Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Assam Regiment and Brig. T. Sailo

Last month, the Salute magazine published a special issue on the Assam Regiment, one of Indian Army's well-know infantry units. I wrote a small tribute to one its illustrious officers, Brig. T. Sailo, who also later became the Chief Minister of Mizoram. Here's the account of my first encounter with him more than 33 years ago.

It was January 1984. Barely, seven months into the profession of journalism, my Editor at The Sentinel, the Guwahati-based newspaper, decided to send me to Mizoram. The idea was to do a comprehensive coverage on the Union Territory (Mizoram was to become a state three years later) and the state of insurgency there.

Although it was a big break for me at that age (I was not even 22), the assignment was not going to be easy. First there was the physical journey.

Travelling to Aizawl from Guwahati meant taking a ‘night super’ bus, a 17-18 hour journey via Meghalaya and southern Assam’s Barak Valley. 

For another, Mizoram was still in the grip of insurgency launched by the Mizo National Army, the armed outfit of the Mizo National Front (MNF). The rebels (or militants or insurgents as they were described in popular lexicon but never terrorists) had been fighting the mighty Indian state since February 1966. So there was always the fear in the minds of the ‘outsider’ about being targted in Mizoram.

Excited and apprehensive at the same time, I prepared to make my first ‘outstation’ trip on assignment. The mandatory Inner-Line permit was obtained (all non-Mizos entering the state still need the permit), the bus ticket was bought, the bag was packed with woollens since Aizawl I was told by senior is in the mountains and therefore much colder than Guwahati which is on the banks of the Brahmaputra.

Luckily, I had some support in Aizawl even before I arrived there. The newspaper owner’s brother-in-law was posted there in the State Bank of India as the Branch Manager. I was in fact supposed to stay with him.

So one fine morning, after the grueling 18 hour journey, I arrived at Aizawl. It was misty and cold. I went to SBI officer’s house, slept immediately. After three-four hours of sleep and early lunch, I went to the Chief Minister’s office.

Before going there, all that I knew was that a retired Brigadier named T. Sailo was the Chief Minister of Mizoram. At the office I was met by a pleasant, extremely courteous officer named LR Sailo. He was the Chief Minister’s PRO. Although he has never told me what his memories of our first meeting are, one look at me, and LR (we have been friends since that first meeting 31 years ago) would surely have thought ‘is this skinny little boy really a journalist?’ But he kept a straight face and took me to Brig. Sailo.

After the formal introduction, I handed over some copies of The Sentinel to the Chief Minister and in a typical soldierly bluntness he asked me: “What do you know about Mizoram? About its history, its people?”
Sheepishly, but with all honesty at my command, I blurted out, “not much sir!” Brig. Sailo glared at LR conveying his annoyance in just one look and told him something in Mizo before turning to me and saying: “Son, let me arrange for you to read some history and some details about us and our state. Spend a couple of days here and then come and meet me again.”

I was dismissed with a flourish. My heart sank. What will I tell my bosses back in Guwahati? Does this mean, I am going to fail in my first-ever outstation assignment? All kinds of negative thoughts raced through my mind. But LR was helpfulness personified. He arranged for several books, including one called the Dagger Brigade by Nirmal Nibedon, the first journalist to get access to the MNF/MNA leadership and bring to life the story of Mizo insurgency.

For the next 48 hours, I read feverishly, trying to absorb as much as possible. KN Hazarika, my newspaper owner’s brother-in-law, who had also spent time in Mizoram, was a great help too.

So, after 48 hours of nearly non-stop reading books on Mizoram, I went to see Brig. Sailo again. Uncertain about his reaction, I was tentative initially but the old man put me at ease and answered all my seemingly silly questions. I met several other people in order understand the state of affairs in Mizoram that time and made the long journey back home to Guwahati. A week later, I had a full-page cover story in the Sunday edition on The Sentinel and my first ever interview with a Chief Minister was published too.

In three decades since, numerous interviews have been done, some I am proud of, some I am not happy with but no matter how many interviews I do in the future, I will always remember the first one fondly. And therefore will never ever forget Brig. T. Sailo. He taught me the importance of background check, domain awareness and triggered a habit of advance reading about a place or a personality that I am visiting or interviewing.

​Later, I met him a couple of times when he was not Chief Minister. In th​ose meetings, I ventured away from politics and asked the Brigadier about his Army life. In his slow, deliberate style, he recounted how as a young 20-year old man he was commissioned into the Assam Regiment in 1942 in the middle of World War II. "I was the first Mizo to become a commissioned officer. The Army took me to different places including overseas and made me what I am," he reminisced.

The apogee of  
​his military career was to command the 190 'Korea' Brigade of the Indian Army. Now headquartered at Tawang along the China border, the 190 Brigade is called Korea Brigade because it was deployed in Indo-China in the 1950s. ​Brig Sailo was proud to have been part of the Indian Army and particularly the Assam Regiment. 

​As I started gaining better insight into the Army and learning about its structure, ethos and traditions, it was not difficult to see why ​the Brigadier was so fiercely possessive about the Assam Regiment, a unique experiment
​ in integration of disparate tribes in the north-east. There was no common language that these boys, from different tribes spread over the region, could speak or understand so they have, over the years evolved a lingo of their own: a mix of multiple languages, a language that only they can understand! More than the language however, it is remarkable that the Assam regiment has  emerged as one of Indian Army's finest regiments, thanks to early work by its leadership, both British and Indian officers.

Brig Sailo passed away in 2015 but I will always remember him as someone who was kind to me in early days as a journalist.


I haven’t had the chance to visit Mizoram for almost a decade now but the people, the state and friends one has made there over the years, continue to be close to my heart.

All thanks to a man called Brig. T. Sailo.

(The writer lived and reported from the north-east between 1983 and 2006)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hold it: Army Chief is not seeking impunity

Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat's tough statement warning trouble makers in Kashmir to desist from obstructing operations by his troops or else face the consequences has evoked expected reactions. 

There was one section--and I don't want to call them intellectuals--which pays lip service to the fauj but in reality stands against everything that the army seeks to protect and defend. This group has variously dubbed the Army Chief's remark as 'intemperate statement,' 'belligerent stand,' and 'declaration of war against Kashmiri youth.' This group of people have sought to create an impression that the Army Chief has ordered his troops to kill and maim indiscriminately. This is nothing but deliberate  distortion of an emphatic assertion by a professional entrusted with the security of the country. But more of that a little later. 


However, Gen Rawat's unambiguous stand has acted as a much needed confidence booster to the troops--young officers and soldiers at the cutting edge--who were often left wondering if they were doing the right and necessary thing in combating the terrorists, many times paying with their own lives. 

In the wake of elimination of Burhan Wani, a local youth-turned terrorist leader last year and the subsequent turmoil in the Kashmir valley, abetted in no small measure by the Pakistani deep state through the selfish and  self-centred separatist leaders, politics had dominated the discourse on J&K. It was conveniently forgotten that irrespective of his origin (as a Kashmiri youth), Burhan Wani was after all a terrorist whose days were numbered once he took up arms against the Indian state. His killing in an encounter with security forces should have been treated as just that--neutralisation of a terrorist. Instead, a narrative was sought to be built blaming the security forces for doing their job and doing it professionally. 

Months of unrest following Burhan Wani's death often hampered the movement of security forces, disrupted their logistics chain and disturbed a well laid out security grid. The successful surgical strikes by Indian Army's special forces against terrorist launch pads located in Pak-Occupied Kashmir was preceded and followed by two setbacks for the Indian Army at Uri and Nagrota respectively. 

The Army can take the setbacks in its stride and learn lessons from them but what demoralises the soldiers are the barely concealed barbs by ill-informed critics who do not have the faintest idea about the difficulties and constraints under which the troops have been operating in the unending war in J&k for over a quarter century now. Now Army in the world has maintained the relentless tempo of operations as the Indian Army has done since 1990. 

It is to the credit of Indian Army leadership over the years that troops have retained the highest degree of motivation despite mounting odds. 

However, the unwarranted criticism about strategy and tactics and the contempt that some of our prominent opinion makers hold against the Army had begun to affect the soldiers on the ground. A slight hesitation had started to creep in in their approach to counter-insurgency and counter-terrorists operations. Fortunately,  the Army Chief's statement would have removed any lingering doubts the soldiers may have had about the necessity of their job and their role. 

At another level, the warning by the Army Chief to those hindering operations and the support extended to him by the political leadership over his stand should send the right message to those fishing in Kashmir's troubled waters. 

The separatists cannot use the unsuspecting young men and women as cannon fodder for their own agenda and get away with it. The Kashmiri awam must question the separatists: How long are you going to fire from the shoulders of ordinary Kashmiris? 

There have been suggestions that the Centre must reach out to the youth of Kashmir. Perhaps the time has come to do just that and ignore the usual suspects but before that the youth must begin to understand the difference between mindless protests and legitimate demands. 

Politics apart, Kashmiri parents must also begin to ask the question to themselves: Why allow the young to be used as a smoke screen for political objectives? 

Perhaps the stern warning that those who hamper legitimate army operations will not be spared should spur families in Kashmir to ask that question sooner than later. 

So for all those who outrage against the Army Chief's statement: hold your thoughts. He is not seeking any impunity for his troops. All that he is asking for is the right of the Army to exercise its legitimate powers given under the very constitution by which you claim to swear. 


(First published on my website bharatshakti.in)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Military competent to do self-correction; leave it alone


Last week saw a spate of video messages by soldiers across Army, BSF and CRPF complaining and highlighting what they felt was supply of bad food, lack of good facilities and demeaning treatment because the leadership in these forces—according to them—is involved in corruption and has feudal attitude towards the men they command.

While the men may have genuine grievances and perhaps felt that existing channels of redress are not sufficient, I am aghast at the extrapolation done by a section of the Indian media portraying these complaints as catastrophe that has overtaken the Indian security forces and that the time-tested officer-men relationship—especially in the Army—is no longer as robust as it used to be.

As someone who’s had an opportunity to be a media practitioner across web, print and broadcast mediums for over three decades, I am aware of the pressures of ratings and compulsion to be ‘first with the news,’ that often overtakes sound judgement. And that is what has happened over the past week. In the mad race to boost circulation and viewer ratings, a section of the ignorant media has, in one go, sought to tarnish and destroy one of the last institutions that has stood rock solid in defence of India.
Ill-informed—I would in fact go the extent of saying ‘uneducated’ (in military matters)-- star anchors and reporters are out to create divide within the army where none exists. The officer-soldier relationship has certainly undergone a change over the past couple of decades thanks to the churn in the Indian society at large but it is still the bedrock of the Indian Army’s day to day functioning. The bonding between officers and men is evident in the hundreds of daily counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations carried out by the Indian Army. Indeed, without that bonding officers will not be able to lead--and men will not willingly go into--operations that can lead to death of brothers-in-arms.
It is easy to sit and pontificate from the confines of the studio and reduce the issues to binaries of good and ugly but the reality is more complex. Yes, there is a problem. But the problem is not as disastrous as made out to be. In fact these issues are an outcome of a combination of factors: erosion in the soldiers’ status in the society; prolonged deployment in monotonous and thankless counter-insurgency jobs; crippling shortage of officers in combat units; and, ironically, easier communication between families and soldiers!

A psychiatric study by Army doctors some years ago on ‘Evolving Medical Strategies for Low Intensity Conflicts’ revealed the huge range of issues soldiers in such situations have to confront, contradictions between war and low-intensity conflict situations, and, particularly, the concepts of ‘enemy’, ‘objective’ and ‘minimum force’. Some other findings were:
• In general war, the nation looks upon the soldier as a saviour, but here he is at the receiving end of public hostility.
• A hostile vernacular press keeps badgering the security forces, projecting them as perpetrators of oppression.
• Continuous operations affect rest, sleep and body clocks, leading to mental and physical exhaustion.
• Monotony, the lure of the number game, and low manning strength of units lead to overuse and fast burnout. 

Operating in a tension-ridden counter-insurgency environment does lead to certain stress among the jawans, but that is only one of the factors. The main worries are the problems back home: land disputes; tensions within the family; rising aspirations.
During my travels in counter-insurgency areas, I have often come across company commanders telling me how, for many soldiers, tensions at home create unbearable stress. Often, a land dispute back home or a family feud weighs heavily on the soldier’s mind. For the ordinary soldier, the smallest patch of land back home is the most precious property. Again, I have frequently come across a common thread where soldiers say there is no tension in the actual work of counter-insurgency. The main problem for the fauji comes from his domestic situation.

Add to it the fact that the society no longer respects the soldier and his work in protecting the nation. A local politician, a thanedar, etc., seem to command more clout in the society today. This has often led to loss of self-esteem among ordinary soldiers. A recent movie—Paan Singh Tomar—depicted, in some measure, the humiliation that a soldier faces in the civilian environment, both while serving and after retirement from the armed forces.

Senior officers point out that most suicide and fratricide cases take place after soldiers return from a spot of leave. And yet, the Army must look within too. Fortunately the leadership in the Army is as acutely aware of the need to change with time and adapt new practices in daily functioning.

Reforming the Organization

Soldiers these days are better educated and, consequently, better aware of their rights.
As the armed forces are in themselves a microcosm of India, the rising education and awareness levels in recruits is easily perceived. A sea change from yesteryears is now visible in the hordes of young men who crowd recruitment rallies across the country. Most hopefuls are the educated unemployed youth who turn towards the military for acquiring early financial and social security. Their educational qualification is Class XII on the average, many being graduates too. The stereotype of an innocent, less educated but hardy soldier is now a thing of the past. The officer base has also shifted predominantly to the middle class. This has further narrowed the gap between the ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’.

An acute shortage of officers at the cutting-edge level is the other big factor contributing to an limited bonding between soldiers and officers. Against an authorized strength of over 22 officers for a combat battalion, there are at best eight or nine officers available to the commanding officer these days.

Very often, young officers with less than two years of service are commanding companies! Even in the battalion headquarters, one officer ends up doing the job of three, given the shortage. There is no time to interact with soldiers. In the old days, a game of football or hockey was the best way to get to know each other. Not any longer.

What, then, is the way forward?

Embracing Change

The average Indian soldier remains as hardy as before but he is certainly confused with the pace of change occurring all around him. It is here that the leaders—the officers—will have to adapt themselves to the new reality. The age-old system of regimental traditions and values is robust, and serves to develop camaraderie and loyalty between the led and the leader even now. The new fashion to dismiss them as outdated ideas must be arrested. Military ethos is not developed overnight and is certainly not imbibed by pandering blindly to the changes in society.

However the leadership needs to take cognizance of a new challenge: Proliferation of social media. Access to improved technology and means of communication has meant that soldiers are now tempted take a short cut to air their grievances—genuine or otherwise. The new Army chief has done well to issue a legitimate warning that misuse of social media will lead to consequences while at the same time, providing a new avenue of grievance redress through his office. However, the top leadership will have to be careful in not short-circuiting the traditional chain of command. 

The change must come from the top.

A former Army Commander, Lt. Gen. C.S.K. Sabu, had encapsulated the desired change in view of altered socio-economic conditions at a seminar on ‘Leadership Challenges in an Era of Turbulence’ at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi, in June 2010. He said: ‘Such a change needs to be top-down, and be backed by the force of institutional ethics, tradition, peer pressure and group dynamics. While the Chetwode motto of the Army is everlasting, it loses focus once a soldier is beyond his CO—it lacks the guiderail required for a codified, value-based ethical conduct on the part of senior officers, which must be set right.’
Certain changes which can be considered and deliberated are:
• 360 degree assessments in the context of Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs).
• Inculcate the warrior ethos in the Army.
• Embrace the soldier’s code—Veer Senani must be codified.
• Encourage scholar–warrior ethos for the officers.
• Promoting ethics and probity in military life.
• Norms for conducting welfare activities must change—it is a command function and must be restored to the same. 

Finally, if the led are to believe the leader, the leader must walk the talk. Officers must believe in themselves and the system that they work in. They must take pride in the fact that the military is essentially different in its work culture, ethos, traditions and values from any other entity. Soldiering is the only profession in which a man voluntarily chooses to enter into a contract that entails death if the occasion so demands.


The Indian military, despite its recent problems, remains a very fine institution. To be relevant and effective, it must, however, embrace change with discretion. Therein lies the trick in meeting the increasing challenge posed to the military leadership. However, let the change be driven by the military itself rather than pesky anchors and upstart reporters hectoring soldiers on a matter that they have very little idea about.

Monday, January 9, 2017

All you wanted to know about the Shekatkar Committee Report but didn't know where to look

                                    
Lt Gen DB Shekatkar (retd) presenting copy of the report
to Manohar Parrikar
The Lt Gen DB Shekatkar Committee—appointed by the government to enhance the combat potential of the armed forces and rebalancing defence expenditure—has recommended a number of measures to trim, redeploy and integrate manpower under the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in a gradual manner to meet the objective of an agile but effective military to meet current and future threats that India faces, BharatShakti has learnt after speaking to multiple sources including some members of the panel.

The Committee, which submitted the final report to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on 21 December 2016, has noted that if majority of its recommendations are implemented over the next five years, the government can save up to Rs 25,000 crore from its current expenditure. The Committee has however warned that the implementation cannot be selective. As the report has apparently noted: the redeployment of manpower from and downsizing of some of the organisations under the MoD will have to be across the board and ruthless to be effective. Moreover, the Shekatkar Committee has made it clear that the saving made as a result of its recommendations must be redeployed in enhancing the combat capabilities of the Indian armed forces and not be merged in the general budget.

After taking into account the nature threats that the country is likely to face in coming decades, the committee has in fact recommended that the defence budget should be in the range of 2.5 and three per cent of the GDP. This would however require a substantial change in approach and outlook of the government towards the armed forces. For the last five years for instance, defence budget has remained below two per cent of the GDP. 

One of the major recommendations of the committee is to review the definition of ‘Capital’ and ‘Revenue’ budget heads in the funds allocated to the three armed forces, particularly the Indian Army. The panel notes that the Indian Army—unlike the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force—will have to remain a manpower-intensive force because of its major deployment in the mountains against both its major adversaries, China and Pakistan. As a result the sustenance budget of the Indian Army will be higher than the other two services leaving very little money for capital acquisition. The panel has reportedly therefore recommended that a ‘roll on’ plan for fresh acquisitions be introduced so as to overcome the practice of ‘surrendering’ funds at the end of every financial year.

The panel has also suggested a review of the financial management system of the MoD in which the defence finance wing is seen to be more of an impediment in clearing projects and has recommended that the financial powers of all the three chiefs and vice chiefs be enhanced further to quicken the pace of acquisitions.
As for redeployment and rationalising of manpower, the Shekatkar Committee has recommended that the role of non-combat organisations paid for and sustained by the defence budget be subjected to a performance audit. Some of these organisations mentioned in the report are Defence Estates, Defence Accounts, DGQA, Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), DRDO, and the National Cadet Corps (NCC). Once a professional and objective review is carried out, the committee said, substantial savings can be achieved by downsizing or rationalising the manpower in these organisations.

The committee has also suggested the establishment of a Joint Services War College for training for middle level officers (the higher command course for instance), even as the three separate War Colleges—currently at Mhow, Secunderabad and Goa—for Army, Air Force and Navy could continue to train younger officers for their respective service. Similarly it has recommended that the Military Intelligence School at Pune be converted to a tri-service Intelligence training establishment.

Another aspect highlighted by the committee is the increasing reluctance on part of the state governments to renew lease of land for crucial firing ranges for the troops. Increasing urbanisation and pressure on land has meant that the armed forces have to battle political and bureaucratic pressure to retain the existing firing ranges. The panel has therefore suggested better coordination between the MoD and state governments to overcome this problem.

However the Committee has also suggested that the armed forces ramp up the quantum of training on various simulators. The new recruits can do about 60 per cent of their firing training on simulators, resulting in substantial savings to the tune of Rs 20-25 crore per annum in expenditure of training ammunition, the committee has suggested.

There are several other suggestions to improve efficiency of Border Roads Organisation (BRO), re-orienting the training staff of NCC by utilising more ex-servicemen and Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) to free young serving officers for more mainline jobs and even recommending the possibility of shifting NCC under the Human Resources Development (HRD) Ministry.

Like the previous such reviews ordered by the government, notably the Naresh Chandra Committee, the Shekatkar Committee too has said a 4-star Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)—or a Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee—be appointed as a ‘chief coordinator’ between the military and the Ministry of Defence. It has however stressed on retaining the primacy of the three service chiefs in operational and administrative roles even while suggesting establishment of three or four integrated commands in medium to long term.  This aspect will however need further deliberation at the highest level, the committee has suggested.

The entire report, it appears is focussed on shedding the flab in the MoD and make India’s armed forces more agile and technology-oriented to meet current and future national security objectives.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The military needs professional audit, says a serving young officer. I agree

For the past 12 hours, I am being had (as they say in the fauj) for raising what I consider legitimate questions on why is the military taking a battering (from Uri to Nagrota via Pathankot) in J &K. While no one doubts the bravery, commitment and professionalism of our men in uniform, many civilians are asking the question: Why are military bases attacked with such regularity and with apparent success by terrorists?Why can't such attacks be minimised, if not prevented altogether? 

I am no fauji (as many key-board warriors remind me all the time on social media because I haven't served) but as someone who has operated in various insurgency theatres in north-east, J&K and Sri Lanka since 1983, I have a semblance of idea of what it means to be in a conflict zone. But don't take my word for it. 

Here's a serving young officer's take on what is happening vis-a-vis the military of late. For obvious reasons he will remain unnamed!


Well, We are at war. Look around if you doubt it. The situation in Kashmir and most of the north west border is volatile.

We knew that this WILL happen. The enemy is ready to hit and we are also doing the same. War does have its collaterals.

Failure.


Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota. It's good to brand the dead as martyrs. But that does not take away the need to assess the why of the incident.

Systemic problems.


It's easy to identify and weed out individual failure. When it cancers out into the system, the instinct to survive ensures that ugly facts are brushed under the carpet.

Examples.


No hierarchy was held accountable for failures at Nyoma, Samba, Nagrota, Machhal etc. The garb of collective blame took away the lessons needed to be learnt making the military as just another unaccountable bureaucracy of the Govt.

Inbred ideas.


Today we all like to be self audited. It's good not scientifically proven to be ineffective. E.g.  In Control Systems, if a system is only given positive feedback. It becomes unstable and collapses. Similarly a system without feedback has no control and self consumes.


The military needs professional audit by HR professionals, security experts and third party groups having no stake in the existing narrative. Self analysis will never reveal the actual fault lines.


Holy Cow


Only the nation is a holy cow. Everything else can and should be questioned for bringing out improvements. I feel that the government should take decisions through its collective wisdom and not let perceptions get in way of executive decisions that need to be timely.

Friday, November 4, 2016

An anguished plea by a veteran

The suicide of a veteran soldier in Delhi, purportedly over his unfufilled grievance, has brought the focus back on to the question of One Rank One Pension. A thorough enquiry will bring out the truth behind the suicide. However, it is time for everyone to be mature and responsible as the letter below from a veteran officer brings out. I am reproducing the text for everyone's benefit. Whether to follow his advice/suggestion is of course an individual decision.




Dear ABPSSP Members,

I am extremely pained about the unfortunate demise of Sub Ram Kishan Grewal on 1st Nov, 2016.Jantar Mantar has become a source of anti-government propaganda by political opponents of the ruling dispensation. It appears that he became a victim of Whatsapp misinformation fallout on OROP by some unscrupulous elements.While majority of the Ex-Service Men (ESM) have received their second installment of OROP, during September 2016, reasons for Late Sub Ram Kishan Grewal’s OROP anomalies need to be investigated factually.

As per the available information, Sub RK Grewal had served for six years in Territorial Army (TA) and subsequently twenty-one years in Defence Security Corps (DSC). At the time of his demise he was drawing INR 23,000 a month. It appears that some amongst the ESM had informed late Sub RK Grewal, that his OROP was INR 28,000 a month. Apparently, he had written a letter to the Defence Minister on 31st October, 2016, complaining about this discrepancy. Unfortunately, even before the Defence Minister could receive or respond to the letter, the said person ended his life at Jantar Mantar.

We, the members of ABPSSP, convey our deepest condolences to the family of Sub Grewal and would do whatever is within our purview to help the family to overcome their grief and their resettlement. We are extremely disturbed and upset at the politics over this “suicide”. It is disgusting to see that some politicians are openly making this an opportunistic incident by press - ganging the family at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.

We appeal to the political class; when such tragedy overtakes soldiers, please do not exploit the families of the bereaved for selfish, political agenda. There are many ways that the political class can help the bereaved families to overcome their grief and face the tragedy rather than crudely politicizing the issue.

We are also pained to learn that some retired Officers have been instigating a segment of the ESM for resumption of protests at Jantar Mantar, by listing several misplaced demands (most of which) were unfounded and unreasonable. We appeal to JantarMantar leaders, not to play into the hands of unscrupulous politicians. Let us not ignore the feeling of disgust and cynicism among the public when they watched on the news, ESM burning their medals in July-August, 2015 at Jantar Mantar. Bitter but true – we have lowered our esteem amongst our own people.

I urge the members of ABPSSP and through them the Ex-Service Men fraternity to comprehend the “political drama” over suicide of an Ex-Service Man with an open mind and in proper perspective after considering the following: 
  •      Ex-Service Men fraternity were denied OROP for 43 years (1978-2015) by successive governments.
  •        Sensing the mood of the ESM, then Finance Minister, announced a token of INR 500 Crores for OROP in the budget of February 2014,something the government then was not serious about. 
  •      Perseverance of the Defence Minister in finalizing the OROP Scheme through several rounds of consultation with Ex-Service Men Organizations from February to September 2015, is well known.
  •     The government has not only implemented the OROP Scheme in November, 2015, but it has already paid two installments of the OROP arrears – March 2016 and October 2016 respectively.

·    To overcome the anomalies of the OROP Scheme in vogue, Justice Narsimhan Committee has traveled across the country, received representation from all Ex-Service Men organizations and submitted its report to the Ministry of Defence.

·     The Defence Minister has institutionalized periodic meetings at the Ministry of Defence with Ex-Service Men organizations and other stake holders to resolve all related grievances. Two such meetings have already been held – 14 March & 24 October, 2016.


There will always be a lot going on in the country – at the border, in the capital or anywhere in the vast expanse that we call our motherland. The day we all signed up to be part of the armed forces, it became our responsibility to safeguard our nation in all ways possible. Post-retirement, as part of the civil society, it is now one of our duties to bridge the gap between the civilians and the armed forces. I appeal for your understanding and soldierly response on all fronts of nation building activities. 

Lt Gen VM (Venky Patil)
Chairman, ABPSSP (Akhil Bharatiya Purva Sainik Seva Parishad)

Friday, September 23, 2016

The story behind the story on Rafale that I broke


Last year in April, I almost ignored one of the biggest tip-offs I have received as a journalist but managed to put it up on my blog 12 hours after I first heard about it. 

The story begins on the morning of 9 April 2015, around 1130 am when I bumped into a top defence source at the domestic airport in Delhi who casually mentioned that a decision has been taken by the government to buy the Rafale combat jets off the shelf from France, scrapping an ongoing process that was going nowhere. 

I heard the source say that between 60 and 63 jets were to be bought. Apparently, the decision was taken at a special meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to depart for France. A few hours after that we had this accidental meeting at the airport.

My 'news antennae' was immediately up and I had no doubt about the authenticity of the new since the source was top class but as luck would have it, I had back-to-back appointments that day culminating in a dinner at an embassy. Since I was by now freelancing, I wasn't sure who among the news outlets would believe me with such a massive news break. So I hesitated and kept the information with me.Until about 10.45 at night. 

As I got into the car for a 45-minute journey home, it struck me that this gold standard info should not go unreported. What if some one else also reports it in tomorrow morning's newspaper,I thought to myself and started writing furiously on my I-phone.

Reaching home around 1130, I decided to put up the news on my own blog. So about 10 minutes to midnight on 9 April ( now I see the time was actually 1153 pm), I published this (http://nitinagokhale.blogspot.in/2015/04/big-breakthrough-in-rafale-deal-likely.html) blog post, sticking my neck out. 

All hell broke loose in the aviation circles across the world around midnight IST as I tweeted the link to the piece. Many enquiries were made, many Direct Messages on twitter were exchanged and it wasn't until about 4 am that I could sleep.

Waking up later than usual the next day (10 April), I scanned the morning newspaper for any news on Rafale and sure enough one of the Delhi papers had more or less the same information as I had.

The South Block, headquarter of India's Ministry of Defence (MoD), was--friends on the defence beat said--swarming with reporters of international news agencies and newspapers that afternoon, trying to confirm the news. Indian Air Force officials and the MoD Spokesperson were inundated with calls trying to verify the news put out by me and another newspaper about the decision on Rafale. No one seem to have any idea. Our reports were in fact run down by established celebrity defence analysts as fanciful and unrealistic. To be honest, I did feel bit uneasy but kept the faith since I had got the news from someone who had an inside track in the government.

As the day progressed, one hint of that there was indeed the possibility of a deal being announced came through a report from Paris which quoted Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirming that talks were on on this issue. 

I felt slightly assured.

But it was not until past 10 pm Indian time--nearly 23 hours after I had taken a chance to put out what looked liked an improbable news at that time--that I could heave a sigh of relief. Prime Minister Modi announced at a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande that he had asked France to supply 36 Rafale planes in ready to fly condition (http://in.reuters.com/article/india-france-rafale-idINKBN0N10OL20150410). 

I had got the numbers wrong however. I had said India may buy 60 to 63 Rafales. It turned out that the numbers were to be restricted to 36. 

Since then, in the last 17 months, despite what many naysayers said, my sources in the IAF and MoD negotiating team kept insisting that the deal would go through and go through on India's terms. 

In some hours from now, the Indian and the French Defence Ministers will witness the signing of the formal contract. India has got its way in many respects ( http://bharatshakti.in/how-indian-negotiators-brought-down-the-price-of-rafale-jets%E2%80%8B/) but skeptics will still have doubts. 

For the sake of the country's security and for the IAF to remain a potent force, let's wish the main protagonists good luck.