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Rediff.com  » News » 'The role of the armed forces and 3 chiefs has been systematically eroded'

'The role of the armed forces and 3 chiefs has been systematically eroded'

March 03, 2014 16:05 IST

Navy Day celebrations'Admiral D K Joshi's resignation is certainly an example worthy of emulation by anybody who is in a leadership role. Unfortunately, over the last 30, 40 years, I can think of very few politicians or bureaucrats who could be termed real "Leaders".'

'Without leaders, where will there be leadership? Here, I would like to mention that the role of the armed forces in general, and the service chiefs in particular, has been systematically eroded ever since Independence,' asks Vice Admiral P J Jacob (retd), former Vice Chief of the Naval Staff.

In a stunning move, for the first time in India's history, Admiral D K Joshi, Chief of the Naval Staff, resigned after taking moral responsibility for the recent mishaps in the Navy, February 26.

That morning, two officers died and seven sailors were injured in a submarine accident off the Mumbai coast. The defence minister, at the helm for a decade, was criticised for accepting the naval chief's resignation and not owning up any responsibility himself.

"As in Hamlet, Something is rotten in the State of India. Unfortunately, despite numerous committees and recommendations, the powers-that-be do not see the writing on the wall as far as higher defence management is concerned," says Vice Admiral P J Jacob (retd), PVSM, AVSM, VSM, below, left, who commanded the Eastern Fleet and served the Indian Navy for over four decades.

"You may be surprised to know that according to the rules of government business, the defence of this country is the responsibility of the defence secretary, not the service chiefs. We haven't seen the defence secretary resigning. With responsibility should also come accountability, but this is what is sadly lacking," feels Admiral Jacob, a veteran of the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars.

In the 1971 Indo-Pak war, he served on the historic INS Vikrant, India's first aircraft carrier, that overpowered East Pakistan by sea in a blistering attack. As direction officer on the Vikrant, he was responsible for the control and direction of all offensive and defensive air operations from the carrier. The Vikrant crew won 2 Maha Vir Chakras and 12 Vir Chakras in the 1971 war.

The retired admiral is currently a director in Dua Consulting, an independent director in Sundaram Clayton Ltd, and chairman of the Global India Foundation, an initiative to contribute to India's efforts in playing a constructive role in regional and global affairs. He told Rediff.com's Archana Masih via e-mail what ails India's civil-military relations and why he salutes Admiral D K Joshi.

Were you surprised when you heard of Admiral D K Joshi resigning as the Chief of Naval Staff? He is the first naval chief to resign and that is unprecedented.

Yes, indeed. I was aware that all was not well between the Navy and the ministry of defence after the public admonishment by the Raksha Mantri at the recently concluded commanders conference.

I had, however, no inkling that the situation had reached such a pass that the chief with half his tenure left as the head of the Navy found it necessary to take this extreme step to draw attention to the deteriorating operational state of the fleet.

In a country where it is rare that people in powerful positions own up moral responsibility, Admiral Joshi has held himself accountable as an honourable naval chief -- what example has he set and how will he be remembered?

Admiral Joshi's acceptance of moral responsibility for what was happening in the Navy is in keeping with the highest traditions of the naval service, and is a shining example for the younger officers and men in the Navy.

While none of the accidents or incidents could be squarely his responsibility, and, to a large extent, may be just sheer bad luck, he has not taken refuge in these arguments.

He would be remembered as a chief who certainly kept the morale and well being of his service above his own welfare.

There has been criticism that the defence minister should not have accepted the admiral's resignation, what are your thoughts? Do you think the government could have stopped him from stepping down?

Though the defence minister expressed 'regret' over Admiral Joshi's resignation, it certainly lacked any conviction, and sounded like typical politician's lip service.

While the government could well have accepted the resignation, there could have been some effort on their part to show some moral support to the chief by maybe asking him to wait till the findings of various of boards of enquiry were known, before taking a decision in this matter.

In fact, the alacrity with which his resignation was accepted by the government is indeed indicative of a larger malaise in civil-military relations which, to my mind, needs at first, to be understood and accepted, and then addressed on a war footing.

As in Hamlet, 'Something is rotten in the State of India.' Unfortunately, despite numerous committees and recommendations, the powers-that-be do not see the writing on the wall as far as higher defence management is concerned.

Again, like in Hamlet, the politicians and bureaucrats are probably thinking that 'Heaven will direct it.'

Don't you think the onus of the recent mishaps in the Navy do not lie on Admiral Joshi alone? As the defence minister, Mr A K Antony should also have taken moral responsibility and stepped down?

I entirely agree that the onus for the recent mishaps cannot be attributed to the navy alone.

In fact, I feel that the three services have borne the brunt of political and bureaucratic indecision and ineptitude under the guise of being clean and corruption free.

One has to look at the entire environment in which the Navy, (and indeed all three services) has had to operate in the last decade or so, where no modernisation programmes have gone forward, no new acquisitions have taken place, and the fleet itself is aging and deteriorating rapidly.

Moreover, apart from the two incidents on the submarines, the rest of them have not been of a major nature and would have been dealt with at the appropriate level.

One has to understand that the armed forces function in an operational environment even in peace time, and accidents are bound to occur. This is true of any service anywhere in the world.

Professionalism stems from learning from errors.

I do not think I need to comment on action to be taken by the defence minister, I am sure he knows best and we need to leave it to his judgement.

Should not our politicians and bureaucrats take a hint from Admiral Joshi's conduct?

Vice Admiral P J Jacob (retd)Admiral Joshi's actions speak louder than words. It is certainly an example worthy of emulation by anybody who is in a leadership role.

Unfortunately, over the last 30, 40 years, I can think of very few politicians or bureaucrats who could be termed real 'Leaders'.

Without leaders, where will there be leadership?

Here, I would like to mention that the role of the armed forces in general, and the service chiefs in particular, has been systematically eroded ever since Independence.

This is true, both for operational responsibilities as well as protocol. You may be surprised to know that according to the rules of government business, the defence of this country is the responsibility of the defence secretary, not the service chiefs.

We haven't seen the defence secretary resigning. In fact most people may not even know who he is, even in the aftermath of the naval chief's resignation.

With responsibility should also come accountability, but this is what is sadly lacking.

You mentioned that the demand for a submarine rescue vehicle has not been granted by the Government of India, how has this stonewalling from the bureaucracy led to the frustrations of the Navy and the armed forces?

The submarine rescue vessel has been an approved project for over 15 years and considering its insignificant cost compared to its absolute necessity for a major submarine operating nation, the delays are inexcusable.

In this context it would not be out of place to point out that the contract to salvage the Sindhurakshak has still not been finalised even seven months after the incident.

This is in spite of it being vital for the Navy to conclusively establish what led to this catastrophic accident so that it does not get repeated in other boats with the same weapon fit.

The board of enquiry ordered into this incident cannot be concluded before inputs from the salvaged submarine are available.

As a naval officer with over four decades of service, how do you think this will impact the Indian Navy?

This incident will certainly leave a mark on the Navy. However, knowing its resilience, I am sure it would come out stronger and take heart from the outstanding example set by its chief.

What are your thoughts on Admiral Joshi as a naval officer? Did you know him?

I personally salute Admiral Joshi for his courageous action and having had the privilege of knowing him extremely well, I would like to go on record that he has all the sterling qualities required to lead the Navy.

His decision to resign and the alacrity with which it was accepted is indicative of the poor support that he has received from the ministry of defence and the government.

In the decade since you left, in your perception how has the Indian Navy changed?

I don't think that the Navy has changed. The Navy is as professional as it has always been and continues to serve the nation with total dedication in spite of the hostile environment in which it has had to operate.

Image: An Indian Navy sailor before the Navy Day celebrations in Mumbai, December 2, 2011. Photograph: Reuters.