Officer’s Indulgence in Corruption: Is SSB Responsible?
A student asked me as to how it was possible that when ‘integrity’, ‘honesty’ and various other qualities had been checked through an elaborate SSB process how did we get cases of officers indulging in corruption and crime? This question is raised by some officers as well. Let me answer this question for the benefit of a large number of people.
SSB Selects Very Average People
The vast majority of SSB repeaters tend to feel that the selection criteria are too stringent and hence the persons getting selected must be very good in all round abilities. This is absolutely untrue. While I commanded my unit I had at least 2-3 officers who, in my perception should not have been selected for lacking fitness and willpower. I am sure that my unit was not unique in receiving such officers.
Personality is Dynamic
It should be realized that though personality is relatively stable, yet it is dynamic and subject to changes based on motives. These changes are influenced by the organizational culture. Let us see as to how this culture gets formed.
NDA Promotes: “Beg, Borrow or Steal”
The philosophy promoted by NDA to accomplish any task is: “Beg, Borrow or Steal”. No commandant has ever tried to change this philosophy. There is merit in the philosophy because you want people to get things done and not come and tell you as to why things cannot be done. How this philosophy influences actions at NDA? It results in a lot of stealing starting from cycle valves to items of kit. An average cadet does not consider it stealing. We give a dignified name to it: “managing”.
Unit Promotes: “Cheating is Fine if Done for the Organization”
The young officer who joins the unit after having accepted the philosophy of, “Beg, Borrow or Steal” learns another philosophy in the unit he joins: “Cheating is Fine if Done for the Organization”. When I joined my unit I used to hear stories of unit’s success in professional and sports competitions predominantly achieved by “cheating”. Some examples would explain it better:
- We were sure to lose the commando competition but when it came to night firing, supervised by some great Major we cheated so massively that not only we made bullet holes on the targets fired upon by our shooters, but repaired those on which our rival shooters had fired and so converted defeat into victory!
- I had a reputation for being good in Boxing. My unit never trusted me to be a judge in any Boxing competition. We always nominated a judge based on his past reputation of giving biased judgements in favour of my unit boxers.
- The there are stories of success as to how my smart “Punjabees” handed over some weapon or vehicle to some innocent “ Ghurkhas” without their detecting the “cheating”.
- I am sure as to how newly commissioned Lieutenants now would be brought up on stories of how some botched up operation in which an innocent civilian was killed was converted into a pride operation by manipulation of some smart officer and how it resulted in people even getting decorations!
Annual confidential report is a very important criterion for promotion. The services have a steep hierarchical structure, implying that very few get promoted beyond Lieutenant Colonel and above. In this environment being assessed impartially is less of a norm than “managing a good ACR” for senior ranks. This breeds a culture of promoting personal interests above organizational interests. Once this culture gets implanted on an age old existing strong culture of “blind obedience” to seniors in Defence Services, it becomes easy to obtain obedience of orders which promote selfish rather than organizational interests. This culture promotes corruption/unfair practices.
Defence Forces are Not Closed System
Defence Forces are not insular societies, or closed systems, but are influenced by the larger civilian society in the country. The culture of corruption and manipulation created from the top national leadership permeates all organizations, including the Defence Forces. Defence Forces cannot remain unaffected by how the political leadership shapes the national culture.
Culture is Formed based on Rewarded Behaviour
The culture of “Beg, Borrow, or Steal” and “Cheating is Fine if Done for the Organization” the “ACR Culture”, “blind obedience” and the influence of the civilian society have moulded the unique culture of the Defence Forces. The culture has taken roots because such behaviours or actions have generally been rewarded over a long period of time.
A candidate who clears SSB is expected to be adequate in ‘intelligence’ and ‘adaptability’. Before he has 4-5 years of service he has been exposed to the above culture. How he acts when in situations demanding independent judgement is still his free will, but he is quite clear as to what actions are likely to be rewarded.
Rationalizing Cases of Corruption/Unfair Actions
I am not rationalizing cases of corruption/unfair actions. An attempt has been made to explain as to how such behaviour/actions occur. SSBs only select candidates at the time they appear in front of them and are even able to predict their future conduct fairly well. The cases of corruption/unfair actions are a result of choices/ decisions made by individuals, influenced by the culture they have grown up in.