The new Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh has, in his first few interactions with the media, stressed upon the need of rejuvenating the traditions and ethos of the Indian Army. Having spent just a few days in office it was too early for him to elaborate on the subject but he will, no doubt, evolve an agenda in the near future to address this issue which is very obviously close to his heart. This is the right time for the community of soldiers to suggest to him measures which need to be adopted and by so doing not only extend to him moral support but also give him a wealth of inputs which assist in fructifying his vision.
First and foremost, how are traditions defined in the context of soldiering and what is their importance for a soldier? Traditions are mostly unwritten laws evolved in the backdrop of historical and mythological folklore. They guide the customs, habits and way of life at the individual and institutional levels, more importantly, they assist an individual in choosing a correct path when he is at odds to decide upon his course of action. Traditions create a bond within a family, community or a Nation. The fraternity of soldiers has, for times immemorial, been bound by traditions and for this reason traditions are a part and parcel of armies across the world.
The more recent traditions of the Indian Army are a legacy of the British and these guide the routine functioning of the force. However, martial traditions in India have existed since times immemorial and certain rules of martial conduct with which the first world was grappling during the period of the World Wars find mention in our historical epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Indian soldier is required to conduct himself on the basis of traditions both ancient and modern and happily the Indian Army has imbibed this mix quite naturally. In the Indian Army tradition guides the routine of the soldier, his interpersonal relationships, the functions and ceremonies that he indulges in, his eating habits, his reactions to events and circumstances, in fact every aspect of his life is bound by traditions. Most units and regiments maintain a distinct set of traditions which are amalgamated within the overall panorama of a interface common for the complete Army. At the end of it all it is the pride of the uniform, the feeling of belonging to the fraternity of the unit /regiment that motivates a soldier to give his best.
The Army derives its manpower from across the Nation and the end result is a healthy mix of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious entities. A logical corollary of this is the tradition of comradeship-in-arms. The Indian Army is the most secular and apolitical institution in the country, as a raw recruit steps into a training academy, be it in the category of an officer or a soldier, he is required to leave his previous identity behind and embrace the identity of a soldier. Of course, there are pure units like the Punjab or the Bihar Regiment in the Army but they also function within the framework of being a soldier’s of the Indian Army. Comradeship-in-arms is the most basic and fundamental tradition of the Army. Martial families in India find representation in all ranks that constitute the force. There are umpteen examples of two brother serving the Army one as a soldier and the other as an officer, this is even more common amongst cousins and kin. The underlying factor is that class consciousness is alien to the tradition of the Indian Army and officer and Jawan, senior and junior type of class division goes against the well embedded tradition of comradeship-in-arms.
The next abiding tradition is izzat whose literal translation is respect. Traditionally, the Indian soldier fights for his self respect, the respect of his unit, his Army and his country. Respect therefore forms the core of his existence, he looks for respect from his seniors, his countrymen and his family and in case the same is not forthcoming he looses his self esteem to the detriment of the force. Respect has to flow outwards from within the organisation, first comrades-in-arms need to learn to respect each other, for which an age old adage ‘respect is commanded not demanded’ stands in good stead, then the organisation has to work towards commanding respect from other forums, maintaining the image of the force goes a long way in meeting this important aspiration.
Ethos defines the morality, ethics, principles and standards that are maintained by individuals and institutions. Quite naturally ethos is derived from traditions but with a wider connotation because, apart from professional conduct, it also deals with social, religious and community issues. The Indian martial ethos also has a rich legacy. The Indian soldier has, through the millenniums, maintained a very high threshold of civilization and has set for himself the highest standards of personal conduct, in fact, the basic character and personality of an Indian is built on principles followed by our worrier princes. The Army derives its ethos from its traditions. Aspects of discipline, professionalism, religious tolerance, humane behavior, nationalism and above all delivering beyond the call of duty are guided by the traditional ethos being followed by the Army. The Army has a tradition of setting very high standards of personal and collective behavior for its men both within and outside the uniform.
Within the Army there exists a well oiled system of moulding the younger generation into the established framework of tradition and ethos. The result is there for all to see, the bravery of the Indian soldier which is apparent from the number of gallantry awards that a grateful Nation bestows upon them year after year, the élan with which the soldiers sacrifice their lives in the cause of the Nation is the end result of this very traditional ethos. However, changing societal norms, changes brought about by technological advances, higher educational standards of the intake, free environment provided by democracy and the changing face of warfare from conventional to asymmetric driven by internal security challenges are all exerting pressure on the force and as a corollary on its traditions and ethos. There is less time to train and educate a new entrant and not enough officers to keep an eye on the routine proceeding. The pressure of a surging economy and changing social dynamics is also taking its toll.
The vision of General VK Singh seems to be directed towards finding ways and means to circumvent the challenges and in the process reestablish the traditions and ethos which make the Army what it is today. The idea behind all this would be – get back to basics. This in turn would imply that the model followed successfully over the years be reinvented to meet modern challenges.. In other words the objective will remain the same but the means may be modified. We wish the Army all success in this noble initiative.