Army's Uniform Uniformity

September 5, 2019 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By Twitter / Indian Army
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

Indian Army has decided to do away with differences in the attires of officers above the rank of Colonel

Recent media reports indicate that the Army has decided to do away with differences in the attires of officers above the rank of Colonel. The move is being called to usher in uniformity in uniforms, All Brigadier-rank officers and above are to wear the same beret, cap, shoulder badge, lanyard and belt; unlike the practice till now wherein depending on the regiment or corps that an officer belongs to, the colour of the beret, lanyard, colour of the belt and the badge on it are different. The Army has a total of 42,913 officers, starting from the rank of a Lieutenant to the Chief of Army Staff having the rank of General. On commissioning, every officer is assigned a regiment or corps which has its own distinctive uniform and regimental or corps badge. For every officer, or for that matter every soldier, his/her uniform is a matter of immense pride.

In proffering choices to opt for particular regiment or corps, uniform is a big factor for cadets undergoing training for becoming officers. For example, it is the lure of the maroon beret that invariably is the reason why cadets opt for the Parachute Regiment. Newspaper reports have quoted a senior Army officer saying, "We have taken the decision to do away with differences in the uniform of officers from the rank of a Brigadier. The uniforms show your links with the regiment, arm or service that you belong to. But all of them are Indian Army officers, so there should be no difference. There should be no affiliation to the lanyard or the regiment." The change for uniformity in uniform is reportedly to begin with, will commence with dress officers wear in the mess.

The Army has already received three types of samples of mess dress and a final decision on it is to be taken soon. Mention of "first step" implies overall uniform change is to follow. Plenty thought, time and effort is invested before any kind of change is affected in an organisation. Even miniscule changes must accrue corresponding benefit to the organisation. So, what positive difference will change of uniform of Brigs and above make and how will Army benefit, given that different uniforms will continue for Colonel and below rank officers who form bulk of the officer corps? The decision is aimed at stopping higher rank officers from giving preference to their own regiment. But how will this play out when formation commanders will continue to have ADCs, MAs, MS from their units/ regiments? This is more so because of mindsets of Chiefs percolating down, leaving much to desire; postings, promotions, honours and awards, ACRs etc are affected by preferences running top down. Even dropping a hint to look after so and so serves the purpose – which at times even travels down from word of mouth. One Chief used to openly say you tell me whom to promote. But by no means does this encompass 'all' Brigadier-level officers and above; there are many who remain very fair. There have been extreme cases as well; a decade plus back, a Chief dealt directly with the MS (X) keeping the ailing Military Secretary aside, and board results were sent home before forwarding them to MoD. Of course promotion boards many a time are sent back by MoD for 'additions'. The abovementioned change of uniform is unlikely to benefit the Army in any manner though it would sound good to government of the day and the public. The requirement is not to change the uniform but the mindset starting from the Army Chief downwards. It is this what Chiefs must imbibe and ensure through the Army. The current change in uniform is akin to renaming Army HQ as Integrated HQ of MoD (Army), with no integration worth the name. On the contrary, the change being affected may create a different class amongst the officer corps; Colonels and below and Brigadiers and above, which may lead to different dining arrangements in mess functions in the times to come.

An officer from the Parachute Regiment today receives an award from the President of India proudly wearing his maroon beret. Henceforth, he will lose that privilege if he is Brigadier-rank or above. It is a different matter that preference has already brushed specialisation under the carpet. For example, many Chiefs have indulged blatantly in posting non-Special Forces officers in the Additional Directorate General (Special Forces) of Military Operations Directorate at Army HQ, often from Chief's regiment; only to enable the favoured officer earn stamp of having served in military operations. Incidentally, the current ADG MO (Special Forces) is from Gorkha Rifles. There are also be bright ideas in pipeline to have one uniform for the entire Army, like Navy, Air Force or Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). This too would be retrograde.

Officers wearing own regimental uniforms is good for morale of the Regiment; in turn boosting the regimental bond for fighting units - a major factor in battle, ignoring which would be foolish. This does not mean that Brigadiers and above cannot be fair in dealing with their command. There is no need for copying uniformity of uniforms of China's PLA. Additionally, Colonel of the Regiment (COR) has an important function and responsibilities. There is talk of abolishing that appointment too – another example of making a change just for the sake of change. Concurrently, can you have a COR wearing a different uniform? Rather than changing uniforms of one-star officers and above, could we prevail upon the government to forbid CAPF copying Army uniforms – which no other country permits? Are we comfortable with the spectacle of our columns carrying placard saying 'ARMY' when deployed for flag march in Haryana in face of the Jat agitation in March 2017? Obsessed with uniforms, are we losing sight of higher and long term vision to take care of core interests of all ranks of the Army, restore their erstwhile status of being cream of the society, and changes warranted to make organization and personnel more productive, financially better off and socially adaptable?