The growing hyper-nationalism in India witnessed recently in the brazen face-to-face combat in Delhi’s Patiala House courts, the pounding of students, sniping at journalists, and the larger war against India’s so-called “anti-nationals” could delude an optimist to draw comfort from the fact that with nationalists lining up to defend Bharat Mata, at least the Indian armed forces will never run short of recruits. Right?
At present, there are about 52,000 vacant positions in the Indian armed forces.
The reasons are many. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told Parliament last year that the “availability of attractive alternative career avenues, a stringent selection criteria, and difficult service conditions coupled with perceived high degree of risk” were keeping the youth away from the armed forces. The situation is so bad that with the current rate of enrolment, vacancies may take as long as eight to ten years to be filled.
The Seventh Pay Commission had observed that one in four positions in the Army was vacant. Specifically, the Indian Army is short of over 9,600 officers, and has 24,300 vacancies in other ranks. The Navy is short of more than 1,300 officers and 11,200 sailors. The Air Force is slightly better off with a shortage of about 152 officers and 5,540 airmen.
The quality of candidates is also a problem. Recently, over 1,500 aspirants were banned on the first day of an Army recruitment drive in Uttar Pradesh for attempting to cheat with the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Wooing the youth
In 2008, a parliamentary committee set up to recommend, among other things, ways to improve recruitment into the armed forces compiled data on the shortfall of army officers over the decades. According to the report, the Army has been 8%-10% short of its sanctioned strength of officers at all times. This figure climbed to a high of 25% in some years, and now stands at 23%.
The government said it is taking steps to control attrition and attract new personnel by improving pay and perks, but its efforts haven’t been particularly successful. Despite a significant rise in salaries after the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission came into effect in 2006, the number of vacancies has barely reduced in the last 10 years. Its too early to say whether the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations will have any impact on recruitment.
Last November, the army even launched an advertisement campaign to encourage urban youth to join its ranks. The advertisements appeal to their sense of patriotism and adventure. But it will perhaps take time for Twitter and TV studio nationalists to sign up for duty on India’s borders – if they ever do.