We see the men and women of India's armed forces, in their proud uniforms and impeccable conduct, and we are proud of them, impressed by them. We appreciate them, and we're thankful to them, but do we, Indian civilians, ever try to emulate them?
Do we demand from ourselves that discipline, adherence to a set order, and unquestioning faith in leadership? Do we wonder why they set such high standards in routine, everyday things that civilians find it so hard to live up to?
Now, we have a chance to find out, first-hand. The Government of India is considering very strongly a proposal to make military service compulsory for a period of few years, for those applying for government jobs, jobs usually thought of as cushy employment until age-based retirement.
This is no doubt a remarkable shift from the status quo. We have the quantifiable need to fill a large number of vacancies in the armed forces, but what we will really reap are the benefits of a quality population.
India has become a country of people reluctant to join the armed forces. This speaks highly of a country in which opportunity – and hope – to make a decent living presents itself in plenty; it is possible to dream and see those dreams come true in today's India. Aspirational – that's the word! We can aspire and have those aspirations met if we work hard enough.
However, the real reluctance comes from knowing it's a hard grind in the military. Greatly rewarding no doubt, but for most part it is bound to be gruelling, demanding, and thankless in the short term. This is where the government proposal comes as a very strong medicine to the many ills of apathy, indifference, mediocrity, and lack of the right attitude that hamper taking up and finishing tasks diligently.
If a soldier tells you something will be done by 0830 hours in the morning, it will be. Come hell or high water, you can trust a soldier to get a job done. We cannot expect this from most Indian civilians today. This lack of basic social trustworthiness erodes our productivity, increases our dependence, makes our processes expensive. At the end of the day, we have unreliable systems that do not put a high price on accountability, and in many cases, even reward indifference.
Compulsory military training will impart a wholly different value system. Essentially, we will shut up and do as we are told to. We will learn to take responsibility for our actions as well inactions. Our word would have to be worthy of another person putting his/her life in our hands. Until then, we are just not a soldier.
India is waging a war against a lot of things - external threats such as terrorists and belligerent powers, internal ones such ignorance, poverty, corruption. Along with these, we face the predicament of not knowing how to get our large population to work optimally and cohesively. We do not know how to coordinate our resources because we're too individualistic, and selfish, making the simplest considerate acts seem heroic. India is waging a war against a terribly mediocre attitude that pervades every aspect and every relationship of life.
In the military, you're there for your country and your comrades. That's it. Until we cultivate this passion and purpose with zero sense of self-importance, we will never be galvanized to stand up against all threats. We will not have to face the very many crises if we rose to our potential putting aside our petty differences and became professional Indians whose main purpose is to contribute to a great nation. We will be able to bridge the all-pervasive trust deficit and build both individuals and institutions we can fully rely on.
Our education system is incapable in this fiercely competitive race to guaranteed survival. We never teach our children how to live as quality individuals, wonderful citizens the nation can depend upon. Great humans will make a great planet, and a nation that has 17% percent of the world's humans will make a significant difference.
The corrupt amongst us will see where stolen money should actually be going - to where it is needed. We do not deserve to be protected by a high-quality, well-equipped military if we allow civilian corruption ferreting away money from the system to build cushy private lives. This is thievery, and we don't see the results of it first-hand, but most of Indian poverty is directly attributable to this kind of corruption that a lot of us have no problem indulging in, for our selfish needs.
Compulsory military training will put physical, mental, emotional, moral, and spiritual qualities to test. Everything stemming from the ego will be put in perspective in the military, for one simple reason: it doesn't matter who you are and where you come from, you have to perform to stay in line. If not, you might die, and you might get others killed. You must learn everything properly before you are thrown in the field to get something done.
It will be tough, and civilians forced into the military may cry. Most civilians have not been pushed to run several kilometres early in the morning, crawl under barbed wire, go through obstacle courses, and spend nights in swampy jungles. Most civilians have not been required to eat standard rations without variety, finish a gruelling day's work and go to sleep on a hard floor.
It's what our soldiers do, most of the time. It can't hurt to appreciate those men and women guarding us, throwing themselves between us and natural calamities, always ready to act for us, save us, reassure us.
It will also be rewarding to come out having qualified as a soldier. The men and women going in will not come out the same. They will come out as high-quality individuals who can think clearly, act decisively, and take responsibility, even in a crisis.
Many great friendships will be formed. Those bonds will last the test of time, for military training brings people together through true camaraderie, a sense of belonging with a most healthy spirit of competition, many a tough moment shared, tears shed, and laughter so mirthful that the brotherhood or sisterhood is forever.
The National Cadet Corps (NCC), which still has extremely low enrolment rates, used to be compulsory once upon a time. To this day, NCC cadets who have gone through the whole nine yards and got themselves the C certificate are a tightly knit unit, doing amazing things as adults, serving the community in more ways than their jobs demand.
Let's not forget, 20,000-40,000 NCC cadets are doing their service to ride out the Covid-19 crisis right now, helping with traffic management and supply chain logistics. These are kids, not getting paid anything, working entirely voluntarily.
It is crucial we build national character, and there is no institution better than the military to instil it. We must support the government’s initiative to make military training compulsory. We will reap multi-fold benefits, in all facets of public life.
The author is a former NCC Naval Wing cadet, a C certificate holder who represented the Karnataka and Goa contingent in Republic Day competitions, and a military trained para jumper.