THE FAWNING FAUJI, SELECTIVE AMNESIA AND THE VIOLATED ‘NORMAL’

The much discussed message of the new Navy Chief outlining norms of behaviour and conduct expected from his force is just that – a message of expectation and intent from a Service Chief on assuming charge. Besides being a vehicle of communication, the message is a mentoring guide to serve as a reminder of what has always been the ‘normal’ and still continues to be, for the large majority of people in white.

          Readers are quick to draw interesting conclusions and make judgements on the way people in uniform are ‘behaving these days’. These tend to make sweeping generalisations of behaviour and by extension, of character. Regrettably, there have been instances of ‘deviant’ behaviour that may have come to be regarded by some others as ‘acceptable’ and therefore, this timely message from the Chief red-flags certain deviations. This, however, should not be interpreted to infer that such deviations are rampant and to use a new-age cliché, they are certainly not the ‘new normal’.

          “Stop Fawning, Needless Ceremony…” The media really knows how to point people in a direction that shapes opinion even before the unsuspecting reader has had a chance to read the first sentence. But a discussion is welcome. There cannot be smoke without fire. The question that begs answering is ‘Why do such deviations happen?’ ‘And what happens when they do happen?’ Honest answers to these questions will place the debate in perspective and reduce chances of ‘branding’ faujis as a ‘fawning set of people’, eager to please the brass.

          That the rank and file has been reminded of the proper social and ceremonial practices to be followed in the force is not new. Reminders are necessary as people change and times change; whereas defence forces are judged against more idealistic standards of behaviour and conduct than what is common practice in the civilian world. What is new is that this message has ‘leaked’ to the media in today’s age of pervasive media and the ease with which information flows at the tap of a screen. Any morsel of information today can become ‘breaking news’ and if such news can be given a controversial spin, the more its ‘newsworthiness’. Therefore, here we have a section of people concluding that the norms of Naval conduct have gone to such dismal depths that requires the Navy Chief to ask officers and men to behave or else…

          A reality check does indicate infrequent instances of personal conduct of individuals deviating from the normal. The majority of such instances are ‘seen through’ by discerning juniors and perceptive seniors. But if a person in a senior leadership position does not walk his talk, the junior often is left with just two options – bear it in frustrated silence or raise a fuss and kiss his prospects goodbye. It is easy to preach that unethical or incorrect conduct must not be tolerated but faced with this rather unpleasant choice, there are no prizes for guessing what a junior would do.

          The responsibility of ensuring correct practices lies squarely on the senior leadership. They have to walk the talk and create mechanisms to institutionalise these practices. Poor examples in the past have been the result of a feeling of ‘entitlement’ just by virtue of attaining a rank or position, heavily inflated egos, playing favourites or encouraging coteries, exercising undue interference over staff processes, a sense of self-aggrandisement where special treatment is demanded, senior officers’ wives often wielding a lot more influence over matters that should not even concern them and similar reasons – mostly to do with the exercise of power, influence and authority.       

  The fact that the majority of juniors are either not directly concerned with any misdemeanour at senior ranks, as well their preferred choice of silence and compliance also makes them complicit in deviation from norms. It is also entirely possible that grooming and mentoring of juniors on appropriate conduct needs improvement so that they can discern deviations and represent to their immediate senior. A system of ethical fearlessness and transparency is the call of the times. The onus is clearly on the top brass to set examples of propriety and demand the same from every individual down the line. Senior officers cannot afford to suffer selective amnesia and forget norms of conduct that they expect their subordinates to follow. They have to walk the talk and motivate subordinates to follow them through personal example. This is the only way that violated normals will be restored.

27 Replies to “THE FAWNING FAUJI, SELECTIVE AMNESIA AND THE VIOLATED ‘NORMAL’”

  1. Concur sir. Far too much is being read into a statement of intent by a new Commander reiterating expected norms of conduct. The media is making a mountain out of a molehill. As usual!

  2. To my mind, to put it very simplistically, structures, processes & human resource are the brickwork that successful organisations are built of, with the cementing job being done by an atmosphere which makes the human resource thrive and give their best without fear or favour. Unfortunately, we have come to a pass where the cement is losing its grip. The first step to solve a problem is to recognize it and the earlier we do so the better! So about the Chief’s missive – a job well begun is half done!! Just hope that the mission does not lose steam. In my opinion, one needn’t worry about the news leak – high time we shed the ostrich syndrome and stop being squeamish about what the Civilian world thinks of us. I would rather have us worry about setting our house in order be it professionalism, cohesiveness, human resource, shedding some of the colonial baggage, work-life balance etc etc.
    Lastly, Caesar’s wife must always be always above suspicion and in a steeply pyramidal organization, all belong to Caesar’s harem!!

    1. Thanks for your response Gautam. Agree about the need for the environment being conducive. Also about the need to not just be doing the right thing but also be seen doing it right.

      The thing to remember is that this is like spring cleaning. Despite our best efforts to keep our houses spotless, dirt accumulates over time. Similarly, deviations are sometimes made by people within the organisation and it requires periodic reminders and action to restore the normal. In brief, we must not allow dirt to pile up high.

  3. Perhaps a different angle…

    I don’t think there is any dispute that the Chief was right in conveying/ reiterating existing norms. However, I have increasingly felt lately that we don’t have a robust mechanism akin to corporate communications in the private sector. The ease of spread of communication, even confidential, it’s varied interpretations and the ability to spread ones opinions irrespective of factual correctness, begs for a specialised communications capability. This not only to prevent possible damage, but indeed to use it for our purposes. Maybe if the IG was better worded to say that the existing norms of conduct are being reiterated/ being taken to the next level, rather than leaving the asks as isolated sentences. Perhaps this makes some people add their interpretations to make a complete idea, depending on whether they have a positive or negative bias

    Just some thoughts…

  4. Very well written. This culture I feel should be implemented in all govt departments too. Let’s hope to see a change……

  5. A guidance issued by The Commander to his men on assumption of Command is perfectly in order. Thus us just the norm.
    If that be so, why this hue & cry???
    First & foremost,”THE BREAKUNG NEWS SYNDROME” of the MSM.
    Secondly, Negativism for MSM sells.
    Thirdly, politicisation of anything & every thing by MSM has become the Norm.
    Lastly the hyperactive & instantaneous reaction by the Social Media which is a new phenomena that we have to adapt our lives to.
    Such being the environment, Any Action by The Chief is going to attract positive & negative comments.
    SO, I AM SURE, THE CHIEF WITH HIS VAST EXPERIENCE KNOWS WHAT HE WANTS FROM HIS MEN, KNOWS THE MEDIA WELL & HAS ADAPTED HIMSELF WELL TO THE AGE OF HYPERACTIVE SOCIAL MEDIA.
    BEST WISHES TO THE CHIEF.

  6. Senior officers have a duty to periodically communicate desired standards of conduct. Such communications should not be construed as if they were made after infractions were observed.

  7. Sir, from my perspective of the service I beg to differ about fawning and preening in the Navy. Maybe I was lucky in never having seniors that expected such behaviour or that I was plain naive in that I did not meet such requirements when these were expected (!), but I have always seen our general service conduct to be quite balanced.

    Ego and esteem go hand in hand as we rise in the service. And I do believe senior officers have earned the respect that we ought to give them, and add to his/ her self esteem. But also agree that on the odd occasion things have gone overboard, but most often this is tacitly sought/ accepted by the senior officer.
    On the other hand I have also often seen missives demanding less “fawning” around a Senior officer result in down right ignorance of his presence in our midst. This too is completely inappropriate.
    I also believe that some fawning around is required simply because we are in the military service with a rigid social order that needs to be reinforced, amongst other means, by a code of social behaviour that includes preferential treatment appropriate to rank and post. How much is appropriate has been now redefined.
    Walk the talk is what will bring perspective and balance to the issue.
    Regards,

    1. Thanks Manish. It is good to see someone differ. But I really do not see any divergence in your views from what has been stated. What you mean by “some fawning is required” is perhaps junior’s must be respectful and courteous – no doubt about that! Also, we all understand the difference between protocol and ‘needless preferential treatment’. I think we are generally on the same page.

    2. In total agreement, walk the talk is the order of the day. Have seen a number of senior officers who have earned respect due ‘walk the talk’ and I have high regards to them even if they are retired. You can demand respect, command respect but in my view earning respect lasts longer.

  8. The newly appointed Chief of any of the three Services, announces to his personnel his ‘ Vision Statement’, on taking charge. This is the norm. This is what has been done now as per the conventions and traditions of service. This applies equally in the Corporate Sector when a new CEO takes charge..
    Nothing to trigger off a debate or for reading between the lines.. How the CNS now implements his Vision , is an internal matter and best left un analysed.

  9. Sir you have correctly summarized the key issue – walk the talk by senior leadership for the juniors to emulate. Changes in social conduct with gender equality and more women joining Armed Forces both as officers and PBOR would require attention at top echelon.

  10. You nailed it Brother. I have been part of the system have seen from close quarters. Currently in J&K, seems to be same. However changing in officers at Junior level. Thanks for timely reminder. Food for thought. Grateful

  11. Nicely written Dasu. The aspect discussed needs introspection at all levels of leadership. Every action by a leader in situations other than war needs to be analysed by the leader himself. With excessive transparency in our lives, it is important to do an ‘impact’ analysis of what we say and do in public domain.

  12. Very well articulated and put in perspective of today’s environment. Hope the effect produced , if at all, by the reminder by the Chief is long lasting in today’s ‘ Rat race’ scenario.

  13. Well articulated. In these days of hypera tive media even a simple message is subject to intense scrutiny, unnecessary dissection to determine nonxisting outcomes. You have put it in the right perspective.

  14. Agree totally. All these have been there for many years , it’s just that the Chief has decided to remind the few who have sometimes deviated from the norms. It is also required to keep reminding the environment as some zealous juniors tend to go overboard.

    So, the Chief’s message should not be read to mean that he is giving a dodgy direction but accepted as only a correction to prevent deviation from the track, even a few degrees by some over zealous officers.

  15. Very well enunciated. Blog contents like these from such senior men in our forces are truly important for those who get taken in by media newsbreaks and analyses which are at times not only off the mark but untrue as well..

  16. Very well enunciated. Blog contents like thede from such senior men in our forces are truly important for those who get taken in by media newsbreaks and analyses which are at times not only off the mark but untrue as well..

  17. Aptly summarised. All the rules/ directives promulgated have been existing earlier also and I remember these being ingrained during the initial years in service (about two decades back). Yes, there have been some who have conveniently forgotten them or in their efforts to overdo things have done “more than required”. But the numbers have been far and few. The present message is a reminder to everyone about the service ethos. Recent initiatives like issue of booklet on customs and traditions to new trainees will also ensure that they are imbibed and passed on.
    However, the over zealous fourth estate needs to do a reality check on themselves, on the way they sensationalise every news.

  18. I wonder whether the CNS outlines on conduct should have been released to the media at all….
    Neutralising counter releases will obviously not be as newsworthy and therefore ineffective….

    1. Dear Dasu I fully agree with you. You have written it so clearly. News breaking and public comments are open fields for self glory . In my view The CNS has stated / most restated very simple straightforward basic working rules for our business in Navy. This leaves men cool on field to concentrate on more important professional operational maintenance training issues. Words can be interpreted by different people in different ways. Having handled 3 CNS so closely on such issues , I see lots of merits .

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