As per UPSC data around a million candidates apply for the National Defence Academy Examination every year (both the terms combined). For the Combined Defence Services Examination for direct entry into Indian Military Academy and the Officer Training Academy there are another half a million aspirants (both the terms combined). The minimum marks to be obtained by a candidate for getting recommended for SSB interview is 40%. However as per UPSC data generally the last candidate in the interview list has a score of 70%. Thus less than 2% of the aspirants are recommended for the interview. Finally as an end product less than 1200 Officers get commissioned by the President of India into the India Army every year. This is a selection rate of 0.08 %. Compare this with the selection rate of IITs which is 0.77% that is 10000 students selected out of 300,000 aspirants. The selection rate for Civil Services in comparison is 0.33% that is 1000 civil servants out of 300,000 aspirants.
Next these 1200 Army Lieutenants have to undergo their first hurdle for retention in the service that is in the form of their respective Corps Young Officers Course. All Officers have to successfully clear this course by obtaining minimum C grade that is 50 to 59 % of the marks . This is first of what is called a Career Course . Generally 60 % of a batch is in B Grade that is 60 to 69% marks or in civil parlance a First Division . Out of the remainder 20 % of the Course score C Grade and 20 % score A Grade 70 % to 85 % . There may be one odd who scores even higher and given D Grading that is Distinction.
After the YOs Course an Officer may be sent on other military courses as per vacancies asked for or allotted to the unit, where also grading is done in similar manner. The next Career or mandatory Course is the Junior Command Course at the Army War College. Thereafter the Officer gets three chances to crack the Defence Services Staff College Entrance Examination. Meanwhile one should have passed the mandatory Part B and Part D examinations for promotion to the Substantive rank of a Captain and Major respectively. For the Staff College exam there are six papers each three hours long. Tactics, Military Appreciation and Planning of a particular given Operation, Military History, Administration – Morale and Military Law , Current Affairs including International Affairs and a paper on Science & Military Technology. Generally not more than 10 % of an yearly batch is able to get selected and attend this Course at Wellington, Otty, where the Staff College is located. Officers from various friendly countries including US, UK, Russia, Germany etc too attend our staff college. On completion of the Course one is awarded with a Master’s Degree in Military Science from Madras University. These post graduates then man all the Graded Staff Appointments in various HQ from Brigade HQ upwards. While moving up the ladder one does Senior Command Course and then by deep selection for some it is Higher Command / Higher Defence Management Course and then National Defence College as Brigadiers.
All this while an officer is being assessed on yearly basis on his demonstrated abilities by his Commanding Officer, his Reviewing Officer and his Senior Reviewing Officer. This is recorded in his Annual Confidential Report in the form of grade points ranging from 1 to 9. Similarly his Military Qualities and military potential are also graded from 1 to 9. A pen picture is also recorded. This way the system hopes that subjectivity if any in the assessment is reduced to the minimum. In plain terms, all Lt Col and below in a unit are being assessed by their Commanding Officer (a Colonel), being Reviewed by their Brigade Commander (a Brigadier) and also by the Divisional Commander ( a Major General ) as the Senior Reviewing Officer. So the merit of an individual is being tested, probed and re probed on yearly basis.
Then comes the first Selection Board where all the officers of a given batch are considered for promotion to the rank of Colonel. For each Arms and Services it is done separately based on the vacancies available. For the infantry it is nowadays in the 16th year and generally in 17 year for others. The selection is so tough that even with an Overall Grade Score of 8 (a score of 7 or 8 is termed Above Average) one hardly stands a chance of selection. So you may be fully qualified or even over qualified in all respects, still you may not make it, simply because you are way down in the merit list matched with the available vacancies. Thus finally from a yearly of 1200 less than 300 make it to the rank of full colonel. Thereafter the structure becomes like the Eiffel Tower or the Burz Khalifa. Less than 80 will make it to a brigadier and less than 30 will become Major Generals. Here the ACR gradings must be in the region of 8.98 or higher .Finally out of the original 1200, around 15 may make it to the rank of a Lt General.
Out of these 15 Lt Generals just 6or7 will get a chance to command a Corps. A Corps Commander may be from Infantry, Armoured Corps, Artillery or Engineers. However he already has gained enough experience to handle units and formations of various Arms and Services as a Divisional Commander. That is why a Divisional Commander is called a General Officer. As a contrast Brigadiers are not General Officers because they command only a particular type of troops ….infantry, armoured, artillery, engineers. However in US Army and few other Armies, they have Brigadier Generals because they command combined Arms brigade composed of all types of fighting Arms and Services. By the time he becomes a Corps Commander, he has served nearly in all types of terrain / sectors on Command or Staff assignment. Successful Command of a Corps in all respects and keeping in mind all other qualities, he is recommended fit or otherwise to become an Army Commander.
Till Lt General Selection is based on merit list with scores reaching 8.99 or above. There is no grading thereafter. Keeping the need of stability of command, there is a rule that in order to be eligible for the post of an Army Commander, the officer on date of assuming command must have two complete years left in service i.e., he should be less than 58 years of age. MERIT already proved beyond doubt is hence not a consideration any more. No wonder Lt Gen Rajeev Kanetkar of 52 NDA and Lt Gen Subarato Saha of 53 NDA both merit toppers of their courses could not be made Army Commanders. Over here one more point needs to be debated that is Service in various Sectors. All postings are done by the Military Secretary and an officer cannot refuse to serve where he is being sent. Brigade Commanders are posted as decided by Chief and VCOAS based on operational requirements. So are Divisional and Corps Commanders though here the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet too steps in. So if someone not sent to OP PAWAN cannot be faulted for not serving in SriLanka.
Now out of original 1200, maximum one or two will become Army Commander and for many batches it may be just NIL. We have a total of seven Army Commanders….. Northern Army, Western Army, South Western Army, Southern Army, Central Army, Eastern Army and Army Training Command. Then there are the VCOAS and the Chief of the Integrated Staff (in case he is an Army General) who are holding equivalent posts. Theoretically all 8 or 9 as the case may be, are eligible and are to be considered for the post of COAS when the vacancy arises. All of them have been holding their post for generally 23 months or less and are from different batches. Firstly who now decides their MERIT and how ? The outgoing COAS? the RM , the PM , the CCS …..Do they have enough military knowledge to do so. And God help the country if merit is decided based on recommendations of any one sitting in MoD ( less RM of course) or any other building in the Lutyen Zone. In case experience of counter insurgency is given more weightage then firstly why others were not given a chance to gain that experience? Also what happens if suddenly things with China flares up ….would not the experience of handling the Eastern Army be more useful, in case things hot up in the deserts then who comes into play etc etc etc. All and any type of consideration at this stage will thus introduce BIAS and will in the long run lead to political interference in the system. Thus it had been wisely decided that now let a totally independent factor…..date of birth decide who is to become an Army Commander. For becoming Chief thereafter it becomes the senior most serving General out of the 8 Wise Men or the NINE RATNAS.
COLONEL AWADHESH KUMAR, VETERAN