chiefs are empowered to have the last say when it comes to ACRs of 2- and 3-star rank officers causes dissatisfaction. This is fine, but chiefs, like other reporting officers, must offer detailed explanation for modifying previous gradings in written notes. Similarly, there may be numerous more areas of dissatisfaction, and reform is unquestionably required. This would also be a good opportunity to introduce uniformity to the three services’ personnel policies.

As a result, when it comes to the ‘merit vs. seniority’ issue for selecting new Commanders-in-Chief, prudence is required because any hasty move can bring long-term damage.

The present promotion system in the military is based on the seniority-cum-merit basis. As previously stated, it entails the repeated winnowing of officers solely on the basis of merit. As a result, the few who ‘run the gauntlet’ and make it to the highest echelons are all of high calibre. Choosing the senior-most person based on his date of promotion to his current rank (rather than his date of birth or commission) has therefore proven to be a ‘safe bet’ for decades.

On the other hand, the government could free itself from the constraint of “seniority” by choosing a different definition of “merit,” but this would open the floodgates to hazardous speculation. It’s feasible that the MoD will find some great officers by using the “deep selection” process and ignoring seniority.

However, there are two disadvantages: (a) the selectee would consider himself beholden to the politico-bureaucratic establishment, undermining his own credibility within the service; and (b) high-level military decisions could be skewed to favour politicians.

If political polarisation is allowed to flourish in the military, it will wreak havoc on the officer corps, eventually infecting the ranks and ranks. Finally, the public holds the military in high regard for its apolitical and nonpartisan behaviour. However, if residents regard it as merely another interest group working to advance its own interests, that respect will quickly fade.

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