Last night I dreamt I was a junior-level officer in the Navy.
In my dream, I suddenly found myself accused of plotting a coup d’état along with the (non-officer) crew of a missile boat. You know, like the crew of a missile boat is going to be able to take over a country, let alone a country with a virtually ceremonial navy like this one.
Even in my dream, I knew this was ridiculous. Apparently, even the naval authorities knew the charge was ridiculous, because they made no attempt to arrest or court martial me. What happened was that they subject me instead to systematic and punitive harassment. I found myself evicted from my quarters, all my belongings (including my books) dumped outside, and the quarters themselves demolished. I had a “mentor” officer – a commodore or admiral (who in real life happens to be one of my former teachers in dental college). He refused even to talk to me, and instead passed comments in my hearing about how ungrateful I was. One of my “brother officers” finally told me in accents to high-falutin he was practically swallowing his vowels that I was a “trait’r” and so he would have nothing to do with me.
While I spent the rest of the dream vainly trying to find someone willing to give me a hearing, let alone help me in any shape or form, I soon realised the reason for these charges. I’d opposed some admiral’s wife’s nincompoop idea of stationing Sea Hawk fighters on a new aircraft carrier.
The Hawker Sea Hawk, as it happens, is a sixty-year-old design which even the Indian Navy retired back in the 1980s from service aboard the light carrier Vikrant.
I’d pointed out to Frau Admiral that these museum pieces were not even capable of taking off from a carrier fitted with a ski-jump (like the new carrier in my dream), assuming they could even be made airworthy, but she wasn’t at all happy with that, since she thought they "looked so good". Nor were her entourage of fawning officers happy with me either.
So that was the reason I was in that mess.
Now, although that was a dream and the whole premise was utterly fictional, it’s not that far off from what actually goes on in India’s defence services. While I was working with the air force, I saw at first hand the way the spouses of senior officers threw their weight around, virtually assuming the privileges of their husbands’ rank. And those of us who know something of recent Indian military history (most especially the Kargil conflict of 1999) are aware that inconveniently outspoken officers find themselves speedily out on their ears after trumped up charges and drumhead trials, while others who refuse to rock the boat are rewarded with good postings and promotion.
While – as I said – my dream was exaggerated and allegorical, I’m pretty sure that equipment acquisition, promotions and suchlike things happen more due to the whims and fancies of those in power, and that those further down the totem pole had better accept the orders from above or suffer the consequences.
I don’t think the problem is unique to India’s defence services, either – it’s probably a rot present in the very structure of the military animal. But in India, the feudal social system and the corruption of power tend to reinforce each other in a particularly ugly fashion.
Can things improve in our lifetimes?