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Honorary Commission for icons: Need for caution

There has been a spate of honorary commissioning of iconic personalities in the Army and what earlier was done in an odd case is now being done collectively at a time.

Although these personalities are commissioned into the citizens’ army also called the Territorial Army (TA), the impression that hits the average by stander when he sees the photograph in full uniform and rank is that they have joined the Army. The fact that the ranks are honorary is also not highlighted which for some die hard veterans like me adds insult to injury. The impression is so blurred that the subtle difference between the two is unwittingly left thus it becomes difficult to separate the wood from the trees. Earlier there were some 11 odd cases over a span of sixty plus years but with poor visibility these were not highlighted thus easily faded from public memory. Now with these being highlighted, are such events show casing the forces or are they casting a negative impact, on the image of the Army is the question?
Why does the Army need to parade its icons, show cases in press conferences, as also, grant them exalted  ranks, is the moot question? Why is this trend which was earlier silent active now, is it due to media glare or has the value system changed? In the same breath we old timers talk of our days, why is the trend now more youth icon centric. In the old days even honorary membership to the officers’ mess was hotly debated leave alone honorary commissioning with all its financial implications and wearing of uniform which was a taboo.  Why does the cadet at NDA wear Khakis and the Gentleman Cadet at IMA a uniform, because he has earned the same including the lanyard which he earns after passing the drill square test, commissioning a sacred ceremony with parents and loved ones?
Does this commissioning have only negatives or does it have positives’ also. A lot would say it improves the image of the Army and these youth icons’ add to the quality of officer class. Unfortunately the problem starts from there precisely. The image of the Army is being confused and distorted. The message that is reaching which hopefully the Army is not giving, become a youth icon, play games, do well as film stars and become an honorary officer.  When presented but not denied to give an impression that you are in the regular army, thus it is a distorted message and confusing. The Army must answer a rudimentary question, “Is the officer class made of sterner stuff or is it all play and movies”?
The next issue about image is the equality for all. The only way to become an officer is to pass the UPSC written exam, then qualify for the Services Selection Board a tough call for five days, thereafter, pass the stringent medical test, and be short listed in the merit list. When the Army short circuits this in exceptional case is it is giving a simple message, all soldiers are not equal, some are more equal? It reinforces the same by giving privileged rank, is it not enough if the person is privileged to be commissioned? The Air Force not to be let down flies’ people on combat sorties, enjoy your joy ride it’s an expensive toy. It’s only thank god the Navy that one has not heard off, men in white stay white.  
The image of the Army will take a beating if the senior officers are not careful with the same. The image of the Army is built through blood, sweat, toil, guts and glory never iconic in nature. A soldier is an ordinary human being who through training, dedication and supreme sacrifice has won the hearts of the people of our nation and nothing else will satisfy the love and affection of the common man who looks upon the Army as the last bastion of hope. It is this image that we the veterans handed over to you, the current breed of officers, who told you to change the same?
Recently on TV a very popular cine star was wearing the sacred uniform with all its difficult to earn accoutrements’ and the entire lot of soldiers were dotting over him like a star. Why have a uniform if all are not to be alike. What happens in foreign armies, well there is a simple sign out side a Marines base in American it reads “No one asked you to volunteer”. Eddie Murphy and so many were war heroes conducted themselves by service etiquettes being aware of the same,  therefore, is the current generation unnecessarily going over board in its drive for publicity.
Why does the Army only have to give honorary ranks? The Army serves in difficult terrain therefore, if these people are youth icons the system of rewards must be done in people centric departments, the Police or other civil services. In the old days certain Tea Garden managers could give gun licenses. Why not they are encouraged to become honorary SP of Police, or honorary DC, why is this trend not civil service centric why only Army centric?
The Army needs to showcase its heroes and their sacrifices something that those who have not been a part of the system can never identify themselves with. The moot question which should be answered, “Why is the Army as an institution promoting these individuals, who reached their pinnacle of success as individuals and not as soldiers,” and secondly what are they doing tangible in organisational interest besides image building, for soldierly qualities not media hype.
Is there a misplaced sense of loyalty or promotion for the army, does appointing a youth icon fill in the 12,000 odd vacancies, and how many boys and girls have been attracted to the forces seeing the likes of these popular stars and icons? There is a place and time as also a manner for every thing has the system gone over board. To the best of my mind only soldiers make role models for soldiers and any other role model is a misconceived sense. On the contrary it may invite queries under the RTI as to why such and such has not been appointed as an officer. This is going to be seen as a social status symbol and as an Army we have not thought through the full gambit and its various implications. Such rewards should be rare and only given to those who have done something unique for the services in organizational interests and not self promotion. Such cases like combat experts and legal luminaries’, doctors etc, who have dedicated a life term worth of effort may in exceptional cases be recommended because of their services rendered above the call of duty in exceptional cases only. 
Regarding visual presentations when the Army is a host there is a need to have a simple effective policy, combat dress with no accoutrements’, shaven, without sun glasses, as a visual is worth more than a thousand words. Now with lady officers in the Army there needs to be a simple effective policy also.
Courtesy: The Pioneer, 02 November 2011
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Brig CS Thapa (Retd)
Contact at: [email protected]
Ex. Major Manish Soni (SSC 70)
Beautiful article by Brig Thapa.
I am also of the same opinion, you cannot just make someone a soldier/officer overnight. It takes months/years of training/sweat/blood/guts and passion to be a real soldier. I doubt if any boy/girl will be motivated to join Army looking at these personalities wearning uniform and rank. Its more of a status symbol than being a role model. These people are certainly hard working/dedicated/ sucessful in their respective fields however as the author also says, they haven't done anything exceptional/unique. I think the Army needs to revisit their system of selection for granting Hony Commission to such personalities.
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