My op-ed in Mint: Conscription is not the solution

The solution to officer shortages is military modernisation and liberalisation of education

In our op-ed in Mint, Sushant Singh and I argue that the shortage of officers in the armed forces is not an anomaly, and merely raising take-home salaries isn’t going to solve the problem. First, India needs a capital-intensive army and must allocate more resources to military modernisation. Second, the armed forces need to deepen their officer training programmes and build what they can’t readymade. Ultimately, India needs to increase the supply of employable graduates—for that, setting education free from government control is a must.

Read on…

Rough diamonds into leaders
Talented graduates are increasingly scarce and the search for ‘officer-like’ qualities will be increasingly futile. It’s time for other, harder strategies

What does the Indian Army have in common with the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council? Answer: They are all complaining of a shortage of employable graduates. The army is short of more than 11,000 officers. In 2005, a Nasscom-McKinsey report projected that the IT industry would face a potential shortage of 500,000 people by 2010.

The army may be looking for young people with “officer-like qualities”, while the private sector is looking for people of “management calibre”, but they are essentially fishing in the same pond. India produces three million graduates each year. But as Satyam’s B. Ramalinga Raju noted, “most of these are uncut diamonds that have to go through polishing factories, as the trade requires only polished stones”.

It is more than a coincidence that the Armed Forces were unable to fill available seats at the Indian Military Academy since the early 1990s—just after the P.V. Narasimha Rao government’s reforms dismantled the licence raj. Steady economic growth over the last two decades and the emergence of globally competitive IT, financial and manufacturing industries has increased the opportunity costs of joining the Armed Forces. Furthermore, productivity growth in these sectors is increasing wages: A young Indian will have to give up even more to join the Armed Forces, which offer relatively lower take-home salaries.

It is tempting to believe that merely raising military pay will address the issue of officer “shortages”. To do so would be to ignore the fundamental changes to the relative abundance of capital and labour in India’s growing economy. Continue reading My op-ed in Mint: Conscription is not the solution