Between impressiveness and delusion

Patriotism, power over people’s lives and the army

“Twenty years from now, men will be ready to die for me, but not for you.” This is what a cadet at the National Defence Academy in Khadakvasla, Pune, tells his friends pursuing engineering when they discuss how much money they will make in their careers compared to him. [Rediff]

Rediff’s Archana Masih thinks the cadet’s words are ‘staggeringly impressive’. Amit Varma argues that they are ‘staggeringly delusionary’, because, he explains ‘there are better reasons to feel proud of being an army man than the power you have over people’s lives’.

As indeed there are. But Amit misunderstands the import of those words. Ask soldiers what makes them rush into combat in war zones, when there’s a good chance that they’ll lose their lives and they’ll tell you that its for their paltan (platoon). And it’s not just the men that are ready to die for their officer, the readiness to die for their platoon-mates extends to the officers who command them. A look at the officer casualties in the Kargil war and in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere reveals that the Indian army’s officer casualty ratio is among the highest.

In a follow-up post, Amit quotes a journalist’s reply to a general who had berated the media for being un-patriotic. “You are paid to be patriotic” the journalist told the general. That’s a nice one-liner to put down someone talking down to you, but neither is it reasonable to suggest that soldiers are patriotic because they are paid, nor is it wrong to be paid to be patriotic. If anything, the army’s shortage of officers shows that India expects patriotism (of the risk-to-life kind) to come at a discount rather than at a premium.

5 thoughts on “Between impressiveness and delusion”

  1. Nitin:

    Let us not forget that the ordinary sepoy (soldier) fighting under the British was not a mercenary. Money and plunder were not the motives that inspired him. He fought because fighting was his chosen profession and he fought for his honour, for the honour of his family, his community and his Regiment. He remained loyal to his Nam (name), Namak (salt or employer) and Nishan (flag).

    The same thing continues even today, with slight modifications. The izzat of his paltan (battalion in our case) is the key factor for the ordinary trooper and the officer. Yes, leadership by the officer cadre is a very important factor in the Indian context. Other than Israel or the WW-II German Army, there are no comparisons with our officer-men casualty ratios. But in a modern army, that in itself should signify a major problem with the organisational culture.

    The words by that NDA cadet is part-“staggeringly impressive” and part-“delusionary”. There are a lot of smart one-liners and quixotic justifications heard in the parade grounds of all military academies. It is just one of those statements which does not need to be analysed that closely. Five years down the line, the same guy, highly motivated today, may be bitter and disillusioned with what are the realities of military life.

    About Rs 8,200 is what a newly commissioned officer gets paid after four-and-a-half years of rigorous training — paltry compared to what Class 12 students at swanky call centres earn every month. Most observers believe a revision in wages will bring in more aspirants into the armed forces, if and when it were to happen.

    My biggest problem is with these statements – begging bowl in hand, seeking pity and some more alms. The statement is factually incorrect as well; what about the dearness pay, dearness allowance, sundry other allownaces, perks and privileges that go with being an officer in the services. The basic salary today is almost 2.25 times Rs 8200/- per month plus the sundries. It is less (but not pitiable) and should be more, but it is today certainly more than a call-centre employee. These articles are actually painting a false picture and dissuading other youth from considering services as an active career option.

    And yes, Amit might like to remember that Power, in any case, is a zero-sum commodity.

  2. Yes, Nitin. I felt a bit of unease at Amit’s characterization of the “willing to die for” statement. I felt it was a statement more of the sense of fraternity etc rather than a sense of materialistic achievement. But as a self professed libertarian, Amit is bound to come up with that sort of characterization.

  3. Amit also said this: “The other profession marked out by such lust for power is politics.”

    I thought this was rather harsh on the armed forces, to put it mildly, given that he had just written that he is not dissing the armed forces. Is there any other way to interpret this one?

  4. Amit Varma is himself deluded on what is required to hold a nation together. He does not realize that he is trapped in the clutches of an ideology that claims to be libertarian but in reality seeks to stamp out any feeling of national affiliation in its foreign adherents. The Indian soldier is a true professional and fights for honor of the profession of warfare, something even beyond mere patriotism. Contrary to what Amit thinks it requires a great sacrifice to keep the country together. And not only are the men and women in olive green who stand up to be counted, their brothers and sisters in khaki (police and paramilitary) too prove themselves day in and day out. Whether it is Bindu Kumre and Santo Devi or Chuni Lal and Vasant Venugopal.

  5. Nitin,

    Kudos for setting the record straight. I have been forced to conclude that Mr Varma himself is becoming increasingly delusional. Which is a pity.

    More power to The Acorn.

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