Monday, 26 July 2010


A few years back, a retiring C-in-C of the Western Naval Command openly bemoaned, in his farewell speech, the scourge of "cronyism" that had started to plague the Indian Navy. One could do nothing right unless one was in the good books of some flag officer or the other; conversely, if one happened to be the favourite of a senior officer, one could never do anything wrong. It reminded me of an industrialist facilitating a young employee in a public function, "Today, we have gathered here to facilitate young Rajkumar on his achievements in the company. Two years back he joined our company as an Assistant Manager. A few months later because of his hardwork he was promoted to become Deputy Manager. His dedication soon saw him become a Manager. He continued to do well and within a year of his joining the company, he became a General Manager. Today, ladies and gentlemen, with his sterling qualities, Rajkumar has become a Vice President. Now what do you have to say, young man?" Rajkumar takes the mike and simply says, "Thank you, papa".

In the Indian Navy, the phenomenon is not just to do with promotions; it is also to do with appointments including ships to command and foreign deputations, one's pecking order in social functions, success of one's ventures such as refits or exercises, command tenure, perks and dealing with support organisations. There was a time when individuals ran the Navy; now, it is similar to any organisation with parochial pulls and pushes, say, Hockey India or BCCI. In such a setup, should you want to stand as an individual you cannot succeed. You would be declared a pariah. You cannot get anything done against the general flow; no one would hold your hand. You are most likely to be labelled as the person who is "negative" and cannot get along well with anyone.

Sadly, this has come about at a time when the Navy went through the Transformation process. Two of its goals were to empower people at various levels and promote out-of-box thinking. Both traits are those of upright individuals and not of brown nosing men with a desire to belong to one camp or the other. I am not suggesting that every individual has to be maverick; but, at this juncture the cloning of people is so complete that it is frightening. I am sure a few years later the Navy will certainly realise that it permitted cronyism to become a scourge and that did more damage to the Navy than any other evil. But, until then, parichialism in one form or the other remains alive and kicking.

Cronyism is not to be confused with the healthy trait of camaraderie, which is dying down. I have seen senior officers who were great friends and swore by each other fall apart the moment they are to be considered for promotion and only some of them would make it. I have seen people retiring after decades of service and they are forgotten the moment they leave. I retired after thirty-seven years of service including training time and there was not a single officer who called us for a farewell dinner or get-together. I must be a bad example because of my stress on individality; but, I came across, in a social gathering, a couple who were very popular when in service. However, during that gathering since they had retired they sat alone. In the Navy, your goodwill ceases as soon as your perceived 'power' and 'influence' goes. That's the way it must be elsewhere too, say, on the civvie street; but, a uniformed service should be proudly promoting camaraderie and esprit-de-corps. Alas, both are victims of what is described as "cut-throat competition" and the flaming desire to somehow get ahead of others.

As India takes rapid strides to become a major global player there is greater awareness of maritime challenges and opportunities than ever before. Indian Navy would be the enabling force to squarely meet these. It is a fine service but for sometime it has allowed personnel policies to deteriorate and start resembling personal policies. Ascendancy of cronyism and decline of camaraderie have been the fallouts. We need to bring the ship on even keel before we sail ahead with confidence.


  1. A thought provoking piece.Cannot say whether the phenomenon described is true across the board.The Navy has certain positives too.It recognises merit to a great extent.The competition remains quite fair most of the time.You'll find it hard to come across a total duffer or an incompetent person who made it beyond the rank of Commander.The race shrills among equals who prove themselves at various stages.Yes cronyism does exist to an extent - in fact in certain cases it resembles tribalism - basically taking the folk of your tribe along!There are some who resent candidness and staight talk because it is discomforting or is likely to increase their share of woes and work.It was sad to hear that none of your friends invited you for a send off dinner - perhaps they were too busy managing their day to day lives.The sad part is that perhaps none of them spared a thought for you because they did not feel the sort of attachment which people in uniform should.I wonder where have we lost the true spirit of being in the fauj - the camaradrie,the feeling of being one,we have all lost it because we have not been able to institute regimental culture.Careerism has taken the better of the Service,everybody seems to be short of time,over worked and in some sort of imagined hurry.

  2. Its sad to hear the state of affairs in navy today. i liked the example you gave "thank you papa" :)

  3. That was a very thought provoking article Ravi! As a thumbrule I tend to get the impression that cronyism in the X branch is negligible. Officers generally do treat each other on merit, and their capability to deliver.

    Amongst others I have generally found that the necessity to show the universe that one is above board takes overriding priority over camaraderie(remember Mrs Ceaser?). I wonder why should that be important? I refuse to believe that anyone would even imagine letting down a brother officer! I refuse to suspect the patriotism of anyone unless there was solid proof to the contrary.

    India is facing a problem of too much democracy with too little discipline! Under the circumstances careerism is bound to take a beating. Consequently, cronyism is bound to proliferate. Eventually wars will have to be fought from ashore!As long as we are alive & kicking maybe some of us could volunteer to bombard Karachi! Those at the helm may perhaps prefer to stay ashore!


I welcome all your comments as long as these are not vituperative, use obscene language and are communal