Aberrations is the word that the Army has been using to describe the reports of brawls between officers and soldiers in battalions where discipline and authority are the pillars on which battles are won or lost. But the frequency with which such clashes have been occurring in the past two years five major events including one at an artillery unit in Nyoma that barely stopped short of an armed revolt may necessitate a change in vocabulary to describe what is arguably one of the most worrying trends to hit the Army in recent years.
The grave point is that these clashes have taken place at operational and active units,not at headquarters or non- combat establishments. The Thursday clash at the 10 Sikh LI unit shows that even the bedrock of the Indian Army its infantry battalions that are a model for officer-men relations are not immune.
The Army is clearly staring at a crisis of leadership. A line of thought is that the experiment of having younger Commanding Officers is not working out and the lack of experience is a major factor. A deeper issue however needs to be probed.
The initiation point for the clashes vary from an aggravated soldier who had been pushed too hard on physical drills,a havildar beaten up for allegedly molesting an officers wife,a unit on the brink after a soldier commits suicide for being denied leave to tempers at a boxing match going overboard.
They all however have a common thread disrespect felt by soldiers at the hands of the officers that lead them. The soldier of this century,deriving from national progress,is far ahead when it comes to information,access and awareness of rights. The Armys command structure has not caught up. A basic change of leadership attitude is needed to deal with this new,empowered soldier.
No doubt that corrective measures will be put in place and a worried government will prod the Army to act. It is,however,wondered if lessons were correctively drawn from 2006-07 when 20 successive cases of fratricide hit the Army many involving soldiers turning their guns on to officers hit headlines. Welfare measures like enhanced leave and liberal allowances brought the number down to the low single digits but the incidents were blamed on stress and personal problems.
A real view and new rules of engagement to manage the empowered soldier has perhaps become a necessity.
Manu is an assistant editor based in Delhi
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