The Indian army has been facing a shortage of officers for some time now. This BBC report says that the Indian army is more than 11,000 officers short. The Indian Navy and Indian Air Force too face a similar shortage. The Air Force needs another 6,000 officers and the Navy another 3,000.
Ever since the private sector in India started to boom, the armed forces have not been topping the list of favoured careers for India ’s youth. India ’s generals, admirals and air marshalls complain that the armed services cannot compete with the private sector in terms of pay and perks.
However, the above is just one side of the story. Here’s the other side. Whenever the Indian army wants to recruit men (that is jawans or privates, not officers), they do so through a recruitment rally. Very large numbers of Indian youth throng these rallies. Not everyone gets recruited. For example, a month ago, more than 50,000 young men came forward to enroll themselves in the Indian Army at a recruitment rally organised in the Samba district of Jammu and Kashmir. Of the 50,000 who turned up, only 10,000 were found to be fit enough to be hired.
Once in a while, there are stampedes at these rallies and young men get killed.
Yes, there is no shortage of men willing to join the army as privates or jawans.
The obvious question which arises is, why don’t some of the non-officer personnel get promoted as officers? I don’t have statistics, but I don’t think many of our jawans get promoted to ranks beyond Subedar Major (Sergeant Major).
The Indian army has not got over its colonial hangover. Take a look at this video. It shows a large group of officer cadets eating in old colonial style and being served by men who are most probably army privates. (Update: I have been informed that at the Indian Military Academy, officer-cadets are hired by trained waiters specifically hired for that purpose. However, in officers' messes, privates serve the officers) The Indian armed forces have not made a serious attempt to make themselves more egalitarian. For example, officers are still provided with batmen. In this day and age, making privates/naval ratings and airmen work for their officers as servants is so disgusting!
The answer to the problem of officer shortage seems simple and straightforward. The armed forces should make it possible for its non-commissioned ranks to enter the hallowed officer class. The emphasis should be less on speaking perfect English and more on having the necessary skill-set and willingness and ability to learn. The Indian armed forces are almost a million strong and of this, the majority are non-officers. Surely it will be possible to select a few thousand of the brightest and best NCOs and JCOs and make officers out of them?
I found a five-year old news item which showed the Indian Air Force thinking on these lines. Since the Air Force still has a shortage of officers, I don’t think it has persisted with what it started in 2003.