10 May 2012 will be marked as one of the lowest point in the Officer-Jawan relationship in an Army Unit when troops of an Artillery Unit undergoing training related activity in Ladakh got involved in fisticuffs with the Officers of their Unit resulting in hospitalization of three persons including the Commanding Officer, a Jawan and another Officer besides five Major rank Officers fleeing from the Unit and Jawans taking control of the Armoury as reported in the Media. It was a complete breakdown of command and control that is associated with the Army. The incident naturally triggered a debate on how did things came to this pass? Is it a symptom of a systemic flaw or a case of non implementation of practices that would have avoided flare up of such an incident that is normally being practiced elsewhere? the jury is still out on that.

As usual many conclusions have been drawn by the commentariat. Most instant analysis pointing towards existence of classes within the Army, Sahayak culture, or a set of rules and culture that is reminiscent of the colonial era. Possible. But, if that were indeed the reason for the incident that took place in Ladakh, it wouldn’t have been first of it’s kind considering the fact that Indian Army has hundreds of Units and are in existence since last 65 years along with all those factors that are being attributed to that ugly incident.

 The Army has been through major transformations in recent times, some of them was deemed necessitated by a change in cultural and socio-economic profile of the people who are joining the organization. The AV Singh Committee Report that was implemented in 2005 has resulted in major changes in the organization that has transformed the Units, the consequences of which are yet to be seen in their entirety.

 Younger Age Profile of Units –  In simple terms, as a result of implementation of AVSC report, the age of the Officers commanding a Unit have been reduced drastically. Prior to AVSC, the Commanding Officer, and other Officers of a Unit used to have much more service than they have now resulting in much youger Unit and Sub Unit Commanders.

 If the driving factor for AVSC was to make the Units younger & as a result more fighting fit, changing the age profile of the handful of officers would have hardly made a dent on the average age of the Unit when the Jawans serve in the Unit till their retirement age.

 Due to a younger profile of Officers, the collective experience of Officers of a Unit have seen a drastic reduction. Now, how important is collective experience is debatable, but it seems unlikely that a much younger set of Officers will be able to take better decisions than an older one. And it needs to be spared a thought that if the unit that witnessed the incident had an older set of Officers as was prior to AVSC, would the resultant reaction of the Officers managing the Unit would have been markedly different in such a situation?

 Tooth to Tail Ratio Officers after completing their command or the ones past that age most likely become part of the administrative tail. Post AVSC, the tooth to tail ratio of the set of Officers have skewed towards the latter. A tail is justified if it exists to maintain & support the teeth – the fighting elements, but if it grows too big, much of it gets used in supporting and upkeep of itself at the expense of the teeth, which could be happening post AVSC. This problem gets compounded when it is combined with an already existing shortage of Officers that was described as critical even before AVSC was implemented and still exists.

 Army is known for swift implementation of decisions, needless to say the change recommended by AVSC was effected very fast, but did the organization cope up with the speed of change to which it was subjected? needs to be studied.

 It will be a while before the entire consequences of implementation of the AVSC comes to fore, and it could be a mistake to attribute the Ladakh incident or for that matter anything that goes wrong in the Army to AVSC as well, like the uninitiated attributing anything that goes wrong in the Army to class, colonial mindset or archaic rules. I trust their professionalism and hope they’ll prove the skeptics wrong.

 

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Sanjay Chetia

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