Change is the constant in life – Military doctrines, systems, procedures, customs, traditions and ceremonial practices cannot be exceptions


Lt Gen (Dr) Prakash Menon (Retd) 


Death and life cannot exist without each other. Last week, a leaked document provided media life to the Indian Army’s colonial legacy even as it threatened renewal through death to systems and practices that have outlived their utility and relevance. The media have projected the review as drawing its inspiration from Prime Minister Modi’s Valedictory Address to the Combined Commanders Conference held at Kevadia, Gujarat on March 6, 2021 and the ‘Panch Pran’ explicated in the 76th Independence Day Speech.

The immutable common purpose for change should be the improvement of military effectiveness in national security. This calls for sharpening combat capability based on doctrine, organisation, training, jointness, technologically updated equipment and fighting spirit inter alia.

Ultimately, in the realm of military effectiveness, it is better to respect Napolean’s famous quote: An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors.

The importance of the subject supposedly under review is because it relates to the realm that can impact morale, which is the primary source that buttresses the fighting spirit.

Fighting spirit is founded on the willingness to sacrifice for an entity and cause with which the soldiers must identify. While the spirit of nationalism provides the overarching spiritual framework that envelops and embraces the military institution, the identity that provides the spirit that is lived, felt and experienced is the unit and sub-unit represented by battalion, company, platoon and section.

For, to the soldier, the nation is an abstraction, while the unit and sub-unit are real where camaraderie and espirit de corps reside, and are experienced. Therefore, preserving and strengthening the regimental spirit of the Indian Army should not be sacrificed in the name of eradicating the colonial legacy.

The most important question that arises is whether the combat and combat support arms of the Army, like the Infantry, Armoured Corps, Engineers and Artillery, which are still more or less organised on regional, caste and religious basis, should continue in their present form and whether moves to change their composition and name will adversely affect their military effectiveness.

In practice, it would entail converting the Rajput, Sikh, Maratha, Mahar, Gorkha, Assam among others, into All India Class Composition. There should be no doubt that logic of composing units on regional, class or religious basis is a British legacy and outlived their purpose if for example the Sikhs had to be used against the Gorkhas and so on.

There was also a notion of the martial classes that underpinned the grouping and recruitment.

The logic that fighting capabilities are enhanced by narrow ethnic and other groupings have been disproved for long. The main experimental vehicle was the creation of the Infantry Regiment – The Brigade of the Guards in 1949 by the late Field Marshal Cariappa. The performance of its units in war and peace speaks for itself. Yet, the weight of legacy has resisted any move to shift all regiments to All India Class. Moves to do so consequent to the mutiny of Sikh units during Operation Blue Star were quietly buried, though it drove new raisings towards All India Class.

Hopefully, if Agniveers are going to be selected on all India merit, the change to All India Class composition is inevitable. Whether, the names of Regiments should then be changed is not central to the issue of military effectiveness.

Many of the issues pertain to uniforms and ceremonials including cultural forms of symbols and music. Uniforms in particular can be reviewed using the principles of comfort, simplicity, smartness, ease of maintenance and suitability in terms of weather, affordability and so on.

Symbols and emblems, on the other hand, could have historical connections that play a role in linking the serving soldiers to the valour, bravery and sacrifices of their forebears. The case for changing or replacing them to suit the passing contemporary politicaltemper maybe unjustifiable. Music must be perceived as being beyond boundaries and therefore the choice of music must result ina blend of the past and present.

Ceremonial parades at the national and State levels have multiple participating entities. Change in uniforms for the armed forces should be harmonized with other uniformed forces. Or else, the colonial legacy that one wants to downsize will stick out like a sore thumb amongst the police forces who have not only inherited colonial uniforms but have selectively imitated the Army. The continued wearing of camouflage pattern by police despite protests by the Army, is a case in point.

As long as military effectiveness is the index of measure to make changes, the major change that has to be managed is of the Army: shifting to the All India Class of all its units.

Moreover, it would be logical to assume that the entire military exercise of change would be an inter-services effort. An important platform for decision making would be the Joint Commanders Conference, which will require consensus among the three Services. Identifying and implementing changes will also take time and resources. But there is one action that can act as a sign of things to come. Wherever possible, the diminution of the neck tie as the main form of formality, which in many ways is the vestige of the colonial noose around the Indian neck, could be reviewed.

Overall, a review of doctrine, organisational structure, tactics and equipment is the foremost imperative. Review of cultural imports is desirable. But one should not go in with the approach that everything colonial is bad and everything desi or whatever is good. Finally, compromises are inevitable.