Saturday, March 21, 2015

Humor in Uniform - “FAUJI” RANKOMANIA


Musings of a Military Veteran

STORY OF THE AMBITIOUS NAVAL OFFICER - an apocryphal story by Vikram Karve

“A” was a most ambitious naval officer.

His sole aim was to become an Admiral.

He moved heaven and earth and did everything possible to achieve his objective.

Those days the first promotion board was for the rank of Commander.

As his promotion board approached, the fear of supersession made him highly anxious and tense.

Soon the promotion board was over but the results were not yet declared and he eagerly waited for the promotion signal.

This excruciating wait almost drove him crazy.

He was hearing conflicting rumours.

This made him so tense and stressed-out, that his shipmates called us over and told us: “Hey, you guys are his friends. He is so bloody tense about his promotion. He is almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I think you chaps better speak to him and pep him up a bit.

We will do that,” we said.

The promotion signal is likely to be released tonight. The bugger is so nervous and frantic that he may even commit suicide if he does not get promoted. He is all alone – his wife and kids are away for their summer holidays. I think it is better someone is with him to make sure he does not go berserk and to prevent him from doing something stupid if his name is not on the list,” said a shipmate of “A”.

In the evening we reached his house with a bottle of rum.

We did not have to open our bottle, since “A” was already drinking to soothe his nerves.

“Why are you worried? With your outstanding performance, you are sure to get promoted,” we said.

“What bloody outstanding performance? Someone told me that the buggers in Delhi are manipulating the list. That’s why the signal is delayed. I hope it comes tonight,” he said and downed his glass of rum.

His voice had a note of desperation.

I filled up his glass and said, “With your sea service, they cannot ignore you.”

“Sea service? My foot! All this sea-report crap is bullshit. Look at the number of guys who get their sea-time waived and all of them get promoted. Someone told me that my name is being pushed out of the list to accommodate some bloody influential landlubber pen-pusher sitting in Delhi. I am convinced of one thing now – never go to sea if you want to get promoted,” he said bitterly.

“Let’s go out for dinner,” I said, trying to change the subject. Maybe an outing would do him a bit of good.

“No. I am not feeling okay. If you want you can go ahead,” he said.

“Okay. I will sit with you and give you company. He will go and get us some dinner. What do you want – Biryani from Olympia or Butter Chicken from Delhi Darbar?”

I am in no mood to eat. You guys eat anything you want,” he said.

As my buddy left to get food, on the way out, I whispered to him to go to the signal centre and find out about the promotion signal – when was it likely to come?

We, “A” and me, kept drinking.

“A” was quite drunk now.

It was more than two hours, almost midnight, but my buddy had still not returned.

I feared the worst.

We kept drinking in silence.

We had lost all sense of time

Suddenly my buddy arrived.

He seemed overjoyed.

The promotion signal had arrived.

“A” had been promoted.

On hearing the good news, “A” asked, “are you sure my name is on the list?”

“Of course your name is very much there. I knew you would have doubts, so I have got a copy of the signal for you – see for yourself.”

“A” kept staring at the signal, at his name.

All his pent up tension seemed to dissolve and relief was visible on his face.

It was time to leave him alone to savour his moment of triumph.

But “A” would not let us go, “No. No. Wait. Don’t go. The good news calls for a drink. I have kept a bottle of Royal Salute Whisky for this occasion.”

“Whisky? After so much Rum?” I asked.

“Come on guys. It doesn’t matter. Today is a special day. Let’s celebrate.”

We kept drinking and in due course the bottle of Royal Salute was polished off.

“It’s nearly 3 in the morning. Time to leave,” I said.

“A” looked at me with hazy eyes and said, “Thanks for coming.”

“Do you know why we actually came?” my buddy asked, lurching drunkenly.

“Shut up,” I said.

“No. Tell me. Tell me why you came,” stuttered “A”, his speech blurred with intoxication.

They told us you would commit suicide if you missed your promotion,” my buddy blurted out.

A looked at us and said, “Well, I really don’t know what I would have done if I had been passed over for promotion. But one thing is sure. My wife would have committed suicide if I had missed my promotion.” 

What? Your Wife? Your wife would have committed suicide had you missed your promotion?” we asked in surprise.

“Yes - my wife would have committed suicide if I had missed my promotion,” he said.

“But why should your wife be so anxious whether you get promoted or not? It affects you, but how does it affect her? I can understand that you were desperate to get promoted. But your wife? Are you telling us that your wife is more career conscious than you?” we asked A”.

A” looked at us and said: Yes. My wife is more ambitious than me. She would have been so totally devastated if I had been passed over for promotion that she would have surely committed suicide. She had worked so hard for my promotion. She would not have been able to bear the agony of my supersession…”

After uttering this insightful truth, “A” passed out on the sofa, happily drunk.


The greek word philia means excessive liking or love.

So rankophilia means excessive love for rank 

An overly rank conscious officer may be called a rankophile

If you have served in the defence services, you will have come across many rankophiles who are excessively rank conscious.

I have seen some rankowives too – yes, rankowives  those fauji wives who are excessively rank conscious of their husband’s rank – like the one the story – and sometimes these Rank Conscious Wives (RCWs) can vitiate social life in the services.



In the Civil Services – you have career incentives and benefits like Assured Career Progression (ACP), Non Functional Upgradation (NFU) and Non-Functional Financial Upgradation (NFFU).

For Civilian Officers  Promotion prospects are good, and promotion to a certain high rank is virtually guaranteed by the time you retire at the age of 60.

However, in comparative terms  promotion prospects are much less in the Defence Services.

In view of the steep pyramid like hierarchical structure in the army, navy and air force  it is very difficult to get promoted  especially to high rank.

Worse  in the military  they retire you off at a young age if you do not get promoted to high rank.

Unlike the almost 100% promotion in the civil services  the promotion percentages in the armed forces are much lower.

That is why I used to jokingly say that  whereas the civilians have ACP (Assured Career Progression– the military “faujis” have ACS (Assured Career Supersession).

It is a sad irony that even civilians who are supposed to support the man in uniform like Civilian Defence Scientists enjoy much better career prospects than the uniformed Armed Forces  who are the mainstay of the nation’s defence.

Another unique feature of the defence services is the extremely high degree of rank consciousness (rankophilia a consequence of which is the desperation to get promoted to high rank at any cost (rankomania).

The saying RANK HAS ITS PRIVILEGES (RHIP) is carried to the extreme in the Armed Forces resulting in a situation where RANK HAS ALL THE PRIVILEGES (RHAP) 

This aspect further exacerbates RANKOPHILIA and RANKOMANIA


In the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force)  everything depends on your rank.

Your rank determines your status, your pay, your perks, your post retirement job prospects (especially in PSUs), your retirement age  your rank determines even your pension after retirement – like OROP – One Rank One Pension – each and everything depends on your rank.

This obsession with rank is extended to your wife and family as well.

Yes  the status of an officer’s wife depends on her husband’s rank.

This results in absurd “designations” like “Senior Wife” “First Lady” etc 

These so-called “Senior Ladies” try to flaunt their husband’s rank.

This pernicious practice continues despite the fact that we now have Lady Officers in the Armed Forces whose status is officially higher than those who are mere Wives of Senior Officers.

This “pecking order culture” in the defence services makes rank the most important thing in military life  at work  and even in social life as well.

Since your rank is the “be-all and end-all” of military life  most officers (and their wives) are desperate to get promoted at any cost.

The chances of achieving higher rank are quite slim due to low promotion percentages especially as you go higher up as the vacancies become fewer and fewer.

There is a saying that in the navy (or army) that all officers get superseded at some stage  since only one can become the Chief – unlike the civil services and police where there can be many officers of the rank of Secretary and Director General.

There is an intriguing aspect of promotion, at least in the navy, which I have observed. 

Very few officers are superseded for professional incompetence

Yes  very few officers are superseded due to incompetence in performance of their professional duties.

Most of the superseded officers are highly proficient in their duties and are professionally competent. 

It is mainly due to some “personality clash” that they have been superseded and passed over for promotion. 

But that is another story which I will discuss sometime later.


Supersession has two effects:

1. Loss of self-esteem and end of the road (blocked career growth) for the individual

2. Feelings of inadequacy and humiliation at the social and familial level

In the rank-conscious feudal culture of the defence services, if you are superseded and passed over for promotion, you have to contend with a situation where you may have to work under an erstwhile junior which can be a most humiliating experience. 

Even at the social level your wife may have to suffer the humiliation of being bossed around at AWWA and NWWA by a much younger wife of an officer who has been promoted and has leapfrogged over your husband who has been unfortunately passed over and fallen by the wayside.

That is why one of the greatest fears of an officer (and his family) is the fear of supersession. 

This “supersession fear” is a result of the the potent combination of “rankophilia” and “rankomania” exacerbated by poor promotion prospects.

In many cases this “fear of supersession” gives rise to ruthless competition fuelled by overweening ambition.

The manifestation of this careerism is visible in the increasing contretemps among officers, the rising number of grievances and ever-increasing litigation on promotion issues and frequent “succession battles” which make headlines in the media from time to time.

In the defence services  promotion is probably the most stressful issue for a careerist officer, his wife and his family.

Due to this  many officers in the promotion zone are in a state of “CAREER FEAR”.

“Career Fear” essentially is an individual’s reluctance to stand up for his values and principles because he fears that this may damage his career prospects.

He does not want to stick his neck out or “rock the boat” for the fear of harming his promotion prospects.

“Career Fear” results in “play safe” mindset and the “zero error syndrome”.

An officer afflicted with “Career Fear” places self interest before the interest of his men and such a careerist officer can no longer be a true leader.

Are RANKOPHILIA and RANKOMANIA adversely affecting leadership quality in the Defence Services?

Can CAREER FEAR be mitigated by having initiatives like Assured Career Progression and Non Functional Upgradation (like it exists in the Civil Services) and reintroducing Running Pay Band like it existed earlier in the Military which will reduce the excessive rank consciousness in the defence services?

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All Stories in this Blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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Copyright © Vikram Karve (All Rights Reserved)

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