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Spot The Stealth Virus

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The armed forces of every country are a sub-set of its civil society — the members are drawn from it and for it to function effectively, there have to be many touch points between the two. Ours is no different. Consequently, the fauj and the civil society that it is charged to protect, cannot remain insulated from each other. While it would be an exaggeration to suggest that a symbiotic relationship exists between the two, the relationship certainly allows osmosis. This occurs through the many touch points: namely, procurement of consumables, local purchase of food and consumer items, dependence on public sector entities for equipment, medical and educational requirements of families, etc.

It follows then that if corruption and dilution in ethical standards take root and become the ‘state of being' of civil society — as it currently has — in time, our uniformed forces will stand exposed and become ‘infected' with this virus. Given the tight training and discipline control exercised by the Services, this ‘infection' usually occurs through the civil society-fauji touch points. Once begun, it signals the beginning of the end of national security.

Those in uniform are as human as those out of it — both in terms of achievement potential and propensity to succumb to human frailties latent in all of us. This comes to the fore when one's mental discipline and sense of purpose weakens and sense of purpose becomes hazy. As such, the fauj is also vulnerable to the pulls and pressures of the environment outside of the Services. The Services have had an enviable record up until now because it has succeeded in creating a community within the larger civic community, which has, largely, been supportive of the uniformed services. This is why our military history is replete with instances of great courage and valour shown by our land, air and sea warriors. Our borders have remained inviolable for over six decades, since independence.

If we look back at shining examples of human achievement in any field of human endeavour, the differentiator between ‘good' and ‘exceptional' is always motivation. Motivation is the catalyst that ignites, and then sustains the engine of human achievement. Successful managers know that even though motivation largely springs from within the individual, the environment has to be supportive of that individual's inner journey. Higher the motivation levels, more the insulation from external pulls and pressures and so, higher the chances that organisational aims will be met.

Lately, we have been witnessing some sorry spectacles that could dilute the security environment: the lowering of the order of precedence of Service chiefs; disgruntlement of veteran soldiers culminating in the return of wartime medals; mala fide fiddling by the bureaucracy with pay commission awards given to serving and retired Service personnel; the alleged formation of a nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and senior Service personnel to secure lucrative personal assets, etc. Each of these examples, individually and, for sure, collectively, lowers the morale and demotivates the rank and file of the uniformed services. To complete the sordid picture are the shameful goings on in civvy street where, it appears, that nothing is sacrosanct anymore. Many of those appointed to ensure the safety of national assets or of national pride are themselves getting caught with their hand in the till! This state of affairs prompts resolute service personnel to wonder: will I, in the future, be called upon, perhaps, to make the supreme sacrifice just to maintain the type of status quo currently on view in our country?

In this case study, Arjun Pratap Singh's strong sentiments are nothing but an expression of his angst, disgust, frustration and hopelessness as he battles to retain his own motivation level and sense of purpose. The most worrisome is: hopelessness. It appears as if Arjun knows that even after he succeeds in retaining his focus and motivational levels, he will have to work even harder to keep his flock together since the civil environment, far from being supportive, seems to mock those in uniform who continue to stick to lofty ideals and honour principles, while an increasing number of otherwise respectable citizens feather their nests by unethical means.

In this regard, it is incumbent upon society at large to reflect on the trickle down effect of its own code of conduct. Specifically, it must realise that, in the long run, such conduct has a de-motivating effect on our uniformed forces, charged with ensuring national security.

Arjun asks: the army will protect the borders and slay the enemy outside. But what about the enemy within? Good question. The enemy within can be likened to a virus that has begun to infect our social fabric and, since this ‘infection' has the hidden potential to compromise national security, it must be recognised and dealt with as a ‘stealth' virus.

Jai Hind!

Rakesh Sharma (India's first man in space) has retired from active service. He is currently the chairman of Automated Workflow Group, a Bangalore-based IT company.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 20-12-2010)