Wake Up Generals

1. I have reproduced a rebuttal by Brig Ajit Nair to Col Ajay Shukla’s article in Business Standard.

2. I do not agree with either of them.Brig Ajit Nair has served under me in my unit I Mech Inf.Later he was on my staff when I was an Army Cdr.Col Ajay Shukla was my student at the IMA.I keep in touch with both of them.

3. IA Officer Corps is suffering from crisis of character.The problems of the IA Officer Corps are systemic and cultural in nature primarily due to poor leadership development and lack of application/enforcement of Military Ethics.In this environment while senior officers are seen as the the main violators of ethics,the juniors are virtually renegades in waiting.After all they rise to be senior officers.

On 14-Nov-2012, at 14:24, Ajit Nair wrote:

Hi Folks,

See Ajai Shukla’s article in the Business Standard at http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/ajai-shukla-wake-up-generals/491063/ or in his blog “Broadsword” here http://ajaishukla.blogspot.in/2012/10/wake-up-generals.html. Then read my response to that. In my Response, highlighted in RED are his remarks/phrases. My Response also enclosed as a word doc.

Regards Ajit

My Response to Ajai Shukal’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 1974 and 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)


13 Nov 2012 (Diwali)


3 thoughts on “Wake Up Generals

  1. Agri, support n apricte every word wrtn herein by Brig Nair. As for Col Shukla, I rembr @ d time whn Gen VK Singh’s cadse was in court, this fouji turnd journo alongwh Mag Gen GD Bakshi (retd) dbtd n prayed for vindication of the Chief and suportd each f his actns. But soon after Gen Bikram Singh took over, Col Shukla SHAMEFULLY repeat SHAMEFULLY started (aggressively) pointng “misdemeanners f Gen VK Singh. In response to one of his that king of blog, I had reminded hm of “his earlier stand about Gen BK Singh on news chnls” n referred to hm as shameless, disloyal n unbecoming soldier. Yes, you hve rightly takn hm to task though much mildly and respectfully n that discloses your character – If am permitted to say. We need to put such like veterns at place.
    I am an AMC (Non-Tech) Offr, had received my commission on 31 May 1972 and hung my boots on 31 Dec 2003. Have had several adverse circumstances so provoking that many times I wrote-up mu resignation but friends n many seniors held my hand back saying “Army needs offrs like U, dont quit till U earned your pension/retirement on time” those appriciations were hyly moralboostng n encourgng. But since retiremnt, hve always taken on the babu-neta combine, especially thru my “letters to the editor” (The Tribune-Chd). Whn the “Wdrawl f Sahayak facality” to army offrs -issue came up my blood started boiling n I put-in severl Tweets on that count first cking wdrawl of PA facility gvn to babus n netas, at one stage Lt Gen Panag – whome I admire n respect a lot like Sam Manekshaw, gave me a peace f advice which made me cool down.

    Yes as a vetern I am also proud of my Army – notwdstndg our neglect by dishonst, corrupt, insenstive n self seeking babus n netas, we must “bash on regardless”- fight for our rights aggressively bt wd dignitry and self respect. Jai Hind.

  2. The trouble with most journalists in India is that they lose their objectivity in short order and replace facts with political opinions. That’s also true of the judiciary. Its all about “who”. Nver about “what”. And, tragically, they have the lime light.

  3. Splendid article and rebuttal Brigadier. And as a writer myself I was pleased by the restrained elegance of your turn of phrase. Kindly accept the salute of a mere civilian – albeit a civilian who has tremendous respect love and regard for the Indian Army (military history is one of my passionate interests). The sustained neglect of the army (the forces in general), the insults it suffers at the hands of the criminal and the corrupt are a consequence of the fatal downgrading of the services vis a vis the civilian executive at the time of independence. While this was intended to reinforce civil supremacy, the real reason was the abysmal lack of self-confidence the supposed leaders had, a self-confidence which by definition is a vital part of a soldier’s calling. The inferiority of the Gandhi caps was, and is palpable, and the only way they could assert themselves was by denigrating the soldiers at every step. Nehru’s contempt for soldiers is well-known, and that sprang from his own sense of inadequacy: it was the contempt of a man who had never wielded arms himself, and yet knew deep down within the nobility of the profession of arms from which fate had excluded him. If the story is vastly different in the West (and even in Asia) it is because the political leaders there have, at some time or other in their lives, served in one or the other of the services, with most of them having even had combat experience. Take Churchill, take Eisenhower, take Kennedy, Bush, take even the first US President; take Napoleon and De Gaulle in France…one could cite names and names. All of them saw action. If they rose to political power it was precisely because their people had seen them as great military leaders in action and therefore believed them worthy of political trust. No wonder the forces are held in such exalted esteem there. What a sad and far cry from our own condition!

    Since nothing can be expected of our political/bureaucratic class it is incumbent upon the armed forces to preserve their integrity, their esprit de corps, their outstanding professionalism; above all their honour, the single priceless possession of a soldier. This honour is bought with blood, their own or their comrades’s. It is what consecrates the regimental colours, the insignia and flashes of formations. As a hopelessly romantic lover of armies, and of the Indian Army in particular I can never suppress a tingle of excitement, of pride even, whenever I see a uniform.

    God bless you Brigadier, and God bless all officers and gentlemen and all ranks of the Indian Army, the finest in the world for my money.

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