In an atmosphere in which politically-peppered jingoism would result in even oblique criticism of the military raising a rabble-rousing chant of being anti-national, the Delhi High Court has found it necessary to remind the nation of the concept of “an officer and a gentleman.” True that a bench of Justices G S Sistani and Jyoti Singh was actually upholding that celebrated concept, yet its rejecting a plea from an IAF cadet against the disciplinary action initiated against him served to emphasise a military basic that is slowly being under-valued. It was reassuring that the court harked back to the criticality of OLQ (Officer Like Qualities) when a number of senior officers are opting for short-cuts to promotions by pleasing the brass, top bureaucrats, and even politicians. By junking “empathy and sympathy”, the court sent out a signal within and beyond the uniformed community that defence officers were expected, and required to be, upright. When last were terms like “honour” and “gentlemanly” used in public? They would seem anachronistic when all’s fair in love and war marks the political discourse, and “parliamentary” conjures up images of what previously used to be slammed fish-market behaviour. Kudos to the bench.
The case before the court was simple. A cadet was in trouble because he stole a colleague’s debit card, then withdrew Rs 5,000. At first he denied having done so, but confessed when confronted with video-evidence. For which offence he was ejected from the academy. In civvy street the stolen amount would have been deemed trivial, perhaps easily replaced, but the authorities at the training institute would brook no nonsense. And the High Court duly endorsed such action, rejecting an appeal against stiff punishment. Honesty and integrity are the hallmark of the armed forces, the court observed, and during the training period the flight cadets are tested not only for their professional competence but also for those attributes. “An act of theft is an indication of moral fibre and such cadets cannot be considered suitable to be commissioned in the forces.” While the court was not impressed by the contention that the cadet had an otherwise clean record at the academy and in his Sainik School and said it would not comment on those matters, it would be relevant to note that it said “it is very important for a country to have a fighting force comprising of morally upright, effective, righteous officers… they are expected to provide security to the nation… discipline and OLQ are the heart and soul…”
An anecdote from yesteryear will illustrate the court’s case. An officer’s tennis racquet broke one evening, he had a match to play the next day and so a colleague took him to a Connaught Place store. There he realised he had left his wallet behind. “Never mind”, said the shopkeeper, “you are a defence officer, we trust you”. Will that happen today?