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The Devil is in the Details

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By Brig Sarvesh Dutt Dangwal (Retd)

 The Tour of Duty (TOD) scheme has been the flavour of the past few years and has gained greater traction in the print and social media, as the day and time of its launch nears the formal promulgation by the MoD and the Army. Some informed persons are second guessing that, like the announcement of the appointment of the CDS by the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15 August, this too may be heralded similarly. In politics, optics counts and the PM doesn’t miss an opportunity to use it to his Government’s and the Party’s advantage and which I don’t grudge him. Be that as it may, there is much that has been gleaned from the bits and pieces of information which has come out in the print and digital media. While the broad configurations of the ToD scheme is known to the public from that which is available in the public domain, the actual nuts and bolts and nitty-gritty of the same is still in the penumbra zone of knowledge in the absence of any formal press release attributed to the MoD/ Army. Therefore, how exactly will the scheme actually unfold and embed itself on the ground is still on the margins of mere conjecture or else assumptions premised upon the domain knowledge of professionals.

The figure of deficiency in the ranks and files of the Army below officer rank, which is being bandied about, is 97,177. This does not include the deficiency of 7,476 officers.

In the context of several writings on the ToD scheme by Army luminaries, particularly Maj Gens Madhok, Raj Mehta and Lt Gens KJ Singh, Shankar and Menon, they all have very articulately and analytically read into it conceptually and rejected the proposal. Their ground is the poor understanding of “what goes into the making of a combat soldier” by those who have attempted to bite the bullet and espoused an egregious solution to achieve the twin objectives of fiscal prudence and churning out seasonal patriots from the assembly line of the Military. It doesn’t happen this way and one size doesn’t fit all is their laboured argument to plead the futility of such a scheme when National Security is at stake. ‘Volunteer Conscripts’ is an oxymoron that is best not used in this context, only because it takes away from the fire and brimstone, which combat will expose these seasonal patriots to. In the absence of career certainty, which will adversely impact the trust factor, an essential ingredient of war fighting and team work; the hyperbole of Agniveer will not hold ground and will collapse under the fatuous burden of mere hope and change belying experienced counsel in the matter. We are playing with something dangerous and for which the Armed Forces must not be used as a laboratory for experimenting on matters of critical National Security.

While the subject has been dealt with at the conceptual level by those who have written about it, none has gone beyond into the actual unfolding of the scheme on the ground. How will it play out? The devil is in the details and of which not much is known. I am quite sure and certain that the concerned staff officers entrusted with the responsibility to delineate the actuals of the scheme must have formulated the algorithm to implement it; but it is my considered view that it will be riddled with imponderables emanating from the complicated complexities of human intangibles. This will manifest itself much later and will have a telling effect on the professional homogeneity and organic competence of units and sub units. While the tangibles will be managed by the infrastructure and logistics available to the Army but would we be able to hone the spirit of the soldier, a vital component of the art and science of soldiering? It will be an unseemly challenge for those who will command these Agniveers only because human minds cannot be kept captive to a cause, which does not factor the interest of the individual in a macabre, gruesome and morbid reality, that soldiering is all about.

I do not wish to make any prognostications into the future outcome of this ToD scheme, but have only this to say that we are not being prudent by unnecessarily fiddling with the hornet’s nest when other choices are available. We have, in this, tried to Situate the Appreciation than Appreciate the Situation.

(To be continued)