The Army’s human resource management practices are good enough to be borrowed by the corporate world to shape its human resources policies. Ironically these have been under negative focus in recent times. A few unfortunate instances of suicide by army soldiers, some confrontation between officers and men or abnormal behavior by a soldier suffering from a psychiatric disorder are highlighted in the media as manifestations of declining man management in the Army. The Army Chief has rightly termed these incidents as “isolated” and has urged his officers to go back to the basics, which implies constant and regular interaction between the leaders and the led. The basic idea is to ensure uninterrupted communication which would, in turn, assist the officer class to stay in sync with the ever changing aspirations of the rank and file, quickly address grievances and create a conducive work environment. This, in other words, is described as “feeling the pulse of the command.”
While the armed forces set their internal practices in order there is a need to look at the national response to the management of the soldiers community of the nation. Members of the armed forces are expected to sacrifice their lives for the defence and internal security of their country. This is an extraordinary demand which calls for an extraordinary effort towards keeping motivation levels high. In India the need is more so because of the constant exposure of the soldiers to internal conflict in the form of counter insurgency and counter terrorist operations. What the army has achieved in Jammu and Kashmir has no parallels in the history of containing internal strife in the whole world. It goes without saying that all of this calls for investment of special resources and endeavor by the nation.
The rural environment from where the bulk of our forces are recruited has undergone a transformation with the advent of technology, rapid industrialization and expanding urbanization. The educational standards of the men have also seen a marked improvement and rise. The resultant social and economic changes affect the soldiers also since they are drawn from the same society. Breakdown of the joint family system and emergence of nuclear families, rising consumerism, increased inflation leading to a steep rise in the cost of living, steep hike in salaries in the private sector, are some of the factors that have brought about a change in the hopes and desires of the military personnel. The soldiers cannot be expected to stay aloof and isolated from the national thrust towards materialism and easy living.
The Indian soldier of today wishes to move beyond the basic physical and physiological levels and seek self actualisation. To stick to this maxim that a soldiers who is well fed and well clothed will be happy and ready for a good fight at all times would be a fatal error which the nation can commit at its own peril, those days are since long gone and done with. The soldier of today can no longer be expected to blindly follow orders simply because he has sworn allegiance; he has to be motivated in the desired direction by words and deeds of his superiors in equal measure. What is needed is a comprehensive and holistic approach which entails a deep understanding of their aspirations and creation of a blueprint which helps them achieve the same. This is not the responsibility of the officers alone, the entire nation has to be alive to the need and willing to make a contribution. The leading role would obviously have to be played by the government of the day and the civil administration, followed by the families of the soldiers and the civil society at large. Some have to give material support others emotional and some both.
The aspirations of today’s soldier relate to faster promotions, opportunities to higher education, post retirement prospects, acquisition of technical skills, safety and security of his family and respect in society. Adequate compensation for undue hardships undergone while being deployed for prolonged periods in difficult areas like high altitude, counter insurgency etc needs to be actively pursued. The frequency of deployment in active operations has to be regulated and made equitable as far as possible amongst the members of the armed forces.
Resettlement of the soldier post retirement gains maximum importance in the modern era. Armed forces personnel retire at a relatively younger age when their commitments towards their family are at a peak. The specter of being out on the street with no worthwhile prospects in sight is something that haunts soldiers across the board starting from the lowest and going to the highest rank, even generals get a hollow feeling in the stomach when they retire. The nation needs to find ways and means to make the soldier overcome this sense of insecurity. The skills that have been ingrained in the soldier through years of training should be exploited to maximum effect in the civil stream, to create a win-win situation. Lateral induction into other services must be planned and facilitated in a manner that maintains the self respect of the soldier and gives benefit to civil society as well.
The armed forces themselves are actively addressing these issues especially so in relation to provision of basic amenities like accommodation, equipment, food, recreation facilities etc, which are at the base of the hierarchy of needs. The Army is also having a relook on its human resources policies in order to sync it with the changed socio economic and operational environment. For the others a national effort, involving policy making and higher direction is required. The need of the hour is support from the nation and its institutions so that the men defending the borders feel cared for and wanted.