Why I left Army?
This is a complicated question for me because I need to answer this more to myself than anyone else. A lot of my students are keen to know, “Why I left Army?” ”Why I never got promoted beyond Col?” I have explained the reasons in this blog. Reading this answer will give you some insights into the ethos of the Army as I saw it.
Army Ethos: Logic versus Seniority
I had realized quite early that my outlook was not in sync with the organizational ethos. All armies in the world rate seniority above logic. The reason is the great value attached to customs and traditions. Just note the sword carried by contingent commanders in ceremonial parades. Does the sword have any meaning as a weapon in modern warfare? The answer is an obvious no, but we still carry it! For me logic rated above seniority before I joined NDA and I have not changed my outlook till date. Army could not change me! I was wise enough not to try to change the Army!
Supersession in Army
One very simple answer is that when I got superseded it was reason enough to leave the Army. It was a reason but not the reason! It would suggest that I did not take supersession in the right spirit and it hurt my ego too much. That does not seem true to me because I do not have much of an ego issue and for the duration that I served in the Army after supersession I did not have problems with people who had lesser service and were in senior appointments. In any case supersession was highly inevitable. It was not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ it would happen. Let me take you through the journey which developed this perspective:
- Commando Course. It was surprising for my juniors and even some course mates that I did not even receive an “Instructor” grading in the course. Not that being a ‘Commando Instructor’ is easy, but for me it should have been easy. In endurance and strength I was undoubtedly one of the best in my batch and my IQ is not below average. My closest friend and room-mate ( who I could outdo in most tests) topped the course! He brought the trophy to the room & kept it under the bed! Reason: Army does not accept deviation from the established culture and norms which I never respected.
- Stupid Operation as 2 Lt. In 1984 while deployed in Naoshera as a platoon commander on the LoC I was sent on a very stupid & meaningless operation by a Brigadier (later retired as Major General). My patrol achieved nothing except that we survived under enemy fire. We were congratulated for bravery. I found it embarrassing. Later a Subedar Major of a different unit, who had acted as a guide for the operation was in a concocted story shown as the leader and awarded the “Shaurya Chakra.”I found the entire thing very amusing! The organization teaches officers to take responsibility for your mistakes as also those made by your subordinates and giving credit to juniors for their accomplishments. I imbibed this ethos. This definitely is not the ethos of the successful officers. The ethos of the successful officer is shameless self-promotion & blaming others for your mistakes. Well Sonia, Rahul, Man Mohan and Modi also do the same, so why blame the Generals!
- First Successful Trans-Pirpanjal Patrol Leader Not to Earn Decoration. I successfully led a major patrol in the winters across the Pirpanjal Range in 1985. All successful patrol leaders in the past ( approximately 30% were successful) had earned some decoration. I wrote in my patrol report that the difficulty of the patrol had been exaggerated in the past and the success did not require any exceptional bravery but just reasonable fitness! Naturally I received no award for stating the truth!
Army’s Problem with Non-Conformist
When I joined Army I was far too much of a non-conformist to adjust in an organization seeped in tradition. Let me explain.
- I was the first officer in my unit who did not consume any alcohol. I was explained as to how it was “Punjabi”culture. Nobody till date could inspire me to adopt this stupid culture!
- The unit moved for an exercise and the Officers’Mess culture was to drink alcohol and play Rummy ( cards game) from 08:30 pm to midnight and then have food. The result of this ‘great culture’ was that all the officers above 8-9 years of service could barely pass their mandatory fitness criteria, were over-weight and avoided exercise. I developed the habit of consuming large quantities of water and lime water at night and used to take my Boxing team for training from 05:30 am to 08:00 am.To catch my lost sleep whenever I got time I slept in office or training before lunch! I spent considerable time reading. This was also not ‘Punjabi” culture!
- Another ‘Punjabi’ culture among officers was to use considerable amount of ‘Punjabi gaalis’ when talking with the troops and then let them off for committing mistakes which deserved punishment. I found it made much more sense to talk with the troops respectfully, but also punish them if they deserved punishment. I never adopted this popular culture either!
- As a 2 Lt my ( Commanding Officer) CO once admonished me for having improper hair-cut, which I felt was wrong. I shaved off my hair in protest. It was such an unimaginable response that I was boycotted by the entire battalion officers and was made to serve under a JCO. Nobody could convince me that my action was wrong, either then or today!
Laughing at Seniors!
As a Col and CO I was given several“Performance Counsellings”by my immediate boss (Brigadier) for laughing when he passed some instructions. The fact is that he passed such laughable orders that I could not control myself!
Unwanted by Army
Till the time I commanded the unit I felt that the organization needed me. In my subsequent tenures I realized that I was increasingly unwanted in the Army, primarily because people would rather do what helps in their promotion rather than what is rationally better, which in simple words implies toeing the line of the senior. It simply means work for self-promotion and self-preservation and forget about organizational interests. I am the type of person, who if had been in the BJP would have openly criticized the stupid promotion of “Hindutva” and “Demonetization”. The BJP would have thrown me out & I voluntarily left the Army before I got thrown out! It was an interesting and enjoyable journey which I would like to relive again! It was a pleasure and honour to rub shoulders with some of the best soldiers in the world. I was a soldier first and an officer later. Now that I am self-employed I am the happiest!