Friday, August 19, 2022

Agnipath is a new path to meritocracy

As we advance in the coming decade, a new approach to nation building has to emerge. India needs to base its ecosystem on meritocracy as against continuing on the path of mediocrity. This is needed in all echelons of the government, be it at the Central or the State level.
To ensure that the new approach of meritocracy emerges and becomes a national norm, we will have to revamp our educational system, our skill development and skill enhancement system and also the way we look towards jobs. While private sector has some mechanisms in place to weed out non-performers, the Governments have not entered this domain, despite there being existence of enabling mechanisms. It has resulted in a situation wherein a Government-run establishment or PSU-run establishment fails, while the same shines once it enters the private sector.
The defence forces are our last bastion of hope as well as our saviour on multiple counts, whether it is fighting the external aggressors or insurgency or extending a helping hand to the civil administration during calamities. To ensure that the defence forces are able to execute the assigned tasks in sync with the rising challenges, human resources of the defence forces have to be given a new look altogether. A human resource based on absolute merit from each and every part of the nation is the need of the hour for an empowered soldier to join the defence forces.
While the current method of recruitment does allow the entry of the best youth out of the available lot of youth who volunteer to join the defence forces, however, once they join, there is a tendency to get comfortable with the surety of a permanent job followed by a handsome pension. Of course, he/she is willing to lay down his/her life and gives the best and performs to the best of the ability.
Despite being emotionally involved with the organisation and the nation, not all of them are able to enhance their qualitative edge while in the service, more so, at a time when technical growth in warfare is substantial. Knowingly or unknowingly, a state of mediocrity sets in the organisation, resulting in repetitive training, but still leaving large gaps in the desired capability.
This state results in heavy burden on officers and compromises our ability to lead small team operations both during peace and war when these recruits become Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), whereas this should not be the case as these recruits need to form the backbone of a future-ready defence force.
Not only that, a majority of the soldiers find it pretty difficult to handle and operate technologically advanced equipment as well as lack the ability to function in a networked environment, an emerging need wherein future wars are transiting from the kinetic domain to the hybrid domain of warfare.
Agnipath scheme is an excellent initiative which conceptually strikes at mediocrity in the defence forces, wherein the best of the available in the country are recruited as Agniveers initially and then trained for four years, including on the job training with units posted.
An objective and transparent criteria thereafter will select only the very best 25% to be retained and thus a major boost is given to meritocracy which is the crying need of the hour. While meritocracy is needed everywhere, it is of the most critical need in the defence forces as in war there are no runner-ups and only those who are at the ace game must be its part.
While the current selection system for officers looks at this issue, albeit only to some extent and requires further refinement, it is almost negligible amongst personnel below officers rank (PBOR).
It is the first time that merit has been given due attention both at the entry level as Agniveer and thereafter a major merit surge, wherein only 25% top performing recruits are taken ahead making transformational changes in the defence forces.
While the scheme may have certain challenges in other domains and hopefully all those will get addressed in due course of time, but on the front of meritocracy, it is a master stroke and a much-needed reform. Once we look at our defence forces after a decade, we will be the best in the world on all counts.
The writer is a retired army veteran. Views expressed are personal.
Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd)

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