Maintaining the sancitity of Army uniform

Maintaining the sancitity of Army uniform

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Maintaining the sancitity of Army uniform

By

Col. Satish Singh Lalotra

‘It is always an honour to put on a uniform’ – Manny Machado’

The arena of sports and that of armed forces revel in the commonality of various USPs bestowed upon its members, one of them being donning a uniform to make the opposing teams or forces different from each other when grappling with the goals set for them owing to a competition be it the game of baseball or inculcating a sense of superiority during operations in the latter case.

No wonder the world-famous US baseball player Manuel Arturo Machado was always rooting for the uniform which he and his team mates donned while being launched for any baseball sojourn the world over compelling him to utter that it was always an honour to put on a uniform.

Extrapolating the same sentiments in the field of armed forces carry a much higher weightage that deal with life and death situations often bonded over by a commonality which is the quintessential uniform in its various shades. In the case of armed forces, the age old adage of ‘Naam, Namak and Nishan’ is the sine qua Non of a fighting unit that takes precedence over everything else.

The Nishan or the uniform with all of its accoutrements is the last of the trio- moniker that symbolizes its sway over a fighting outfit and also the most tangible of signs to goad a body of troops to bond unlike the intangibles of Naam & Namak that are invisible to a physical eye.

The various Pennants flown by the commanders atop their chariots in the times gone by or even today on top of the tanks and armoured personnel carriers are an extended paraphernalia of the so called ‘Nishan’. Indian kings, Maharajas, and even our mythological treatises are choc-a-bloc with a veritable hue of uniforms that were adorned by their armies while at war.

Off late this age old institution of ‘Naam, Namak and Nishan has been under a collective onslaught of sanctimonious people who to the total disregard to the above adage have been tinkering with its very roots thereby endangering its exclusivity in matters concerning the uniform for the army as such.

My write up primarily deals with the subject matter taking into consideration total perfunctory manner with which the frequent changes in uniform has been dealt with by the higher ups in the army, the unnecessary shifting of ordnance factory designed army logo combat uniform to the NIFT designed digitally printed uniform, the so called cheaper rate at which these uniforms have been ordered on 4 private firms than that of TCL under the aegis of the ordnance factories, the underutilization of these ordnance factories owing to such a momentous decision by the army/MoD, the security angle of misuse of these army uniforms in the recent past and so on.

I was prompted to write this article due to a surfeit of rules, orders and such like that have been the order of the day with regard to change of uniform for the army in recent months that doesn’t bode well with the speed it has been implemented.

In the recent past there have been orders to implement ‘common uniforms’ for all officers from Brigadier and above irrespective of their cadre and appointment in order to promote and strengthen common identity and approach in the higher echelons of the army. The action as widely believed would usher in esprit de corps, camaraderie and so on.

It remains to be seen as to how much such an action would bear fruit on ground since the word uniform itself connotes unifying rather than dividing the senior lot of officers from the middle rung and the junior lot; which this change of uniform envisages.

Readers would do well to remember that the great 2 world war British Field marshal Bernard Montgomery who made the German Field marshal Erwin Rommel bite dust in the battle of ‘Al Alamein’ and had the unique honour to command the 8th army used to sport twin cap badges on his beret, i.e. the badge of the ‘Royal tank regiment’ which was formally presented to him by the men of the regiment and the second badge in his beret which is worn by all general officers.

On top of it Monty was an infantry man. The sporting of twin badges I suppose is not lost on our policy makers. Leaving the glamour part of the uniform that is reflected in the various accoutrements which gravitates young soldiers and officers to emulate their seniors, my article lays more stress on the so called ‘Privatization of army uniform’ and the inherent dangers that goes with the idea of it in its entirety.

In the past few weeks and months army intelligence and local military authorities have raided many private textile shops where a large number of army uniform cloth and stitched uniforms were found. The latest such catch being at Pokhran in Rajasthan in the first week of October where an Alto car with 4 persons had been arrested with 91 new army uniforms, helmets, shoes, belts, gloves and other assorted items.

The 4 residents of Rajasthan were going to Jaisalmer with the items after collecting them from shops in Suratgarh when they were detained by the army.

This is just the tip of the iceberg which keeps recurring time and again with sickening regularity having ominous security complications. As stated above army has recently switched from the ordnance factory designed ‘Army logo combat uniform’ to the NIFT designed digitally printed uniform.

However post corporatization of the various ordnance factories, the army refused to place indent on the ordnance clothing factories under TCL and have placed orders on 4 private firms at a very cheaper rate than the TCL.

The AIDEF (All India defence employees federation) which represents the employees of these ordnance factories protested against this and have submitted innumerable number of representations.

Despite the approval of the RM, Rajnath Singh for placing 50% of the new uniforms to the TCL, the entire lot of almost 12 lakh sets of army uniform order is being given to 4 private firms as mentioned earlier.

In this backdrop, the reports of new army uniforms being traded as a general merchandise and also caught from a border town of Rajasthan in a clandestine manner has dangerous portents for the country.

Can the country forget the misuse of army combat uniforms made by the militants way back in March 2000 at the infamous ‘Chittisinghpura masaacre’ in Jammu and Kashmir killing en masse Sikh population of that village on the eve of the then US president Bill Clinton’s India visit.?

The fact that the Government of the country is going to tinker an age old formula time tested over 120 years old on the anvil of these 4 private firms now taking over the entire paradigm of army uniforms, has due diligence been done on the veracity of these private firms to cast away profiteering at the altar of nationalism and prestige of the army?

Army uniforms are a strategic asset for various clothing ordnance factories of the country. OCF Shahjahanpur and OCF Avadi are more than 120 years and 60 years old with an excellent track record of making standard army uniforms. While the army uniform cloth is sold at Rupees 2400 in the CSD Canteen, the 4 private firms have taken the order for Rs 1571/-.

How can such a vast price differential be bridged by the private firms? Naturally by compromising on the quality of the cloth. For the continuance of these ordnance factories it requires only about Rs 1200 crore of work which army can afford very easily.

The fact that these uniforms have been making a beeline to the open market and also the same grade cloth used for various paramilitary forces calls for a serious rethink on the part of the top security think tanks of the country.
The general public of the country identifies a particular type of cloth and shade as part of army uniform that shouldn’t be confused with that worn by the para military forces. Many a time this confusion is furthered for taking undue advantage and also to malign the armed forces.

The idea of such a red herring is taken advantage of by the militants particularly in Jammu and Kashmir and the NE of our nation.

The exclusivity of a uniform so bestowed upon the armed forces ought to be maintained at all costs and should not be tinkered so often as to erode its USP among its users. Uniform’s role ought to be unifying all the ranks under its hue rather than dividing the ranks under the false sense of promoting camaraderie and bonhomie.

The fallouts of the uniform being tinkered in the form of illegal merchandise at the border towns of the country, undermining of the ordnance factories manufacturing these uniforms, utter flaunting the orders of the RM, etc will have a very lasting effect on the security and morale of the nation that can be a severe dent in the combined prestige of the country and the armed forces as such.

India can ill afford such a luxury buffeted by two inimical neighbouring countries breathing down upon its neck. ‘Naam, Namak and Nishan is the raison de etre of an army.

Let us not trivialize it under the expediencies of few people who cannot visualize a grander picture of India. Time to move away from clichés to reality.

(The writer is a retired army officer)