Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, who wrote about the Roman military institutions and especially the critique of the much weakened Later Roman Empire as compared to the Earlier Roman Empire, notes philosophically, “In war, discipline is superior to strength; but if that discipline is neglected there is no longer any difference between the soldier and the peasant”.
This is a shared belief handed down by generations within the profession-of-arms onto the unforgiving Drill Instructors or ‘Ustaads’ in Military Training Academies.
The backbone of Military discipline, these Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) have instilled the steel, perfection and ramrod posture of physical and behavioural standards that would remain in place, long after the proverbial sword has been put to scabbard and sheathed, post-retirement.
Even now, the fiery Ustaad screaming, “GC aisa foot maarega ki aasman me dhuan aur zamin pe chingari uteghaa….aur Mussoorie main honeymoon walon ko pata chale ki Indian Military Academy mein loha ban raha hai” (Gentleman cadet, ram the foot so hard that clouds in the sky and fireworks from the ground better jut out….those honeymooning in Mussoorie must get to know that we are minting iron in the Academy), still sends shivers down the spine.
Yes, it is the physical, mental, and psychological transformation to an almost inhumane level and construct that gets minted in these Military Academies that routinely guarantees the ‘impossible’, whilst in combat.
This outcome is not romantic brouhaha about the Indian fauji, but a reality seeped with sweat and blood in a Haji Pir, Longewala, Asal Uttar to a Uri.
Even as many mighty ‘superpowers’ have come a cropper in recent times, be it in the swathes of Afghanistan or the tundra of Ukraine – the reality of disgraceful abandonment and retreat from battlefield by these ‘superpower’ armies is undeniable, as opposed to the ‘last man standing’ posture of the Indian Army with a Shaitan Singh and his daredevil Kumounis in 1962, or a Col Babu with his indefatigable Biharis in Galwan, just a couple of years back.
Independent and professional Military historians who analyse and study battles, marvel at the unmatched heroics against unbelievable odds in Kargil that completely defied all known Militaristic assumptions, combat ratios and topographical barometers.
Unlike all other comparable governmental or private institutions, the Indian Armed Forces have never failed to deliver when invoked, whatever be the odds.
Unlike the private/commercial/political space, it willy-nilly works with a self-adopted (not mandated) principle of ‘unlimited liability’ that ensures that it is led from the front (India Army has the highest officer-to-soldier casualty ratio, amongst all modern armies) – and this is not a post-modernist virtue or an evolutionary culture, but one that has been regimented, distilled and institutionalised in its DNA with means, methods and traditions that could be seen to be antiquated (even colonial) or ‘unevolved’ from a societal perspective.
The standards within the cantonments are high (often back-breaking) and commanding officers often warn with a wry sense of humour that may offend the Wokes, “To err is human and to forgive divine – sadly, neither of which is our regimental policy!”.
Behind the balderdash of dark humour is the reality of moral spine that ensures that the regiment is prepared for all exigencies, especially the asymmetric ones, that are increasingly become the norm.
The ‘Battlefield’ Does Not Come With Reciprocal Rules-of-Engagement
Sadly, the ‘battlefield’ does not come with reciprocal rules-of-engagement or understanding of things like the Geneva Convention by the ‘enemy’ in front – the Indian combatant must demonstrate surreal preparedness, fidelity and ironclad conduct that cannot naturally accrue, unless schooled in an environment that has zero tolerance for leniency and weaknesses.
Little wonder that ‘Fidelity’ in all possible extrapolations and nuances is at the heart of the institution’s leitmotif i.e., ‘Naam, Namak & Nishan’ (Name, Loyalty and Symbols).
A military unit (paltan) works on trust, above all. The ‘leave no buddy behind’ is the battle maxim behind the spirit that defines the professional soldier – this too, may seem romantically impractical, unnecessary, and outdated.
Thankfully, the Indian Soldier has not ‘evolved’ to such sanctified practicalities, and therefore it is the Indian combatant behind the weapon (often sub-optimal one), that delivers repeatedly and does not cut-and-run! The civilians think it is the weaponry, wares and numbers (yes, these are important too), but the ‘Uniformed’ soldiers know that it is the mental and moral conditioning and unflinching belief-system within the Indian combatant, that is far more important.
However, the unversed (usually partisan politicians, idealist activists or uninitiated academicians) invariably forget the old American saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, and this has led to winds of unprecedented religiosity, politics, ‘reforms’ and blatant interferences via this sort of ‘opening-up’ that may appeal to some blind partisan cadres or woke activists (perhaps even well-meaning ones), but it dulls the glint and sharpness of the metaphorical bayonet.
One of the favourite punching bags has been the admittedly dated language of ‘Stealing the affections of a brother officer’s wife’ – which is semantically sexist, Victorian and tad bit patronising in its tone and phraseology.
But while the issue is certainly with the language used, it is NOT so with the underlying principle of ‘Fidelity’ that ought to be the bedrock of a disciplined combatant, in all its professional and personal space (actually, there is no room for differentiating two otherwise distinct spaces i.e., Professional or Personal, for a combatant).
This differentiation is simply not sustainable in the real world of a combatant without diluting his/her behavioural standards in war or peace, which also demands the highest display of professional restraint, compliance, and willingness to undertake any task (even at the possible risk of losing a limb or life)!
So grave is the perception on ‘Fidelity’, that it is perhaps just a shade below the ultimate disgrace in the ‘Uniform’ i.e., cowardice or desertion from battle. Both are simply unpardonable in the Armed Forces.
Importantly, both the Adultery Laws i.e., Section 45 (‘conduct unbecoming of officer’) and Section 63 (violation of good order and discipline) are gender-neutral – though it could be credibly argued that the applicability has scope to improve in terms of parity across genders.
However, now imagine the consequences of decriminalizing acts like desertion or adultery (as is the case for civilian society) on an institution that essentially runs on the sacred covenant of fidelity, faith and trust onto each other?
An Indian Military combatant’s service conditions and expectations are not the same as those in the civilian realm and attempts to treat it as the same would lead to similar diminishment of standards, efficacy and discipline, as it exists outside the rarefied world of barracks.
Thankfully the Supreme Court has ‘re-recognised’ the sensitivity and absolute necessity of moral discipline when it comes to adultery, as an inviolable imperative for the India combatant. It notes sagely, “In uniformed services, discipline is of paramount importance. This is conduct that can shake up the life of officers.
Everybody is ultimately dependent on the family as a unit of society. The integrity of society is based on the faithfulness of one spouse to another” and added, “This (Adultery) is going to shake the discipline in the Armed Forces. Armed Forces must have some kind of assurance that they will take action.
How can you cite Joseph Shine (judgement) and say it cannot be”. The so-called ‘progressive’ decriminalizing of adultery in 2018 (filed by a NRI, Joseph Shine, in the Supreme Court), has effectively been given a rightful push-back.
However, this is not to say that there is no space for further reforms and evolutionary changes to enhance the professionalism and elan of the Indian Armed Forces – indeed, there are huge corrections pending in terms of Service conditions, parity with other forces, induction of weaponry, banning political/partisan appropriations, restructuring into theatres with inter-service jointsmanship, revising doctrines, debarring misuse of Military for Non-Military tasks, banning puritanical religiousity etc., that needs to be addressed by the powers that be.
To be harping on cosmetics of ‘nationalising’ symbols of traditions, heritage or even tinkering with service rules like those on adultery or AFSPA (wherever necessary) is to pander to petty politics and not to national security.
For once, the service realities have triumphed over woke-comeuppance or distractive ‘nationalism’, and the institution would be served better for it, than having to face incomparable equivalence of work conditions, inside of the ‘Uniform’ and the world outside of it. It is an extreme organisation having to deal with extreme situations, and therefore and only because of this fact, it must sustain those elements that allow it to withstand such extremities.