Jostling With Ethics -6- : For Common Good


A paradigm of our social norm aims for universal ‘good’. Sarva Jana Hitaya,cha our scriptures advocate, and also Sarva Jana Sukhaya Cha. Surely that seems to be a good goal to strive for. Unfortunately, both these words – hita (benefit) and sukha (happiness) – are subjective concepts. Benefit for an individual can often mean the opposite for a group that the individual belongs to. Choice of actions for an individual in such situations of conflict becomes a matter of personal ethics.

Our men in uniform constitute a group where loyalty to the immediate group forms the bedrock of it’s existence. This loyalty is nourished by a sense of justice prevailing over his immediate society that brings happiness and peace of mind to the individual soldier. If for any reason the soldier feels deprived of this sense of natural justice, it immediately affects his piece of mind. His commander cannot allow this to happen, as any reduction of faith on the supremacy of organizational justice impinges on the strength of loyalty of the soldier and reduces the inherent strength of the unit.

Unfortunately, the soldiers are also human beings; and as the saying goes, to err is human. Therefore sometimes situations arise through human failures where dispensation of equal justice to all becomes difficult. I remember one such occasion when I got into such an uncomfortable situation as a Commanding officer. The story was as simple as it was complicated.

I was commanding the Black Archers in Chandigarh. In November or December 1968 I was informed that I would have to relocate my unit from Chandigarh to Hindon. Such moves are common and are routinely executed. I was happy the the movement warning was given to me in good time. I had about three months to plan and execute the move. I loved my unit. It was a very happy outfit. So much so that seven out of my 12 married officers were expecting additions to their families. The first one had just arrived. The second was due in December. This child belonged to my Adjutant. I was included in the happy group too, but my child was expected in February. Both these happy events clashed with our planned movement activities. I advised my adjutant to send his wife for confinement under parental care while I arranged for Leena to go down to Kolkata and make my mother look after Leena’s confinement.

When my Adjutant went home to leave his wife under better care for her confinement, the charge of the adjutant’s office was temporarily passed to a young officer. Such temporary appointments are normal and forms a part of training for the young officers. As I have stated earlier, the move of the Archers was to be a fully planned peace-time action. Both the dispatching station Chandigarh and the receiving station Hindon were participating closely with each other for the move. In course of time, Hindon sent a query to Chandigarh asking for the number of married quarters that would be required by the Archers on their arrival at the new station. The query was referred to the Archer’s HQ by the station HQ. The query landed on the desk of this young officiating adjutant. On seeing the query, he picked up the telephone and spoke to the officer in charge officer’s married accommodation (O i/c OMA) for the station. The unit adjutant requested the O i/c to send a list enumerating all officer holding married accommodation and all officers on the waiting list for an allotment of married accommodation to Hindon. In the eyes of the young adjutant, he had responded promptly with a comprehensive and accurate list of requirement of accommodation to the next station. Unfortunately, he was wrong. The permanent adjutant had reasoned that since his wife was going away for a long period of time, and since she was certainly not required to come back to the old station after her confinement, it would be sensible for him to pack-up the household and hand his allotted quarters to the station. He had not inserted a request for an allotment of quarters at Chandigarh at a future date; he knew that by the time his wife would be ready to come back to him with the new born child, the unit would have moved to the new location. Thus when the Officer i/c Married Accommodation executed the telephonic instructions of the unit adjutant, the name of the permanent adjutant was omitted from the list of accommodation required that was sent to Hindon. This lacuna was not discovered until the unit arrived at the new location.

The new station tried to be as accommodating as possible. It had provided houses to every one mentioned on the list sent by the dispatching station. It was not their fault that no house was allotted to my adjutant, who also happened to be the senior most Flight Lieutenant in my unit. The fellow was disappointed, sad, and inconvenienced. On arrival, when we realized the Faux Pas, the only possible remedy was to offer him permission to live out under own arrangement in a hired house in the town. His working hours as the unit adjutant was normally longer than what it was for the other officers of the unit. His house was quite far from the station. There was a newborn infant at home. His only mode of conveyance was an old scooter. All in all, he was severely inconvenienced. To him it seemed to be an inequitable load dumped unfairly on him. By implication, the unit had failed to protect his rightful social dues. He did not complain officially. His performance was not affected by this unfortunate situation. However, his unhappiness was perceptible. It was not good for the unit.

As the commanding officer of the unit I found myself in an unviable situation. I did not like to accept denial of social justice to one of my officers. The station could not help me out; no permanent house for a Flight Lieutenant was vacant within the campus. I couldn’t alter the allotment of houses already announced and occupied without appearing partial between my officers. It was an ethical problem. The easy way out would have been to call in the aggrieved officer and to apologize for the hardship caused, talk to the station commander and arrange for an out of turn allotment of house to this officer at the next opportunity and accept the degraded environment for the interim period. I did not like to do that. Then an idea germinated in my mind. This could be, I thought, an opportunity to teach my boys the need for ethical action in military leadership.

I called for a meeting of the married officers of the rank of flight lieutenant. I explained the situation to them and explained how we had landed up in a situation wherein one or the other officer would feel deprivation of social justice. I then gave them a task. They were required to debate whether any corrective action was necessary and if yes then what that action to be. The decision had to be arrived at by consensus. Any and all decisions would be acceptable including one stating ‘no action necessary’. Once a decision was arrived at by consensus, they were to go home and talk to their wives. If any of the wives were unwilling to accept the officers decision then the decision would be considered null and void. In such a case, I would take my own decision and inform them about it. I then left them alone in the conference room and walked out.

It took my boys less than fifteen minutes to come to a decision. The junior most in protocol seniority for married accommodation ‘volunteered’ to give up his flat in the campus for the adjutant. He was at that moment with out a personal vehicle. He calculated his available resources and found that he will be able to buy a scooter. However, after such a purchase, he would be short of money to furnish the ‘security deposit’ that would be required to hire a civilian house. His friends pooled in and collected the sum required for hiring of his house. His newly married bride had no objection to this arrangement. Peace prevailed in the unit.


9 responses »

  1. TKS was one of the instructors while I started flying in the 71st Pilots Course. Later he was my DS in the Staff College while I did my course in 1971. I had the privilege to serve under him as the First Senior Instructor as a Group Captain from the Air Force at the Staff College from end 1983 to March 1985.

    Indeed, Sir, you have a flair with your pen to write like a fable. I like its simplicity and ease of reading. I do hope that Mrs Leena Sen is keeping well and has recovered fully.

    I whole heartedly endorse the previous remarks from Vikram Karve that them days were different and spoke volumes of camaraderie and togetherness. I am sure you would be turning a few pages of the Face Book to notice the intemperate language, though FB is still mostly courteous in their ways. Twitter takes the cake. You are disturbed to notice very personal remarks about the journalists mostly women and abusive is to say the least. Why go so far? Look at our Service Nets. Religion and Politics were the two subjects we kept far away from us. In retired life we come back on them with vengeance. I have stated these examples to just illustrate the Environment we are operating. I am sure Service training in NDA and other training Institutions makes the young officers worthy of Service life.

    Now coming to your tale, the officiating Adjutant should have been educated that he should have checked either with the Flight Commander or the CO before sending the details to the Station. Notwithstanding I must compliment the whole Group, the Officers, for such a mature understanding shown. I am sure, while they climbed their ladder of service career, this learning process would have stood them in good stead. Hopefully some of them would have made it to the top. An understanding CO makes or mars the development of officers.

    Warm Regards and Love. Hoping to see you both and Sutapa in Chennai.


  2. Dear Dadu – This is such a lovely story! I enjoyed reading it – especially the final solution. As you point out in the begining of this narrative Hita and Sukha are very subjective concepts. In most instances they mean different things for an individual and the different groups that the individual may be associated with. I have never been in the Armed Forces, and have not seen that camaraderie in civilian life; but I have heard and seen it as a child/young adult from Ma and Baba.

    One of the ground rules I try to set for my teams – is that collectively we stand to achieve a lot more; than any of us individually. I have had mixed success with this approach. Sometimes the team clicks and the engagement / project is a tremendous success. In other instances they dont; or personal priorities / agendas take center stage and the team / engagement suffers for that.

  3. Problem solving through ” Brain storming sessions” is the essence of this story. However Adjutant could have been more accomodating ? Sir, did this adjutant climbed higher ranks in Air Force?

    • Yes indeed Mridula. My adjutant of that moment went on up to a three star level (like most of the other archers of my gang! ). However, in this story there was no scope for him to be more accommodating. He had not complained at all. The assessment of injustice having been done, and the need for a remedial measure, were of my perception. I could have simply chosen to ignore the incident. That I was unable to do so is where My jostle with my ethics began.

      • The whole topic related to Ethics. So there is always a learning in it. Therefore I mentioned about the Adjutant who was holding charge temporarily to have spoken to his Supervisors before shooting of the letter to higher formation. As such he needed to be cautioned.

        Regards, HMS.

      • I thought so. Your senior adjutant was extremely efficient. Superiors go out of the way to keep his efficient staff in good humour without compromising ethical norms.Efficiency pays.

  4. HMS,
    The story did not indicate that junior adjutant had notinformed his CO about actions initiated.Moreover junior adjutant followed the correct process.He must be complimented for that.Taking a decesion at junior level and doing it without bothering his CO on a routine procedural matter is commandable and to be encouraged. The real learning is the essence of modern management. Japanese mustered the art of problem solving (Especially Toyotto) through small group activities in late fifties. Japanese substituted “I” concept to “We ” concept. Few top ranking Indian companies adopted this SGA concept through TQM imovement in late nineties.What surprised me is TKS Sir adopted this proven team building methodology in late sixties in an enviornment of ” I order, you do”. Great.

    • Dear Ms Mridula Dewan,

      It is not my intention to contradict you, though respecting your views. The whole fiasco has taken place due to miscommunication to higher formation. The responsibility therefore was on the individual who passed this message, Officiating Adjutant. In Command Assignment we do educate our officers. Over all I did mention that this was an Exceptional Bunch, and rightly so as TKS states that all of them climbed the ladder High. Regards. HMS.

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