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The soldier- between glory and temptation

Shillong Times Editorial 11 Nov 2010

Dr Munmun Majumdar

"When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our Today"

The cancer of corruption has taken a firm hold in India a country which had once boasted of Raja
Harischandra, so much so that the common man in India for whatever reason has unfortunately
started to accept bribery and corruption as a way of life. Those who can pay, factor bribery as
input costs and get along but that again is not exactly foolproof. Corruption is a global
phenomenon but what is characteristically Indian is that very often even after paying the bribe
money the work may not get done. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), published annually
by Transparency International, placed India in October 2010 at the 87th position among 178
countries, with a score of 3.3 out of 10. The CPI scores countries on a scale of zero to 10, with
zero indicating high levels of corruption and 10, low levels. The score for India both in 2009 and
2008 was 3.4.

This is by far one of the authentic indicators available in print. The poor state of public services
like roads, drains, water supply and sanitation are ample proof of rampant corruption and yet
people tend to take it in their stride rather than agitate against it collectively. We do wake up once
in a while when our collective shame does find expression like in the case of CWG scams, but
such incidents are rare. On the other hand, cases of corruption involving the Armed Forces
personnel receive far more serious attention. The reasons being that, people in India have always
felt that the India’s Armed Forces are at least less corrupt then other organizations of the State,
even if not totally above board. Besides the common man does not deal with the Armed Forces
frequently and therefore little is known of the activities behind the barbed wire and sentry posts.
For that matter the common man cannot go past the sentry gate without sufficient proof of his
identity and establishing his purpose and then having his name etc recorded before he enters a
defence area which houses the office as well as the residential quarters. The common Indian is
convinced that the Armed forces are the utmost professional institution of the state and their
organizational capacity is paramount and therefore the people do not feel the need to question
their routine functioning. The soldiers (here the expression includes those in the Air force and
Navy as well) of this country are indeed looked upon as knights in shining armour and it is
because of them that one sleeps like a baby while they lay awake protecting the country’s
borders, air space and waters.

"This is by far one of the authentic indicators available in print. The poor
state of public services like roads, drains, water supply and sanitation are
ample proof of rampant corruption and yet people tend to take it in their
stride rather than agitate against it collectively."

What is distinct from civilian life is that the ethos of leading by example prevails supreme in the
lives of the service personnel, and officers for the most part understand that it is important to
become role models and create an example for the subordinates. Not only that, the officers are
also very well versed with the idea that the leader must never lack credibility. The officers as
leaders are attentive to the fact that their actions/inactions are under constant scrutiny and all
these factors together contribute towards making them generally circumspect about indulging in
corruption. More importantly, corruption in the armed forces will impact heavily on those very
people whose honour, comfort and safety one has sworn to take care of – one’s own comrades in
arms. This can find manifestation ranging from field works to the provision of poor quality arms
and equipment or ration and clothing; it would be the soldier suffering all the way often with
serious consequences. Corruption in the Armed Forces is therefore not merely a wrong doing but
can be qualified as an act of betrayal. No wonder then that incidents of corruption involving the
Armed forces draw extraordinary notice.

But why should corruption in the armed forces attract greater attention simply because they are
not expected to be indulging in it? After all, the armed forces come from the same society that
condones and indulges corruption as a matter of routine practice? Some would point out that
indulging in corruption is against a soldier’s ‘dharma’. Others would argue that those who join
the armed forces should prioritize their goals. Armed forces are open to those who vow to give up
all they have including their lives for the sake of the country and those wanting to get rich have
no reason to join the forces. Yet others would still argue that the armed forces have a system in
place that ensures that culprits are dealt with effectively without loss of time. It is correct that the
armed forces are reasonably efficient in administering justice swiftly when cases of corruption are
exposed. If an armed forces personnel is once accused, the minimum punishment he would
receive apart from being legally punished is that he can never hope to move up in his career.
However, at the end of the day what is important is that these arguments do not hold ground for
the simple reason that a corrupt soldier is no soldier. The ordinary citizen is right in thinking that
they would not repose their trust on corrupt soldiers. They are simple not worth their trust.

"We do wake up once in a while when our collective shame does find
expression like in the case of CWG scams, but such incidents are rare. On the
other hand, cases of corruption involving the Armed Forces personnel receive
far more serious attention."

Let us now address the issue at hand. Is there corruption in the armed forces? The image of the
forces has eroded considerably in recent times. Questions are asked if pride in service still a
paramount consideration? Or is it simply an occupation just like any other? Is the armed force
aware of the creeping corruption? If so have attempts been taken to deal with it systematically? Is
it restricted only to taking cognizance of reported cases only? Have all cases of corruption come
to light in the first place? Is it that many such cases go unreported for fear of retribution which in
turn gives a degree of protection to the corrupt and that very few people have access to
documents which can prove guilt? Or is there some form of partnership that makes certain that
tracks are adequately covered? Or is it that when instances of corruption come to light there is a
tendency to avoid getting involved in long drawn investigation and prosecution? Does it amount
to encouraging corruption and in many cases allowing the corrupt to go scot free? These are
subjects which will need attention in order to redress any misconceptions about the organization.

There is no doubt that there are many honest and upright armed forces personnel. These are
people who have gone all the way for the service of the nation, who have set high standards and
from whom lessons can be learnt. As a soldier’s wife I take immense pride in the service and its
ethos to say the least. The armed forces personnel are above petty gains and soldiers cannot be
subjected to collective shame because of the greed of a few brebis galleuse (black sheep) who are
no soldiers in the first place.

(The writer is Associate Prof, Dept of Political Science NEHU)