(Resident Editor, Gomantak Times, Goa)
It was in early 2013 that my journey with Victory India series started. I never knew Col (Retd) Vinay Dalvi before. I was working as a Principal Correspondent in Sakal Times those days. I was entrusted to cover Education sector. As reporters we are given beats, which are specialized areas of reporting. I was given Defence, Education along with Science and Technology as my beats.
I was on a hunting spree for news from Education beat. For this, I was visiting the University of Pune (now Savitribai Phule Pune University) campus searching for some interesting news. Like an investigator, a journalist also goes by his instincts. Here also instincts led me to first step towards starting my journey with Victory India.
I decided to visit the Psychology department of the University. I went to meet the Head of the Department for news. It was during this chance meeting that I saw three books lying on his table – ‘Role Model’ A Key to Character Development, Sun Tzu - Art of War and ‘Quality Leadership’ – Key to Victory India. It was my instincts again that led me to pick up this third book and peruse the contents. After my perusal, I realized that there was something I was holding in my hands which I strongly felt about, but was not sure how many Defence officers actually believe the same.
I am son of an ex-Army officer. I have personally seen the victimization of my father during the Operation Pawan, where an unexpected war was thrust upon the Army in Sri Lanka. Inarguably the most disastrous and botched up military operations of the Indian Army in its 70 years history. This is the precise reason why Op Pawan is never mentioned in the annals of Indian military history.
I have seen how poor leadership had led to Indian Army suffering heavy casualties at the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), a guerilla militia group trained by us to unsettle Sri Lanka government. All these memories started coming back to me like a flash. With these thoughts circling my mind, I decided to meet the editor of this book Col Dalvi. I took his number from the Psychology Department HoD. Incidentally, he told me that we had just crossed each other at the passage.
However, with lot of excitement I called up Col Dalvi and showed my interest on interviewing him to know more about the book. I was very upbeat about the story as for the first time there was a collective opinion of experts questioning the selection and training methodology of Gentlemen Cadets at National Defence Academy (NDA), the premiere tri-services joint training institute to produce officers for Indian armed forces.
The book questioned the unscientific training process, hauled up the SSB system and raised concerns on the high level of injuries sustained by cadets due to: 1. Weaker physical composition of the raw material that the NDA was getting; 2. The training regimen that was being followed that was pushing the cadets too hard without allowing them to get acclimatized with the conditions even though it was a three-year course.
I then proposed the interview idea to my then editor. Knowing that he had been a Defence Correspondent himself, I expected to get a nod immediately. But to my shock, that was not the case. I was told that we should not be “maligning a hallowed institution” on the basis of few “personal opinions”. This made me realize that the image of “hallowed” and “sacred” that we have developed about the armed forces and its institutions in the country, it will not be easy to get my superiors and readers to consider anything otherwise.
It had become a tricky territory to enter. Because I was about to play with human psychology, that too of a country which has lost its faith in every public institution except for the armed forces. So, it was difficult for me to convince my boss that there are chinks in the armour of armed forces too. By writing this, people will feel disheartened and heartbroken. So, the interview plan had almost gone to cold storage when it was revived once again, but at a price.
It took the sad demise of Cadet Ajitesh Anuj Goel (19), a fourth-term army cadet of the National Defence Academy (NDA) collapsed and died on the night of February 2, 2013 while participating in a routine training activity.
This was alarming considering that he was the fourth cadet to die during training at the NDA in the past 7 years. What was going wrong? Then once again I brought to the notice of editor the essays written by retired armed forces officers and even some ex-NDA commandants who called for an urgent need to review the training methods. This incident then moved the Editor and he finally gave me the go ahead I was looking for since over a month.
I finally met Col Dalvi and had an interesting interactive session. The interview for the first time questioned the basic approach towards converting civilian teenagers into a fit fighting machine. I gradually got close with the Victory India movement. I was not surprised to see Col Dalvi’s disappointment in not getting the type of response he was expecting. The “hallowed institution” cover was so thick that it had become virtually impregnable over last six decades. It won’t be easy to get people at the higher levels to accept the fault that lied within this same revered system.
Then Volume 2 of this book got published and then a couple of years later came the third volume. Each of these editions took the macro issues after having dealt with the micro issues of selection and training. Gradually the subsequent book volumes started questioning the appraisal system with special focus on the outdated Annual Confidential Report (ACR) based promotion system. It questioned the basis on which meritorious officers were getting sidelined while those not competent enough were rising up, which was having a telling impact on the performance of the Armed Forces, particularly army.
These were all difficult questions that were asked for the first time, that too very bluntly without sugarcoating the words. Armed Forces always held a hallowed position in the society. In fact it still does. It has been able to market itself very well as an institution that could do no wrong. Being the custodians of national security, they are not liable to be questioned, nor liable to answer. When there is a bulwark surrounding the hallowed image, it becomes very difficult to point fingers at the same institution.
But after lots of efforts, I must say that Team Victory India has been successfully able to puncture the inflated egos at many points, which has been grudgingly accepted by the powers to be. Being a more closed institution than Air Force and Navy, Army will take much more time to initiate the changes and ironically, it is the Army which needs to come out of the colonial era mindset.
Be it civilian-soldier/officer conflicts in areas under cantonment boards where civilian and military population co-exist, or physical duels between jawans and officers, junior and senior officers, wives of junior and senior officers, numerous scams, scandals, rising battle casualties – they all point out towards systematic failure of leadership system in the Armed Forces.
In my mind, the first onus likes on the Company Commanders of the various training academies to ensure that nothing untoward takes place in the name of “ragda”. There was a video on a cadet being thrashed with a hockey by a senior cadet inside the academy that went viral. This created huge embarrassment to the administration and armed forces fraternity. In today’s era of mass communication tools on the prowl everywhere, it is important that the academies rein in the seniors and don’t land up with their face in the muck.
Next is the commanding officer of a battalion. It is here that a junior officer is groomed into a future leader, starting with being a section commander, then platoon, company and finally the unit commander, before entering the general cadre. This is perhaps the scene with every institution in the world. The legacy left behind by the commanding officer will decide what will be the learning for the young officers.
Finally the onus lies on the formation commanders starting from Brigade Commander to the Chief. How you stand up for the men will decide the fate of battle. It is nearly impossible to remain motivated in the face of death. To ensure that the men remain motivated even in such harsh times, the leaders have to lead from the front. This was sorely missing during the OP Pawan. The entire leadership starting from battalion level to the Army chief did not have any clue what was happening. The chief did not have the spine to stand up to the civilian government and say that we were fighting another Vietnam war.
Kargil war is another example where the leadership had completely failed. The 15 Corps commander was busy playing golf with the State Chief Minister while shelling on Indian bases in Drass sector continued for almost a year unabated. Despite all the danger signals, we never realized that enemy was inside our home. The then army chief subsequently hit out at the junior officers in leadership positions. But what was he doing at the same time? Why didn’t he take cognizance of the events leading to Kargil war? Where had all intelligence inputs gone? If they were provided then why weren’t they decoded?
There are many such questions that get raised after every botched up operation. Despite these if the battles and wars are being won by this army then it is again due to the quality leadership that has been displayed time and again by the junior officers. Gallant officers like 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal, Capt Vikram Batra, Maj Hoshiar Singh, Capt Anuj Nayar, Lt Col Ardeshir Tarapore, Maj Kuldip Singh Chandpuri are legends. We have such great leaders coming from every generation. It is said – Cometh the hour cometh the man.
So there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Team Victory India has shown through their persistence that they mean business. The letters of appreciation from various quarters – including top ranking officers, defence minister all show that there is an endorsement of their views. Even the media has joined this movement.
I instantly believed in this movement because I am not completely outsider. I may be civilian by profession but I have an Army officer’s blood running in my veins. I have seen and lived all types of situations. Be it the tension at Tangdhar border where Sikh soldiers were under pressure from Pakistanis to desert Indian army and crossover in the aftermath of Golden Temple Operation Blue Star, be it the Indo-Pak tension caused by Operation Brasstacks, the disastrous Op Pawan, anti-insurgency action during Operation Rhino – I have seen and felt every emotion of my father and the soldiers involved in these actions.
Disasters like Operation Blue Star and Operation Pawan happened due to poor leadership and planning. While Op Rhino was a major success again due to shrewd planning of the Army leadership, The aim has to be to make the armed forces fraternity realize that everything can’t be brushed under the carpet in the garb of national security. The top leadership has to change its “you bloody civilians” approach. They forget that before joining the Services they too were civilians and after the Service again they will be part of the civil population.
Ultimately the armed forces are maintained with taxpayers’ money. Every bullet manufactured/acquired/fired has to be justified because it is the common man’s hard earned money that is going towards ensuring national security. Hence they are liable to answer the questions raised by media through the common citizens.
Nothing is permanent except for change. Change is constant. It may take time, but change does happen. It is happening as far as changing the attitude of the top military and civil administration is concerned. Sooner than later, we will see that the vision of “Team Victory India” will ensure quality leadership and Victory of India will be guaranteed.
Those who are raising their voices through the collection of innumerable essays and reactions on various issues, have made their points loud and clear. The events like Sukna land scam and Adarsh building scam or numerous other scams and scandals that are hitting the headlines every day is shaking up the very foundation of the armed forces. The CBI action on former Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi in helicopter scam vindicates the stand taken by the Team Victory India.
Nobody wants to clean the muck stuck on some else’s face. But when the same muck falls on to own face, then one is left with no other option but to act. I think the muck is now all over the faces of top military and civilian brass. They will be forced to do the clean up act. Initially it may be cosmetic changes to silence the critics. But soon the voices will become stronger again as cosmetic changes will not be able to hide the stains for long. To remove the stains, the cleaning process has to be more rigorous.
I have been fortunate enough to be associated with this wonderful campaign for last four years. First two years as a reporter who had to spend lot of energy in convincing the bosses on the reason for attempting a report on the issues raised by ‘Victory India’ team and now as an Editor, who can take independent decisions and has the support of the top brass. My aim always has been to bring out the facts in front of the readers, which also comprise of the Armed Forces fraternity.
I took the opportunity of raising the difficult questions posed by Victory India team to two subsequent NDA Commandants. Both seemed aware of the issues and accepted the need for change. Incidentally, both were from the Indian Air Force. The wind of change is blowing slowly but surely. It will not be long when the reality of the situation will dawn upon everyone. Media will continue to lend its support because I feel that even the news media is understanding the intricacies of this tricky problem.
Unfortunately media is governed by market economics. Histrionics, sensationalisation still governs the core functioning style of media. But that can work in the favour of the team Victory India as it will be able to draw the attention of concerned authorities. Ultimately, the aim should be to win the battle of perception to initiate the change. This can be done through associating with the main stream media only.
The Team Victory India should have its own Facebook page, Twitter account and whatsapp group which should have media persons also as members. Members could give their reaction to burning issues, critically examine the role of various players in the issue. These could be picked up the media and the message gets conveyed. Sun Tzu - Art of War empahises on winning the battle without actually fighting it. The best way to do this is by using the social media to convey whatever you feel. This will also help in reducing the dependency on conventional media as well as get you more visibility.
If you are looking for the change, go for change in approach. Go the masses directly and raise the questions. Be direct, be blunt. Let it be a double whammy for those who are not budging from their stand. One hand will be the conventional media and the other side will be the new age media. Combine the best of two. Let it be a David versus Goliath situation. David will win. Let India win.