Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ajai Shukla replies to my Response

Ajai Shukla's reply pasted below......
Dear Ajai,
          Thank you for the courtesy of a well-thought out and much more logical reply than your sensationalistic article.

          At the outset, let me clarify – I have nothing against you personally. I thought you were a very fine TV journalist/anchor/news reader. You were articulate and balanced, but supportive of the Army, without making it overtly obvious – thereby retaining your credibility. But I maintain my distaste of the article in question. It did not convey the feelings of a concerned Veteran trying to push reform in what he thinks is a corrupt, nepotistic, intellectually deprived and virtually dysfunctional Army – crumbling edifice”, you called it. That was just sensational journalism at its best. Which is what I seriously objected to. There is a deep gulf between constructive criticism and destructive disparagement.

 “The Indian Army fish is rotting from the head.” The very first sentence said it all. A denunciation of what I still consider a very fine Army, trying to come to grips with the ills bestowed upon it by a materialistic society consumed with power and money, and upward mobility. Every problem that you mention, is present in our Army in varying degrees, not one is progressing to a destructive endplay. Grains of truth in a beach of vituperation. It’s not as if the Army doesn’t know of its failings, it’s just trying deal with them, without creating too much internal turbulence. Let’s give the Generals a chance without too much adverse and thoughtless criticism, especially in public. I agree with you – reform from within and from the top is the only option.

I’m forwarding your letter and this reply to all the original addressees, (in BCC), as you’ve asked me to. This exchange of ideas is also on the Old Lawrencians Forum – I’m not sending this to them (I didn’t put it there in the first place – someone else did) – too many disinterested readers, and besides, I don’t want it to become a Sanawar vs Lovedale battle – which it isn’t. My batch of 1969 had eight of us joining the Army (of 64 students). In my three years in the SSB – only one Lawrencian (from either School) appeared, and he was the Bandmasters son from Lovedale (and I failed him – regrettably). I think that’s endemic of the Army’s failure – not attracting adequate talent from the right quarters; and it bodes ill for our future. Which is why, running down the Army any further could well be extremely counter-productive.

I shall reply to your mail in detail – point by point, since I agree in some areas, but disagree in many others, most of all in the method you are adopting, to force the internal change you want. But I’m sure that you are not going to achieve that aim, by using irrelevant issues and sarcastic and facetious language in public, to ridicule the Army. And using exaggeration and sweeping generalizations as tools. These are the causes of my angst.

The Army is nowhere near fulfilling  the dire prophesies of its naysayers.

With Regards


P.S.     Gen HS Panag wrote, disagreeing with both of us. Check out his blog at

Dear Brigadier Nair,

Thanks for your email, which is a critique of my article and equally of me as an individual. Since you’ve had the courtesy to send it to me, instead of merely to people you know, I am responding to you personally. May I request you to forward my response to all those you addressed your critique to. It would be the honourable thing to do.

Your arguments illustrate many of the key problems that today’s army faces. Let me list out the points you make in what I consider their order of importance and respond to them. Your assertions are in magenta and my answers are in navy blue:

(a) Articles are written on the army’s declining morals only because they sell. In comparison, everything written about corruption amongst the babus and politicians is “just one big yawn.” My article, like all the others, was just meant to sell the paper.

Firstly, the media publishes many more articles on corruption in government and amongst politicians than on corruption in the army. To verify this, open the newspapers of any ten consecutive days and count how many articles deal with corruption in the army… and you’ll get your answer.

But that is not the point. Regardless of the how many articles are written or not, even the army’s greatest wellwishers admit to rising levels of corruption, sycophancy, infighting and lack of professionalism. And this raises the larger question: observing this trend, should we --- and I include all of us who have given many years of our lives to the army --- bury our heads in the sand and pretend that all is well? Or should we take on the challenge of bringing back on track the institution that we all love?

The path of least resistance is: “don’t let word get out! We’ll fix the problem ourselves, without any outsiders coming to know.”

I call that the Wife Beater argument: “Honey, don’t let the neighbours know. Let’s keep this in-house. We’ll fix the problem ourselves.” Sadly, as we all know, the battered wives who keep silent mostly continue to be beaten regularly.

I am aware that there are still many senior officers who are honest to the core. But there are a growing number of corrupt, self-serving and nepotistic generals who believe that the organisation exists to serve them rather than the other way round. The honest and professional officers who keep silent and do nothing to restore the health of the army are like the wife-beaters’ neighbours, who can hear the cries but do nothing to intervene. And those like you who say, “keep this in-house” are equally culpable. Because, as you all know deep down, the army’s internal systems have failed to stop the rot. Sadly, ethical and moral officers like you are amongst those who are watching quietly and justifying their inaction as “love for the army”.

In the final balance, a crime of omission is as blameworthy as a crime of commission. For everyone who truly cares for this army, it is time to speak out in every available forum. Because internal reform is simply not happening. If we all keep silent, the army will inevitably be discredited in the eyes of the public, which is growing cynical about an organisation that they have long respected. The bureaucrats and politicians just love what is happening; gradually, they will step in and start interfering in the army’s internal functioning. I know you don’t want to see that day. But if you all keep silent, you will all be part responsible for the degradation of India’s finest institution.

(b) You say our veterans should not “denigrate” the army, but support it since “We have a host of unresolved issues – like the OROP, the 6th Pay Commission inequities, the CDS issue et al, but most importantly; restoring pride and honour to the Defence Forces.”

Sadly, our veteran community has chosen to focus mainly on financial benefits, rather than on the army's professionalism and ethos. I note that, in the list of “unresolved issues”facing the army, you have put OROP and 6th Pay Commission inequities as your top two issues.

If that is what the veterans believe, they are completely out of touch with what the serving officers believe. For each outraged email from veterans like you, I have received ten messages of approval from serving officers, particularly junior and mid-ranking officers. They all say: “We agree completely. Keep writing. Only then will the generals change.”

It would seem as if serving officers --- who still have an immediate stake in the army’s internal health --- are eager for professional reform. Sadly, the retired community is focused on financial benefits; and has long ago abandoned any association with professional issues.

The “pride and honour”that you write about so passionately will not come from OROP or the extension of 6th Pay Commission benefits. It will come from enhancing the professional pride of the serving soldier, and from instilling the confidence that the army has the ethos and training to tackle any foreseeable challenge.

(c) You write that I should keep silent on the “supposedly-ostentatious lifestyle” of the army chief. The IAS, you say, lives in style, flashing their power. Therefore, the chief is taking no more than is his due as the head of an organisation.

Are you really, publicly, making the argument that the IAS misuses power and, therefore, the army leadership should do so too? I like to think that we soldiers are different and that we hold dear our moral and professional code.

I would have no problem with the chief having 20 servants in his residence. Let the chief’s secretariat take up a case for authorizing that staff (as the navy and air force does quite routinely) and then let him flaunt the status that you apparently believe comes from having a large retinue of servitors. But I strongly oppose the posting of combat soldiers as sevadars/sahayaks/sentries/gardeners/area cleaners; and also the attachment of tradesmen who have been wrested away from combat units and formations, which in turn employ combatants for those duties.

I am appalled at the way combatants are being misused in the army of today. And I am even more amazed that officers, serving and retired, can pretend that will have no operational implications. When you allow the large-scale use of combatants for in the personal staff of officers, the message that goes out is: those tasks are more important than combat. And that means the blunting of your combat edge.

Perhaps you and I simply have different personal philosophies. In my code of conduct, a general who personally pours a drink for himself and for an officer who is visiting him is a far bigger man than one who signals to one of five waiting jawans. Sadly, in today’s declining personal culture, senior officers have even started using their staff officers to offer their guests a drink. And I'm talking about small gatherings, where personal attention can easily be given.

(d) All the recent incidents that involve men confronting their officers are “localized lack of leadership”, not an across-the-board disciplinary crisis. That kind of thing happens in every army, you say.

You are right when you say that each case stems from a “localized lack of leadership.” But, sadly, this localized lack of leadership is spreading like an epidemic. Besides the recent incidents of unarmed confrontations between officers and men, there are also innumerable incidents of fratricide in operational areas. Of course this happens in other armies too. But it is on the rise in the Indian Army and we should wonder why?

From where does this“local lack of leadership” originate? When you think about this, it is obvious that the leadership crisis starts from the top, with the generals (and here we come back to the COAS’s waiters!) behaving as if military manpower is a resource, a perk, which exists for the comfort of officers. Do you really think that the jawans are going to go along with this exploitative relationship endlessly? If the officer-jawan relationship is not made more equal and less feudal, officers are going to start getting killed by jawans even in peace stations. And then we’ll all feel even more victimised when the media notes this trend.

(e) The Indian army’s courses of instruction provide a great military education that result in army officers being “more intellectually enabled than any other profession in India… From the Young Officers Course to Junior Command to the Staff Course to Senior Command to Higher Command Course/LDMC to National Defence Course, no other institution prepares their officers so thoroughly for their next rank/assignment.”

You’ve got to be joking! The military courses of instruction that you cite so approvingly --- YO’s, JC, SC, HC, NDC --- are acknowledged by most armies as a tired, outdated route to predictable and unimaginative thinking. Go and have an honest conversation with a foreign officer (from a serious army) who has done one of these courses.

Give any syndicate in any JC or SC course a tactical problem. One can predict exactly what the solutions of 95% of them will be. These courses are designed to kill off any innovativeness or unpredictability that the training academies might have left alive in the officers.

Intellectual mediocrity is not a natural characteristic of army officers. It is merely the outcome of poor regimental grooming, where officers are not encouraged to read books, to discuss and to dissent professionally with their seniors without seriously endangering their careers. And when you cannot have a civilized professional disagreement with a senior, you cannot develop a freethinking intellect. And without that, you will always be entirely predictable. And in that case, you will quickly die on any serious battlefield.

(f) We should encourage only senior officers to study the 1962 war as “teaching it across the board would be deeply distressing and de-motivating.” In any case, there is no factual material available, since the Henderson-Brookes report is still classified.

This is exactly what I mean when I say that the army is an intellectual desert. When apparatchiks decide that junior officers are so fragile that they cannot study a military campaign because it “would be deeply distressing and de-motivating”, you know you are in an intellectual desert.

By the way, notwithstanding the British Army’s glorious history of military successes, the campaigns that it focuses most deeply are its most painful defeats: Gallipoli, Balaclava, Arnhem and so on.

But our army doesn’t want to face the fact that we got whipped in 1962. Instead, we want to pretend that it was only the politicians and bureaucrats that were to blame. We want to wish away Maj Gen Pathania’s decision to evacuate Dirang without a shot being fired… brigade commanders upsticking without a fight… and the many battalion and company commanders that set fire to their stocks of rations and ammunition and fled with their men from their posts just because they heard that a Chinese outflanking column was coming their way. No, we don’t want to learn any decisions from that because we’re perfectly happy to manufacture history. Everyone from the topmost generals, with the rot seeping down the chain of command.

Have you read any regimental histories of the Indian Army? Most of them should be on the fiction shelf of the library. And an army that institutionally lies to itself, that tell lies in its citations for gallantry awards as a matter of course… military culture is dying and needs to be resuscitated.

(g) You say you don’t know Lt Gen Shankar Ghosh’s shenanigans with his medial category as his star waxed and waned, but you are certain that he is “one of the finest officers to have ever served in our Army.” And you have decided that I have attacked Lt Gen Ravi Dastane, who everyone knew 25 years back was “chief material”.

You admit that you don’t know whether Lt Gen Shankar Ghosh actually fiddled his medical category, but you’re confident that he’s a fine officer. This can only mean that, in your books, a fine officer remains a fine officer regardless of how contemptible his actions are. I don’t think this warrants a comment from me!

And how have you concluded that I attacked Lt Gen Ravi Dastane? Clearly you haven’t read the article that I wrote. There is not a single word or phrase in that article that is derogatory to the officer. It is a pure enumeration of facts. So, may I suggest, please go back and read the piece that you cite so authoritatively.

(e) We cannot condemn any chief without a “holistic” view of everything he has done during his tenure. You say that not every chief can be a Sundarji or a Bipin Joshi and that as long as he“stays out of controversy and leads the Army in a fair, impartial and professional manner, then he would have done his job.”

I’m sorry, but I simply don’t agree with you. In my course alone, which I think was pretty much an average course, there were at least five young officers with the potential to be “a Sundarji or a Bipin Joshi.” I am sure that is the case with most courses. And if these officers do not realize their potential, we need to ask ourselves why.

What a depressing statement you make: “As long as he stays out of controversy and leads the Army in a fair, impartial and professional manner, then he would have done his job.”

Are you saying that this is all that we should expect from our topmost generals? From the office that has been occupied by a Cariappa, a Thimayya, a Manekshaw and a Bipin Joshi?

(f) Gen VK Singh was not politically ambitious or divisive. He took a courageous stand on the date of birth issue.

While I agree that Gen VK Singh was airing a legitimate grievance on the date of birth issue (though he showed extremely poor judgment in accepting in writing at the time of his promotion to Maj Gen and Lt Gen that he was born in 1950), you are totally wrong in asserting that he was not politically ambitious or divisive. An army chief who starts attending the inauguration of statues of political leaders is using his office as a launch pad for a post-retirement political career (which is already playing out, in case you haven't noticed!) That is beneath contempt, as far as I am concerned.

And he was not divisive? All I can say is “LoL”. Go out there and talk to someone in army headquarters right now. VK Singh was divisive; Bikram Singh is divisive. And so will be all the future chiefs for as long as professional competence is measured, even partially, by personal loyalty rather than pure military capability.

(g) You say that, since “Not a single word is ever mentioned by any Indian Minister/ Dignitary/Official about our Forces,” the country doesn’t deserve “a dedicated, apolitical, proffessional Army like ours.”

Do I detect a veiled threat here? An implication that we should have an army like our western neighbour, that shows the “babus and dhotwalas” their place?

If that is what you are suggesting, you are doing the army no favour, and India even less so. We have seen what army rule has achieved in multiple countries. It will be even worse in India.

(h) We have fought more wars than the South Koreans, and are therefore more “entitled”to a war memorial than them.

I have no problem with chest beating about the Indian Army. But I do have an issue when it takes the form of false comparisons with other armies that make them look small. Do you really feel superior to the South Koreans? Since you're talking about a war memorial, let me give you a few comparative statistics about our battle casualties.

The total number of Indian Army battle casualties in all operations since 1947 --- the 1947-48 J&K operations; the 1962 war; the 1965 war, the 1971 war, Op Pawan (Sri Lanka), Op Meghdoot (Siachen), Op Vijay (Kargil), and all the LIC operations that the army has conducted in J&K and the northeast --- is less than 20,000 dead and 37,000 wounded. That is the official count by AG’s Branch, Army Headquarters.

The South Korean Army had at least 100,000 to 1,500,000 dead in the Korean War (some estimates go up to 400,000 killed). So it is not a good idea to speak disparagingly of other armies.

Another figure that will put our own casualty count in context. On 1st July 2016, the first day of the Battle of Somme --- which was just ONE DAY OF ONE BATTLE in the four-year-long World War I --- the British Army took more casualties (20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded) than the Indian Army has taken in the last 66 years.

This is not to gainsay the sacrifices that Indian soldiers have made post-independence. Even one soldier killed is a massive human tragedy in that person’s home. But, as an army, we need to get some perspective about how great we are. We need to stop talking for a while and think. All of us are so busy trying to talk up army’s image that it does not strike us that everyone might not be as impressed with us as we are with ourselves. And when someone gets up and points out something wrong, we go into a child-like sulk.

So while I respect your right to do whatever you like, I will continue to do what I believe is needed to push the army into fixing things internally. We have excellent junior and middle-ranking officers that are yearning for quality leadership. But that will need a radical shift of ethos amongst senior ranks. This is inevitable; if it doesn’t happen top-down, it will happen bottom-up, with terrible consequences for the army. Or it will happen outside-in, which might be even worse.

With warm regards,


Ajai Shukla


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Response to Ajai Shukla's Article "Wake Up Generals"

See Ajai Shukla's article in the Business Standard at or in his blog "Broadsword" here Then read my response to that. In my Response, highlighted in RED are his remarks/phrases.
My Response to Ajai Shukla's Article "Wake Up Generals"
Dear Ajai,
I am a regular reader of your well-researched and well-written articles in your blog “Broadsword”. Most of them are informative and thought provoking, and a good way for a reclusive, introverted retiree like me to keep in touch with current Army issues.
But your article in the Business Standard Wake up, generals!”was deeply disappointing. I thought it was crass – singularly lacking in taste and loyalty – and, may I add –intellectual honesty. There is a grain of truth in every issue that you touch upon, but the sweeping generalizations, exaggerations and illogical conclusions you’ve drawn on flimsy evidence, do your Army service little credit. You’ve obviously cut your umbilical cord with the Army and sound more like a journalist with a little knowledge about the Army, rather than the other way around.
Let me elaborate: your outright condemnation of both Gen VK Singh and Gen Bikram Singh in the very beginning imparts a negative tone to your whole article. We cannot condemn any Chief, past or serving, just on one action/set of actions. His performance must be viewed holistically and his overall impact on the Army seen, before pronouncing judgement. I personally don’t think that Gen VK Singh was either ‘politically ambitious’ or ‘divisive’.While I reserve my opinion on what he achieved in his entire tenure, I think it was a courageous stand he took, even though the issue was a redundant one. As far as the current Chief is concerned, I don’t think you are qualified to comment in the definitive manner that you have. "Most new bosses, even sports coaches, are expected to provide a new direction.”Silly comparison and a sillier joke that follows. Sports coaches are invariably changed after a debacle and a new direction may be in order. Army Chiefs, on the other hand, are not ‘supposed’ to invariably provide a new direction. As if the appointment of a new Army Chief is for the express purpose of prompting radical change. It most certainly is not. If Bikram stays out of controversy and leads the Army in a fair, impartial and proffessional manner, then he would have done his job. Not everyone can be a Sundarji or a Bipin Joshi.
The next three paragraphs on the supposedly ostentatious life-style of the Chief are a body-blow to the Army, coming as it does from an insider. Most Army officers have high self-esteem and live in style (though dignified) compared to their civilian peers, belying their low pay. The more senior they get, the more perks they are entitled to. And our Officers Messes are a study in decorum and elegance. I really don’t think there is any harm in living in style, as long as it’s done within one’s pay and authorised perks. And the perks are not inordinate, coming as they do at such a late stage in his career. When I was the Commandant, MIRC – the DC of Ahmednagar came to our Mess. He didn’t walk – he strutted. He came with a retinue of two assistants (uninvited), and six armed policemen in four vehicles, two of which were Toyota Corollas. He considered himself every bit my equal, possibly higher in precedence (equating himself with the Commandant of the Armoured Corps Centre – a Lt Gen !!). And I was commissioned in 1974and he in 1999. The pomp and ostentation that junior IAS/IPS officers live in has to be seen to be believed. Indicting the Chief for living in Army House in the manner befitting any Head of an organisation (in India or abroad) is hitting well below the belt. What do you want him to do – pitch a tent in RD Parade ground ? And entertain top dignitaries from India and around the world there ?
You imperiously comment “This travesty faces no resistance from subordinate generals, many of whom are hardly angels themselves” and then go on to cite several retired officers, not one serving under the current Chief. You castigate Lt Gen Shankar Ghosh for his down and up medical category –I don’t know the exact details, so I can’t comment. But I do know Gen Shankar Ghosh and he is one of the finest officers to have ever served in our Army and your personal attack on him without any personal knowledge, is a travesty of justice. He would have made a fine Chief, had the circumstances so permitted. Ask any officer who has ever had the privilege to serve with him. The current lot of Army Commanders are my peers and I’ve known them for decades and not one of them fits your Satanic description. Each one (including Ravi Dastane, a prospective one, – who you attack in a subsequent article, and who was known 25 years back as “yeh toh Chief material hai” !!) is a thorough proffessional and shuns the Five star culture, especially during visits, when subordinate commanders tend to pile on the pomp. I’m not sure where you’ve got your inputs from – or are you just assuming ? Or general lack of faith in our senior officers ? You mention corruption in your heading, but do not elaborate later – possibly you club it with the perks you say“threatens to seep downwards” to poison the Army.
Saying that the “recent face-offs…suggest a decline in the ironclad faith that the army jawan has always had….” is hugely misleading. Such incidents have happened on and off in our Army throughout my service and point to a localized lack of leadership, man-management and compassion, rather than an across-the-board drop in disciplinary standards. And this is true for armies of most Nations in difficult circumstances – throughout history. Reading “Crisis in Command” by Gabriel and Savage is an eye-opener on the lack of man-management and poor leadership of the US Army in Vietnam. Thankfully, our Army is not headed down that perilous path and knowing the calibre of our officers and men – we never will.
“Lack of intellectual direction” and “intellectual desert” are phrases that you used in casual disdain. I was a GTO in an SSB and abstract intellectual ability in a candidate was not a pre-requisite for selection. Agreed; no great intellectuals in our Army. But the amount of intellectual activity that our Army does is astounding. The equipment oriented and the tactical/command/staff courses we do and examinations we undergo keeps an officer busy throughout his career. An overdose, I sometimes tend to think. From the Young Officers Course to Junior Command to the Staff Course to Senior Command to Higher Command Course/LDMC to National Defence Course, no other institution prepares their officers so thoroughly for their next rank/assignment. I was an undergraduate when I joined the Army. During the course of my career, I progressed to graduation to post-graduation to a Post-Doctoral Scholarship. I have studied every worthwhile military General/campaign and read every eminent military writer – across nations, across history. From Genghis Khan to Sun Tzu to Richard Simpkin, to the two World Wars. I presume nothing has changed since I left three odd years ago. I’m not sure which fabled intellectual desert you allude to. Every Army officer is given the wherewithal to equip himself intellectually and continually improve himself. If he doesn’t use these resources, then he has only himself to blame. Most do (many are forced to), some resolutely don’t – well, there are laggards in every profession. Overall, Service officers are more intellectually enabled than any other profession in India, where “on the job training” or “experience” doubles up as education.
I do not agree, as you seem to suggest, that every officer/soldier should study the 1962 debacle. Senior officers must study it to understand what went wrong and cull lessons and remedial measures from the campaign. But to teach it across the board would be deeply distressing and de-motivating. At any rate, there’s not a lot of factual material on it – till the Henderson-Brookes Report is de-classified, if it ever will be. I’ve read “Himalayan Blunder” by JP Dalvi and “The Untold Story” by BM Kaul and both are not definitive over-arching military studies, merely personal narratives.
All in all, I’m deeply distressed that one of our own on the other side has stopped representing our point of view and has started running us down publicly, using the inside knowledge that he has gained during his time in the Army. You, of all people should realize that the Defence Forces are one of the few institutions which are still relatively uncorrupt and honourable and it is precisely because of this that the media love a good Army bashing article– it sells. No use writing about dishonest or corrupt politicians or bureaucrats. Just one big yawn. I sincerely wish you had kept this article in-house, in your blog, rather than publishing it in a reputed publication, where the lay reader will take your gross misrepresentation of the army at face value…but apparently you wrote to sell.
Today, politicians and bureaucrats are hell-bent on denigrating the Army. We need our Veterans to support the Defence Services, especially those in influential positions in the media. We have a host of unresolved issues – like the OROP, the 6th Pay Commission inequities, the CDS issue et al, but most importantly; restoring pride and honour to the Defence Forces. I’d gone to South Korea, when I was Dy MS with Gen HS Panag – and for a Country that has fought one single war in its entire history, they have a wonderful, comprehensive War Museum. Isn’t it shameful that we don’t have a single War Memorial/Museum in India ? See the izzat that the Americans give to their soldiers – in every speech made by Barack or Michelle Obama, they talk about and thank their “men and women in uniform, who sacrifice a lot”. Not a single word is ever mentioned by any Indian Minister/Dignitary/Official about our Forces. We’re invisible –except when Veterans like Ajai Shukla denigrate the Services for no apparent reason. I’m ashamed of my Country for this. It doesn’t deserve a dedicated, apolitical, proffessional Army like ours. Jai Hind…..
Brigadier Ajit Nair (A Veteran – and still proud of our great Army)