It Is Not the System That Holds You Back, but Your Own Greed

Fear of getting the sack might dissuade people from speaking against the system, but many forget that there is indeed life after dismissal.

“I can’t stand the pressure. If not for it, I would have delivered much better. The system forces you to back off.”

I have heard statements like these many times. Also, I have derisively sneered at it.

It is neither the pressure, nor the system that comes in the way of you delivering what you are expected to deliver. What stops you is simply your own ambition and greed.

I have repeatedly thought about putting across this belief of mine in public domain. However, what example do I use to illustrate this homily with? Of course, I always had my own example, but couldn’t get myself to do it. It felt silly or even churlish to present myself as a victim – claiming the status of a martyr. But just some days ago, something changed my mind.

I heard Arun Shourie tell media in the Mushaira media (Rashtra Manch) that their oft-repeated lament that ‘pressure’  makes it impossible for them to report the realities of today is just an excuse to not do their job. What pressure? Who is jailing you for it? All that could happen is that if you do report, you may get fired. Well, so what?

That’s the whole question. Are you there to ‘stay in the job’, or would you risk getting dismissed for your convictions?

Arun tells us that he is the only media-person who got dismissed twice for his convictions. Then he utters the golden words. “There’s life after dismissal. Look at me,” he says, “Despite two dismissals, am I not standing happily in front of you?”

What’s been holding you up is simply your own greed, not any ‘pressure from the system’. If at all, it is an internal pressure from your ambition, beyond what is healthy and desirable. While you were so fearful of the consequences, the real consequences turned out to be so insignificant that today, you can easily laugh them off. There, indeed, is life after dismissal.

An ex-NDA entry, I passed 13th in the order of merit of about 250 Gentlemen Cadets of Indian Military Academy. I received the coveted ‘fit to be instructor’ grade in most professional courses I took during my career, including the Army Staff Course at the Defence Services Staff College and also the Senior Command course thereafter. My troops loved me. In the unit, I always received an ‘outstanding’ report. However, I simply couldn’t keep quiet enough when out of the unit.

As a young captain, I was thrown out of Infantry School from the position of a talented instructor there, for being rude to my senior, who, I thought, was being more than rude to me. Then as a Brigade-level staff officer, I got into a confrontation with the Cantonment Board Officer, who, I thought was misusing the resources meant for my troops. Again back as Instructor at the Infantry School as a Lt Col this time, it became necessary to complain about service norms being flouted. I did so.

That brought in my first ‘dismissal’. The Army Selection committee found me ‘not fit to be promoted to a Colonel’. I lost out to my own coursemates, many of whom were simply no match to me. However they promoted me in the next board, hoping that I would have learnt my lesson.

The command tenure threw up just too many situations where one had to either stand for the troops, or for himself. 

Some Commanding officers of today are not able to take the pressure that comes from their troops having to fire on stonepelters. Well, here is my case. My troops had to fire on a vehicle which was suspected to be driven by some militants, breaking a barrier in the dead of night on a rainy day. Unfortunately it happened to be that of the district commissioner, with him inside it. The vehicle was hit. The DC was an IAS officer, not one from the state cadre. All hell was let loose. The administration wanted me to blame the patrol leader. But I felt he was not at fault. Things became so tense that the chief, General Shankar Roy Choudhary, had to visit my unit. However, the patrol leader was still not blamed.

In another incident, my senior tried to tell me how to command my own unit. A CO is a position for which many officers of yesteryears would have happily given their left arm for. I wasn’t going to sell myself cheap for this appointment. So I had to remind my senior to not get in my way while handling the unit.

Finally, I took premature retirement and happily lead a civilian life.

But there is life after dismissal. Today, I stand in line for a bus, so do so many others who were not ‘dismissed’. I eat three meals a day, and I suspect, they too don’t manage more than four in a day. So, where did I lose out? I didn’t.

It’s not the system that beats you; it is your greed.

And, of course, there is life after dismissal.

Alok Asthana is a retired colonel of the Indian Army.