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Posted at: Dec 7, 2014, 12:10 AM; last updated: Dec 7, 2014, 12:10 AM (IST)

Should military training be mandatory?

A Bill calling for compulsory military training for youth was voted out in the Rajya Sabha recently, so that’s the end of it for now, but the govt says it sounds like an excellent idea. The debate’s not new, but what’s changed over the years is the demographic profile. With India home to more young

Enormity of idea

  • Close to 30 crore males and 24 crore females between the ages of 16-49 are fit for military service in India. Annually, 1.2 crore males and 1 crore females attain militarily significant age. This is a huge number and even if a section of them have to be trained, it would require astronomical resources in terms of manpower, infrastructure and equipment.

Conscription: Why?

  • From the military point of view, conscription had its advantages in the days of yore when wars were manpower-intensive and long drawn and conventional warfare was the order of the day.
  • The changing nature of warfare has shifted focus on short duration, high intensity and technology-intensive wars or combat in the sub-convectional domain. Information warfare, perception management, psychological operations and cyber warfare now dominate the conflict spectrum. Then there is the spectre of hostile actions by non-state operators, and terrorist attacks.
  • The government has two challenges — to maintain the required force levels and to develop a doctrinal approach to deal with the emerging security environment. The methodology to meet the threat perception goes beyond conventional military training and requires a comprehensive approach involving varied skills and proactiveness on the part of the individual as well as government and social agencies.

Conscription here

  • Countries like Israel, Russia, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Brazil, Norway and Iran have conscription, including some national service alternate to military service

Done away with it

  • Countries like United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia have abolished conscription
Should military training be mandatory?
Should every youngster in India undergo compulsory military training? The argument for the idea is strong, the one against it is not weak either.

By Vijay Mohan

While a private member’s Bill on compulsory military training in the country, moved by BJP Member of Parliament from Punjab Avinash Rai Khanna, was voted out on the floor of the House, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar stated in the Rajya Sabha that compulsory military training was an “excellent idea” and the government may introduce it at the college level in some border districts as a pilot project.

This has rekindled an old debate on the subject. There have been in the past several calls by some lawmakers as well as other citizens to introduce compulsory military training. The governments of the day have rejected such a notion for political, ethical, economic and social reasons.

Compulsory military training would require eligible youth — Khanna’s Bill proposed one-year training for those in the age group of 14-15 — to learn the basic skills of being a soldier. Its purpose is to inculcate discipline and a nationalist feeling, to have a reserve of trained manpower in case of a war and to make up for force deficiencies in the standing forces during peace time.

There are a large number of countries, mostly the Third World, where it is mandatory for individuals, including females, of a particular age group to not only undergo military training but also serve in the armed forces — conscription as it is known — generally for two to three years.

Countries like Israel, Russia, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Brazil, Norway and Iran have conscription, including some national service alternate to military service, while countries like United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia have abolished conscription.

Some countries like China, Japan and India never enforced conscription. In India’s immediate neighbourhood, no country has conscription. Many of the countries enforcing conscription have small standing armed forces.

From what it appears so far, the talk is about compulsory military training and not conscription. In India, the basic military training course for recruits joining the rank and file is nine months. While there is no indication as to what model would be adopted, if at all, the compulsory military training capsule would presumably be for a much lesser duration. It could be devoting a few hours in a week to holding training camps for a fixed duration.

A similar model already exists in schools and colleges in the form of the National Cadet Corps (NCC). The largest youth volunteer organisation of its kind in the world with a strength of about 15 lakh cadets, its mandate is personality development and inculcating discipline. Military and adventure training is imparted by personnel drawn from the armed forces through regular weekly parades and conducting camps. It also serves as a limited feeder agency for the armed forces.

As far as discipline is concerned, it is a state of mind — the assertion of willpower and self-control to follow a particular dictum. The inculcation of discipline begins at home right from childhood and continues through life. Discipline also has to be juxtaposed with moral upbringing and the social environment.


"Compulsory military training not only makes the youth healthy, but also helps in inculcating discipline and getting rid of drug addiction. It will also check the spread of Naxalism. A disciplined youth is the need of the hour." — Avinash Rai Khanna

  • BJP MP Avinash Rai Khanna, who introduced the Bill, proposed one-year compulsory military training in the age group of 14-15. It was defeated by a voice vote. Supporting the intent of the proposal, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said compulsory military training was not possible in view of the huge costs of the tune of Rs 60,000 crore each year.
Given the state of Indian society that suffers from serious maladies, lack of moral education and civic sense, and the dismal standard of education at the grassroot level, a few weeks of parade ground stuff and battle drills in an entire lifetime is unlikely to have a profound psychological impact on an individual to change his or her behaviour. Also, with high levels of crime and unemployment and a host of serious internal security challenges, teaching a large number of youngsters to handle weapons and battlefield tactics could have dangerous ramifications. Moreover, if a trained individual is not conscripted into the armed forces, there’s little purpose of having expended material and financial resources.

The shortage of Army officers is another matter and more serious. Conscription can be done for the ranks, but not for officers.

Being an officer is about leadership and having a defined personality trait that not every individual, however successful he may be in other fields, can have.

For and against in equal measure

Any training imparted to a person is for the good as he can develop an additional skill. Making military training compulsory is not bad as it can inculcate some discipline in day-to-day life. It may not be only preparing for war, but would also empower people for dealing with any untoward incident in their own locality. However, the govt would have to examine the practicality, feasibility and affordability for initiating such a move because of the quantum of resources required.

Lt Gen TK Sapru, former GOC-in-C, Western Command

The idea won’t work in our country and the govt should explore other measures to instil discipline such as education or greater involvement of the police. Once we improve our education system and inculcate moral values, people will understand what is required of them and the situation will improve. Imparting military training is not the way to solve the ills of the society.

Lt Gen RS Sujlana, former Commandant, IMA

Compulsory military training and conscription are resorted to in countries deficient in manpower or resources to maintain large regular forces and would not be a suitable model for India. What would be ideal is to make military training compulsory for govt staff. Provisions for this exist in the Territorial Army Act but have never been implemented. Besides instilling discipline and a nationalist feeling, it would also generate empathy for the armed forces.

Navdeep Singh, lawyer and former TA volunteer

Military training should be a must for all people, especially in the 18-35 age bracket. It would be ideal if some period between completing education and joining employment is devoted to military service. Besides being a means of remaining active and fit, it can also be useful for self-defence. Military training can also help in effectively channelising the energy of the youth.

Manisha Chakravorty, housewife and mother of teenager


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