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General Mayhem

War-fighting requires morale though not morality. Soldiers are supposed to be tough. Bravery can’t be fickle. If soldiers are going to be able to show bravery in battle, then they should be able to deal with ordinary, everyday corruption.
Perhaps every nation claims that its armed forces are the best in the world and the soldiers the bravest. How do you quantify the bravery of the British in fighting the all-conquering Germans at the beginning of the Second World War? Was it not incredibly brave of the German soldiers to have accomplished all that they did? The soldiers of the Soviet Union made a lot of sacrifices too. The Japanese soldiers were also nothing if not brave including the kamikaze fighters and the soldiers who preferred to take poison and die rather than be prisoners of war.
Indian soldiers have not really fought any major war with their back to the wall. India has never faced an enemy in the six decades since independence who wanted to occupy the land or the people. The British were war-weary after fighting two world wars and quit India without putting up too much of a fight. The real bloodshed that happened in India during the partition years were due to religious riots.


So I’m not so sure about the bravery of the Indian soldiers. There’s now talk about their morale being affected. I thought it would be good to list out all the vices, to get all the skeletons out of the cupboard so that the soldiers don’t get frightened again when they hear unexpectedly bad news.
I’m not so sure either about the value of bravery in today’s world. It’s not as if soldiers are expected to slit the enemy soldier’s throat with the bayonet. Close combat fighting seems so nineteenth century. It’s all about beyond visual range radar guided gadgetry now. The guy with the bigger bomb and the faster plane wins. If both guys have nuclear weapons and use them, then nobody wins.
Now to the fistful of bad news. Well, the General, the Chief, the guy at the very top, was offered a bribe. It’s not as if corruption and bribery are foreign concepts in contemporary India. Even soldiers in their dealings with the civilian parts of the country must have experienced bribery, may be in some government department. The offer of a bribe to the Chief of Army Staff is quite logical in India. It’s about maximizing the opportunities for yourself.
To understand this one must first get rid of juvenile concepts like patriotism and serving one’s nation and sacrificing oneself for the country, etc. Everybody knows that those who join the army mainly do so for the job security it offers. Those in the officer cadre join as officers to continue a family tradition perhaps or just to satiate a basic human (mostly male?) competitive instinct.
The competitive instinct drives the young Indian male to appear for various entrance exams when he (mostly it’s a ‘he’) is about seventeen years old. Some adopt the path of engineering or medicine careers. Some join the military academies. Some will go on later to join the civil services by getting selected through more brutal competitive exams. Others will go for a corporate career by pursuing an MBA degree.
So life can branch out into these broadly predictable careers. Eventually time will turn the young 17 year olds into old men on the verge of retirement. Those getting a government salary tend to fall behind the private sector chieftains in terms of making money. This can rankle. Most people tend to be attached to big houses and/or big cars, etc. And then there will be the wife as well who’ll tend to compare her husband’s meager net worth with other more affluent  — and therefore more capable — males.
Then there is the issue of post-retirement perks mostly available to senior government officials — some become governors of states, others may join the corporate sector, etc. The other way to ensure a nice post-retirement life would be to amass a certain amount of wealth while serving the government. This is the realm of kickbacks. Who doesn’t dream of being a senior person or head of something or the other who gets to approve contracts and decide vendors. That is the epitome of achievement in life. Many pursue it and few reach it. He would be an utter fool to let pass this opportunity to provide a better life for himself and more importantly, his FAMILY. After all, a government salary surely can’t pay for the cost of college education in the U.S.
While the military is a smaller organization compared to the entire government, it’s a purchaser of stuff too and generals get to award contracts. It’s no wonder then that generals might be offered some amount just to facilitate everything. This is normal. Routine practice. Those who wish to go against the norm or attempt to be extra-honest might become laughing stocks in the eyes of others.
While every junior soldier doesn’t get to interact with senior officers, they will know of a junior officer who likes to sell his liquor quota in the open market and thus pockets a tidy sum. Other officers might leverage their positions in yet more different ways.
The average soldier — just like the average Indian — will have found his wife through the age-old system of arranged marriage. The girl will be a close or distant family relation and if not, then definitely belong to the same village or a nearby village. The marriage will only materialize after dowry negotiations reach a successful conclusion. Clearly, the girl’s father (or the girl for that matter) won’t choose a lowly foot soldier if he has the option of, say, an IT professional earning twice or five times as much.
Life is a race and it’s an unfair one. It’s also about making the best deal you can. As a soldier, you gotta know when to fight on and when it’s futile and better to surrender.
I wonder what soldier dreams about dying for the country so that his widow might get a license for a petrol pump or a sea-facing apartment in the Adarsh Society in Mumbai.
Those with a Western bent of mind might conjure up affairs and imagine the soldiers’ wives as desperate housewives. But India works differently. Most, especially in the villages, live in joint families. The wife will be busy with the kids and there will be a bunch of other folks in the house. The very thought of an extra-marital relation is apparently as foreign to the demure Indian rural female as the idea of being abducted by aliens. Thus, Indian soldiers at least don’t lose sleep over their wives sleeping with the enemy ... or the neighbor with the hot body.
The Army in India has a deserved reputation for fostering a sense of national identity among its soldiers. It offers a lifestyle and a career where men work with men from different states with different languages and differing cultural traditions and rituals. What this living together fosters is a ‘live and let live’ culture. Folks don’t learn to move beyond ancient incantations; they merely learn that different people pray to different gods and use different prayer techniques.


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