Monday, 27 August 2012

The sub-unit cries for army attention
Financial World, 27 Aug 2012


THE ARMY has been in the news for the wrong reasons lately. The reasons have to do both with the good health at the top, among the brass and at the lower levels, the spear end. While the former has hogged the headlines, there are good reasons to leave the latter to the army’s own ministrations.
It is quite obvious that with over 200 years’ institutional memory of man management
practices, increased interaction with foreign armies, academic exposure to management studies, first-hand knowledge,
and a better educated threshold on intake, the army is competent to navigate the social and material change it is inevitably
beset with. The aim here is to bring to fore the aspect of cohesion, one that can help it tide over the problems. When a candidate officer or soldier looks up at a billboard demanding to know: ‘Do you have it in you?’, what exactly is ‘it’ is left to the accompanying photos to suggest. These depict a life extraordinary: of fun, adventure, odds, risk, outdoors, technology,
camaraderie. In effect, the poster asks whether he has a ‘need’: a need for adventure, glory, friendship, physical and mental challenge, altruistic service etc. Those with such needs are to self-select the profession of arms to help them fulfill these needs. The youth pledges his life in return. While the service environment, both in field and peace, caters to this, the possibilities are maximised in war.
In peace time, needs are met largely by the organisational hierarchy from the wider army to the rifle company. While pay, perks and welfare form the formal package, the operational environment in the field either of counter insurgency and high altitude deployment and hectic round in peace stations of competitions, visits, operational exercises, firing practices,
military relevant ritual like parades, socialisation
practices, courses, patrols etc. All this makes for organisational cohesion.
In war, the organisation provides the operational context that enables fulfillment
of needs. However, the critical difference
is that the horizon of the soldier constricts from the vast expanse of the cantonment, counter insurgency grid or parade ground plenty, to his foxhole, tank and gun. Thus, in the outbreak of war, the organisation is suddenly and dramatically, substituted by his subunit and, more immediately,
his squad, troop or section. What needs ensuring then is that the identities
of these seemingly less significant entities at the bottom of the organisational ladder are fostered and maintained.
In war, the members of this primary group rely on the group for their mutual, collective and individual needs. This is enabled through the process of primary group bonding in which the member relies on his team mates for survival and they in turn on him, thereby not only enhancing his life chances but also fulfilling his needs ranging from physiological to psychological.
Since the primary group exists for an organisational purpose in the form of operational
objectives, positive articulation of horizontal integration is by vertical integration, or cohesion of the command channel. Horizontal and vertical integration
therefore are prerequisites for combat success. This is a bare bones distillation of received knowledge from an academic field enhanced by the contributions of the likes of Lord Moran, Bartov, Stouffer, Marshall, Shils and Janowitz, Gabriel and Savage, Charles Moskos and Nora Kinzer Stewart, among others. India’s wars, as any reading of regimental histories and autobiographies tells us, have only reinforced
the observation that the identity of the subunit needs nurturing.
A REITERATION OF this timeless piece of military wisdom may well be against the management ethic increasingly in evidence and universally so. With the organisation looming large, particularly in military stations, subunits and sub-subunits are under the threat of marginalisation in the hectic scheme of things. There is no gainsaying that the smell of cordite and crack of the weapon can easily recreate the primary group in quick time. Nevertheless, the expectation
of short wars in future suggests that a higher threshold of primary group bonding
may well be the difference between effectiveness
and efficiency.
The remedies are no doubt at different levels. As has been pointed out by a former vice chief in a recent newspaper column, incessant deployments in unending counter
insurgency or on unresolved borders is one area for the government’s intervention.
In any case, that would still leave the military to revert to the radical ethic. Its problems finding their way into the headlines
suggest that the balance between the organisations’ space and that of the subunit
has been upset in favour of the former. It is time to recreate the primary group, a task well within the military’s capability and hopefully its attention.
Ali Ahmed is Assistant Professor, Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia