The Indian Navy’s new chief of staff has called for an end to obsequious behaviour and other colonial-style practices in the service that have persisted more than seventy years after independence.
In his official “signal” immediately after taking charge of the world’s fifth largest navy on May 31, Admiral Karambir Singh called on all senior officers to be “disciplined and respectful, but not subservient” in their conduct.
In a set of 26 instructions Adm Singh called for greater equality within the navy by ending ‘VIP culture” in the service that promotes a high degree of servility and sycophancy towards senior ranks.
“As a modern fighting force, it is important that we imbibe contemporary social and ceremonial procedures towards optimal utilisation of manpower and resources” the admiral’s signal stated.
He called for an end to the colonial practice of deploying “multiple/stand by” cars for a visiting navy chief to any station and standardising drinks, food and cutlery for all officers and naval ratings at official functions.
The lining up of naval wives and children to receive dignitaries has also been banned, as has the presentation of bouquets to these luminaries.
The instructions called for a “reduction” in “unnecessary ostentation” during official events, which over decades have become hugely lavish and extravagant.
There was no need, it decreed, for “clapping/cheering/applause” or making “fawning gestures” on such occasions.
Several serving and retired naval officers have welcomed Adm Singh’s fiat.
“Many of these embarrassing and anachronistic measures…date back to the Colonial era should have been scrapped ages ago “ said a three-star officer who declined to be named.
The Indian Navy came into existence in January 1950, when India officially became a republic, three years after independence from Britain in 1947.
Before that it was known as the Royal Indian Navy that was commanded by British flag and senior officers, many of who continued in service till 11 years after independence, when India got its first native naval commander-in-chief in 1958.
Of all the three Indian services, the Indian Navy has the closest links to Royal Navy traditions, customs and superstitions.
Meanwhile, numerous serving and retired service personnel hope that Adm Singh’s proclamation would have a knock-on effect on the Indian Army that continues to continue with the Colonial practice of batman or orderlies.
The term batman evolved in the British army during the inter-War years before which they were known as Soldier-Servants.
In the British and Indian armies around the time of independence, when officers typically came from the privileged classes, it was not unknown for batmen to follow their masters into civilian life as domestic servants.
“The batman system in the army is demeaning for soldiers and should have been done away with years ago” said former Major General Sheru Thapliyal.
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