Friday, 21 July 2017


“I also wanted to join the Army, but you know I don’t remember the ranks properly, you see.” Says Boman Irani, playing the character of Principal of a college in Bollywood movie “Main Hoon Na”

Being an Education Officer in the Indian Air Force, one of the tricky jobs that I had to do year after year was briefing the Air force School and KV Principals and Press Reporters about the right way of addressing the Chairman/ senior commanders during public functions and press conferences. Still after every such function, I would prepare myself to apologise and get a taste of the commander’s mind after they faltered again and again. I wondered why it was so difficult for these highly qualified and experienced civilian officials to remember the ranks and just say them right! At times, I thought they did it intentionally to show their ignorance about the rank structure. At other times, I felt their ignorance baffled them. And maybe they were in so much awe of the uniformed superior’s demeanour, they couldn’t get it straight. 

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As the Executive Director of Air Force Schools I looked after and as the Nominee Chairman in Vidyalaya Management Committees in adjoining KVs, whenever I got an opportunity I tried to create awareness about the rank structure amongst the principals and the teachers of the schools at the cost of sounding rude, arrogant and egoistic while subtly stressing on the rank of specific officials they would come across in their tenures. But I always felt awareness would help reduce their awe, bitterness or indifference towards the rank structures. Many of them conveyed to me that when they addressed the officers as Shri/Smt________ instead of their ranks they actually showed their respect. I always replied asking them the very purpose of creating the ranks if they could be replaced by other words.
The Rank Structure of Armed Forces can be traced back to conventional armies and fleets of kings. In all such armies, identities of the commanders depended upon how many men and land holdings one could rule over. So soldiers got promoted to become Barons, Lords and Knights until they finally became the Commanders and council members. In India too we had such a rank structure in various kingdoms where we had Sardars, Balutedars, Nawabs or the Peshwas who would head a certain number of fleets and land holdings.
In modern Armed forces all over the world, there are two ways to address a person: one being a service number and another being the rank. The service number helps to individually identify u even in times of hostilities while your rank talks about your experience and stature in the organisation. This is a unique practice in Human Resource Management where the organisation gives you an individual identity and at the same time places you with others in a fleet. It tells you that you are individually responsible for your actions while you enjoy all the privileges of victory with your fleet. At the same time it also makes you aware that the organisation comes first.
As if this is not enough for confusing an outsider, one also has a designation for every person in the armed forces, so, for example: I am Service no___________, Rank______ and I hold the post of _____________. So what does a layman learn from this? That I joined forces in approximately ____ year, I have _____ years/kind of experience as an officer and my work area is related to ___________ profession of the armed forces. So much for the identity of each and every member of the force.
 This was all about rank structure helping you to place yourself in an armed organisation. Now take a look at what it does to make you feel part of the organisation. A rank structure tells you from day one: The team comes before everything else in life. It tells you that you will always be a step in the ladder. Today you might be a junior in the organisation; tomorrow a leader heading a team of the organisation and after a few decades; you might be at the helm of affairs as the chief. But still, remember there will always be somebody above you and somebody below you.
And that’s where they teach you about prioritizing your goals in life. They say the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war. One has to decide what is important: the country’s interests, your men’s well-being or your own life. If you can’t save your own life, you are no good to your men or your country. So you have to make a choice; whatever it is and you train yourself to prepare for a combat in that way.
Many studies have been conducted to find similarities between managers and leaders. Also, there are various theories and styles governing leadership. Some support the equality of each and every member of an organisation while others demand categories of workers. The rank structure in a combat force like the Armed Forces is the only example where each and every man works on one principle: All for One and One for All.
The rank structure ensures each and every member is taken care of as far as food, clothing, pay and allowances and career progression are concerned. It earmarks each and every person with an appropriate appointment and assigns a unique set of duty and responsibility.  And at the same time makes it very clear that you are always part of a team and a family.
As human beings, we do bring a little subjectivity to this rank structure as it happens with any organisation dealing with human beings. So you find some leaders taking interest in their superior’s interests while neglecting the subordinates or vice-versa. Some may have their own selfish goals to work for. Often you might have hears that veterans being criticized for carrying their ranks out of their uniforms into the civil streets. Sometimes, the ladies married to the officers are also blamed for showing off the husband’s ranks as if they were theirs by virtue of the wedlock!
Yes that might just happen when your faith is your passion; when your passion is your obsession. When you firmly believe in an organisation which respects your individuality and still nourishes you to be part of a team, it becomes a way of life.  Probably that is why there was lot of in-house criticism in giving honorary ranks to sports persons in armed forces which never got printed in the newspapers. Courtesy our faith in the Rank Structure which taught us to respect the superiors in public and discuss the differences in private. Otherwise, have you ever wondered why every soldier is so ready to die whenever the country demands?
Because the priorities are always ranked for him from day one:Related image

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