Can thh Gand­hian way rf han­dling cri­sis sit­u­atirns hhlS in run­ning an army unit?


Imay be laughed out even be­fore I an­swer the ques­tion. How­ever, I grew up in a fam­ily con­di­tioned by Gand­hian thoughts, when my fa­ther—a small town doc­tor—ac­tively took part in the free­dom strug­gle and was even im­pris­oned. I car­ried some of the Gand­hian ideas and val­ues when I served for nearly three decades in the army. I found some of his ideas use­ful in han­dling tricky sit­u­a­tions that con­fronts a mil­i­tary leader. Be­fore I re­count my ex­pe­ri­ence in ap­ply­ing Gand­hian ideas, a bit about the man revered as Ma­hatma. Though many con­sider Gandhi a paci­fist, he did not think so. Ad­dress­ing a gath­er­ing at Geneva in 1931 Gand­hiji said “I re­gard my­self as a sol­dier, though a sol­dier of peace.” Gandhi ap­plied quite a few prin­ci­ples of war in ex­e­cut­ing his po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns. Th­ese in­cluded se­lec­tion and main­te­nance of aim, flex­i­bil­ity, econ­omy of ef­fort and co­or­di­na­tion and co­op­er­a­tion. He planned cen­trally and de­cen­tralised ex­e­cu­tion. His lead­er­ship style was sim­i­lar to what is taught in mil­i­tary train­ing schools. Gandhi led from the front, the way a mil­i­tary com­man­der should, even in the face of ad­ver­sity. His lead­er­ship, akin to the mil­i­tary leader’s, was built on ad­her­ence to goals, clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion of ob­jec­tives, flex­i­bil­ity of ap­proach and con­stantly mon­i­tor­ing progress. Though his ap­proach was based on doc­trines, he was not doc­tri­naire in ex­e­cu­tion.He in­spired his fol­low­ers by ex­am­ple rather than by use of force. And his co­er­cive per­sua­sion skills were as ef­fec­tive

as a mil­i­tary man’s strate­gic en­cir­clement. Many peo­ple think mil­i­tary of­fi­cers run their units with the sum­mary pow­ers avail­able to them un­der the Army Act. Team play is the core strength of army, which makes it im­pos­si­ble for a com­mand­ing of­fi­cer to run the unit with the help of only the Army Act. He re­quires sit­u­a­tional man­age­ment skills to run a mil­i­tary unit. Ev­ery sol­dier is taught to fight to sur­vive, has ac­cess to the gun and he knows how to use it.This makes it risky if a CO chooses to be ruth­less or au­to­cratic, go­ing by the book alone. Com­mand­ing a mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence unit is a lit­tle trick­ier, be­cause some of the men con­sider them­selves `over smart’, bet­ter ed­u­cated than the av­er­age sol­dier and are ex­posed to un­savoury el­e­ments of so­ci­ety in the course of their work. Dur­ing my over two-and-a-half decades of ser­vice in MI, I dis­cov­ered some of them can quote army or­ders and army rules line and verse to serve their ends. A study of Gandhi’s life re­veals how he in­tro­spected every­day on his ac­tions and tried to cor­rect him­self to over­come his weak­nesses. This is one trait I had tried to im­bibe; it stood me in good stead in han­dling sit­u­a­tions where I faced moral and eth­i­cal dilem­mas. There were many such chal­lenges in my ex­pe­ri­ence. But as in­tel-

Gandhi led from the front, the way a mil­i­tary com­man­der should, even in the face of ad­ver­sity. His lead­er­ship, akin to mil­i­tary lead­ers was built on ad­her­ence to goals, clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion of ob­jec­tives, flex­i­bil­ity of ap­proach and con­stantly mon­i­tor­ing progress

ligence work is shrouded in se­crecy, I have cho­sen two or­di­nary sit­u­a­tions in an in­tel­li­gence unit. Th­ese ex­plain how Gand­hian in­ter­ven­tion in the thought process helped to re­solve in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal lead­er­ship dilem­mas. While com­mand­ing an in­tel­li­gence unit in the North-East, we had a quar­ter mas­ter hav­il­dar (QMH), a store­keeper in civil­ian terms. The QMH is a recog­ni­tion of an NCO’s se­nior­ity and per­for­mance; I found CQMH Natha Singh (name changed) very poor in his job. I gave him an ad­verse an­nual con­fi­den­tial re­port (ACR) and did not rec­om­mend him for pro­mo­tion. I ex­plained to him why I have done so. Natha Singh took it sto­ically.

THEN prob­a­bly, my ego as the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer went on an over­drive; I trans­ferred him to a dif­fi­cult post on Burma bor­der, which had never pro­duced any worth­while re­sults. But I was pleas­antly shocked when Natha Singh pro­duced ex­cel­lent re­sults. I felt guilty for giv­ing an ad­verse re­port though he was ex­cel­lent in his pri­mary job as an in­tel­li­gence gath­erer. I wanted to re­tract my ear­lier ACR but the In­tel­li­gence Corps records said that there was no pro­vi­sion for it. I took up the case with com­mand head­quar­ters, which came up with the same re­ply. I wrote to the Ad­ju­tant Gen­eral’s Branch in Army Head­quar­ters, which in­sisted the rules were in­flex­i­ble on NCOs ACR. I called the Ma­jor, who dealt with the sub­ject at Army Head­quar­ters. When I ap­pealed to him to do some­thing, he said there was a pro­vi­sion for ini­ti­at­ing a spe­cial con­fi­den­tial re­port for NCOs serv­ing in op­er­a­tional ar­eas.If I re­ally wanted to help the NCO I could ini­ti­ate such a re­port, which car­ried more weigh­tage. I im­me­di­ately did so and men­tioned in the re­port how the NCO was wrongly as­sessed ear­lier. The whole process took eight months. Af­ter that, for the next seven years, I never came across Natha Singh. While serv­ing in MI direc­torate in Army Head­quar­ters, Natha Singh walked into my of­fice. He was now a junior com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer and his beard had turned grey. He beamed at me and said “Sabji, I have re­tired. Be­fore re­tire­ment I went to our records to go through my dossier. There I found the copies of your let­ters, eight of them to en­sure that the da­m­age done by the ad­verse ACR you gave me was neu­tralised. In fact, I had no clue of store­keep­ing and I thought you were right in re­port­ing it. But thanks to your per­sis­tence and glow­ing spe­cial op­er­a­tional re­port, I got a for­eign post­ing and I am go­ing home, a lit­tle rich, but with a lot of sat­is­fac­tion. I wanted to thank you on my way home to Jammu.”

I was over­joyed. I shook hands and of­fered him a cup of tea. “Sabji, can I ask you some­thing? Why did you bother about my ca­reer, even I felt I did not de­serve any bet­ter?” I though it over a while. In the end I re­alised it was the Gand­hian value at work in­side me. I replied him, “It was Gand­hiji at work in­side me.” He looked at me a lit­tle puz­zled; he prob­a­bly thought the Sabji was go­ing a lit­tle bonkers at fifty. Even in day-to-day unit man­age­ment, Gandhi came in handy. In­tel­li­gence units are full of NCOs, who are not to be em­ployed in man­ual labour. But for unit main­te­nance, we had no op­tion but to use them in odd jobs re­quir­ing man­ual skills. Two NCOs—both of them good sol­diers—were marched up be­fore me by the se­nior JCO for dis­obey­ing or­ders to clean up an aban­doned soak­age pit in the unit area. Af­ter the chargesheet was read, I asked the NCOs what they had to say in de­fence. They said as per army rules, NCOs should not be em­ployed on man­ual labour, so they re­fused to do it. And they were right. I was lit­tle puz­zled on how to han­dle the tricky de­fence. I put my­self in Gandhi’s shoes and then asked the two NCOs to go and get three shov­els. They brought them, as the JCO looked on with no clue on what was hap­pen­ing.

Iex­plained to the NCOs the unit had only two se­poys and so NCOs had to do some of the man­ual work. As they would not do so as per rule, I said I was go­ing to do the shov­el­ing of the soak­age pit, “be­cause some­body had to do it.” They were shocked. “Sir, you should not do it. You are the CO,” they picked up the shov­els to do the job. I stopped them for a mo­ment. “I am glad you have de­cided not to go by the book. By the same book, I am pun­ish­ing you for dis­obey­ing a se­nior’s or­der with three ex­tra du­ties,” I said. It de­fuseda po­ten­tial cri­sis sit­u­a­tion. I got into a bit of trou­ble for the un­ortho­dox way of han­dling the episode dur­ing my an­nual in­spec­tion. Even that ended hap­pily when I ex­plained to the di­vi­sional com­man­der the pe­cu­liar prob­lem of man­ual labour faced by in­tel­li­gence units. Gandhi suc­cess­fully prac­ticed par­tic­i­pa­tory man­age­ment, driven by eth­i­cal and moral con­sid­er­a­tions with­out sac­ri­fic­ing goal ori­en­ta­tion. That is why he is still re­mem­bered.

Col. R Har­i­ha­ran is a re­tired Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence spe­cial­ist on South Asia. He is asso­ciated with the South Asia Anal­y­sis Group, the Chennai Cen­tre for China Stud­ies and the In­ter­na­tional Law and Strate­gic Anal­y­sis In­sti­tute, Chennai. E-mail: haridi­rect@gmail.com Blog: http://col.har­i­ha­ran.info

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