Friday, 27 September 2019

National Defence Academy and Societal Representativeness

Aussie Trishakti, 2019, Vol 1, No 3, October

The figures are unavailable, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the intake at National Defence Academy (NDA) lacks societal representativeness. Not all of India’s multiple subnationalities, ethnic groups and communities have a foot in the door at the cradle of India’s military officer corps. This is neither good for NDA nor good for the nation.

An example is that of India’s largest minority, its Muslims. No monolith itself, given its pan-Indian geographical spread and diverse ethnic composition, the Muslim community sent merely two of its sons for the latest NDA course. This is much below its usual average of about six per course. This implies that less than two per cent of ex NDAs are Muslim, of a segment pegged at some 15 per cent of India’s population.

Not only are major ethnic groups from India’s south and north east underrepresented, but also underrepresented – as may be surmised in absence of data – are India’s lowest castes.

One could plausibly argue that the NDA takes the best of those who volunteer. So it would be unfair to blame the military if some, or indeed, several, ethnic groups do not sign up for a life in uniform. After all, there is no shortage of good officer material from amongst those groups wishing to contribute to India's military. There is thus no case for meddling against the current system and doing so may have adverse security-related consequences.

The argument against the status quo and in favour of broadening the representativeness at the point of entry is that this measure would enable the officer corps to reflect India’s diversity. This has democratic dividend in that inclusivity would prevent usurpation of the military by a narrow – geographically and socially – set of communities. Moves are reportedly afoot to set up in Bulandshahr a feeder school by right of centre ideologues.

A deliberate effort to widen the intake will ensure that all social streams debouch the cream of their youth into the Khadakvasla reservoir, diluting the potential impact of any niche social engineering that may be underway in any part of our democracy.

This case for social representativeness does not imply making the military a site of affirmative action activism. Instead, the case calls for introspection by the military and selfinitiation of steps towards making our armed forces truly representative. Simple steps could go a long way. For example, the UPSC entrance exam dates could be advertised extensively in the vernacular press popular among underrepresented communities. Not only will such steps enable the armed forces to retain control of the situation, but it will also preempt any political interference on this score.

The NDA does not figure on any of the annual 'best colleges' lists. One reason could be that it looms large as an opportunity in the imagination of fewer groups. One way to expand the NDA’s footprint is to make a genuine and all-out effort to attract the best talent from all sections and areas of our society. Status quo thinking needs casting aside in the here and now.