Armed Forces

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Pay Commission And The Armed Forces – A Layman’s Introspection

Published August 15, 2016 by vishalvkale

This is a topic I came across when I got a Whatsapp forward of an NDTV Discussion on the 7th Pay Commission and its impact on the Armed Forces – given in the Video clip below. This was a discussion anchored by Barkha Dutt, and featured an Ex Army Chief, A former Finance Secretary, A Senior Retired Police Officer, several other middle level Armed Forces Officers and political representatives of two parties. A very high quality discussion, this featured decently presented pros and cons form both sides of the debate very fairly, and yet, the contents were worrisome.
The debate, or dissatisfaction of the Armed Forces {as per the media video above}, is around the 7th Pay Commission Recommendations in terms of some allowances – Hardship Allowance, for example in comparison to the other services, and parity with other services, among other things. Yet another vital point raised was the apparent absence of representation of the Armed Forces in the commission. Some recommendations are, to be quite frank, even from a layman’s perspective, very strange indeed; add to that the views of the civilian bureaucrats, and it creates a rather mildly troubling scenario
I am trying to choose my words with caution, given my lack of expertise in this area; I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Service Salaries and Service Rules of either The Armed Forces or any other Government Service; that discussion – debating the minutiae involved is beyond the scope of my blog and my knowledge. Neither is that the point of the article I am writing; these matters are complex, requiring specialized knowledge of a high order. Naturally, these are not amenable to public debate in social media, at least; that said, matters arising from this debate, tangential in some ways, and yet extremely vital and disturbing need the public consideration.
When a Former Army Chief uses the words “Blatant Discrimination”, and “Injustice” in reference to the Armed Forces treatment – on whatever parameter – it is time the public takes note of this. The points raised by the Ex Chief in this debate are hard-hitting, and specific; they need to be addressed. I am sure this is happening at Government levels, but given that these are public statements, we should take note of them, and be informed
Furthermore, when 18 Ex-Chiefs write to the Prime Minister, in regard to any matter whatever under the sun, and the said public authority does not respond, it is one thing; that matter might be under consideration, requiring silence on the part of his office. But when an Ex-Chief laments the lack of response from the same august office in response to the letter, and in the same discussion notes this has never happened before, {or words to that effect} , this is frankly disturbing. We aren’t talking of one or two Ex-Chiefs; we are talking of a whole bunch of them – no less than 18 in number.
This is not a matter for blame-gaming; neither is it one for hypernationalism and fervent patriotism. This is a matter of silent contemplation, of a deep introspection. The reason for that is that the statements above, disturbing as they are, point not to the political class, but straight to us, the people of India. Yes, the same people who go hyperbolic in arguments, conversations, Social Media and the like on nationalism and the praiseworthy deeds of the Indian Armed Forces. This includes I, My And Myself, as I too have been sharing Indian Army Deeds on my Facebook page quite regularly.
I say this because of two reasons : one, the political class is due to us, due to our votes, our opinions, and our ambitions. It responds to the people and what they value. While it is beyond debate that the political class, despite the weaknesses, has tried to do their best – their hands are tied by the conflicting demands on the exchequer in a resource-scarce economy. In such a scenario, balancing the scales of the spending is not a task for weak hearts. We can’t just up and blame the political class; it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it responds to the public, howsoever much may anyone deny it.
If we want the political class to give more to the Armed Forces- then that “more” is going to have to come from somewhere else. That means, some other areas will have to sacrifice; it is for us, as a people, through our voice and opinion, to determine the percentages to each demand – and this is expressed through our elected representatives. Similarly, if the issues of disparity etc expressed are to be addressed – it might just require additional spends on the budget. Where is that money going to come from? It has to come from some other head!
That is the entire point – we accept that The Armed Forces are pretty damned important, they protect us and so on and so forth; but do we, through our deeds – as opposed to statements and Social Media comments – express this sentiment? Are we, as a people, prepared to go the extra mile for the sake of the betterment of the Armed Forces? Are we prepared to sacrifice something for these people – the ones who readily give their lives for us? You can even extend that argument for the Paramilitary and other security forces, some of whom sure could do with more!
This is important, as it is only when the political class realizes that The Armed Forces are on priority no 1 for the Indian People, or at least among the top, will a fundamental change in approach come about. And that won’t happen unless we really understand what they go through and the sacrifices these brave soldiers do in order that we can be safe. Further, there has to be a far greater realization of the working conditions, demands and the career problems faced by these brave people. Rather than give armchair comments from the complete safety of our laptops, desktops and sofa sets, we should try and understand what these people go through.
I say this because of some rather stunning comments I heard in discussions around The Armed Forces by civilians which have surprised me and frankly shocked me; the insensitivity shown towards the Armed Forces is quite shocking, as is the complete lack of understanding of their requirements, their problems and the conditions under which they operate. Excuse me, these people are willing to die for the country – are you willing to do that? Are you even capable enough of such a tall order? Do you have that inherent capability? It is far harder a task than going to a foreign land to work, or working in the safe protected environs of most civilian jobs, perhaps even all!
Take the example in the discussion – how can you equate a posting to the North East for some classes of bureaucrats with a frontline high-altitude posting in the Armed Forces? It is, on the face of it, ridiculous! And yet, that is what has transpired as I understand from the discussion – correct me if I am wrong. How did this come about? Clearly because of the factors listed above – given that the bureaucrats arose from within us, they didn’t drop down from Mars! Would this have transpired had there been a better understanding of the reality among the educated civilian classes, from which the public servants arise?
But we, the people – are interested not in these things, by and large – but in going to foreign lands to earn, migrate and quit the nation;  or to do a cushy peaceful  job that guarantees our safety. We are the armchair  brigade – self included. There is nothing wrong in that – each individual has own desires and ambitions; and is entitled to self-fulfillment. But that does not mean you ignore the justified needs of the people who lay down their lives for you; or that you are not prepared to sacrifice – should the need arise – for their sakes, just as they have done a million times over since 1947!

Sure, this is a dreamy article; an article that calls for public introspection, internal soul-searching. I do not blame the political class, scream at them, or find fault with them; and the reason  is that, so far as I am aware, no peaceful permanent change has ever been triggered without a dream at the core of the change, a dream that initially sounded foolish, immature and impractical. If I can influence even one reader to introspect – my task has been done. But this introspection is required for all of us – we, who wear our patriotism on our sleeves, and yet spit on the road, bribe, urinate in public, ignore the needs of the poor, and so on and so forth…

We The People… And The Armed Forces

Published December 6, 2015 by vishalvkale

I normally prefer to pen my own articles, with original content. I further regard Whatsapp forwards with a very leery eye, and consider them worthless. But, just this once, I am breaking both my self-made rules.The below article was received by my from a retired soldier, someone I know well; and struck me to the core of my being. After reading it, my only feeling was of immense shame at the way we treat our soldiers.

I have not tried to verify the facts as stated in this article; I am not competent enough to get into the intricacies of Defence Pay Systems and Procedures; I know nothing of those matters. I do know this – I, for one, would have absolutely no problems if Defence Personnel were paid much more. Further, as regards the statements of comparison with Civilian cadres-  I repeat- I am not competent to analyse. But, to me, it seems logical the there should be parity at the very least, or greater pay given the soldiers face bullets and risk to life. But again, these are intricate matters, and my knowledge is highly limited. The point of this article is solely driving home the attitude of we, the people…  
Naked n harsh truth …   read on patiently …..
7th cpc has written much in its report but very {edited} n  conveniently  did not mention that in US and UK, soldiers get their pensions at the rate of 75% of their salary. Also when the US & European nations deploy their soldiers in war like situation or disaster relief operations  they do not pay income tax.
I wish 7th cpc had realized that in our country in kargil war, officers and JCOs paid the income tax, same is the case for J&K and NE insurgency. Here income tax is also charged from the last salary of a martyr, which is nothing short of national shame. I wish these facts should have been included. Instead the 7th cpc doles out three extra increments to IAS IPS n IFS.  A soldier gets 31500/– for serving in Siachen but a central cadre officer gets 50000/ to 70000/- for serving in so called difficult area such as Shillong, Imphal and Guwahati @ 30% of their salary (Inspite of the acknowledgement made by 7th cpc that most difficult area to serve with no parallel is Siachen).
During Uttrakhand Disaster relief operations, three DCs were literally not available during the critical days of disaster. Same was the case with SDMs and tehsildars.  The SDM who was deputed to go to Kedarnath emerged only after five days of relief operations in vogue. DC prefered to park himself inside the Joshimath Camp so that public can’t reach him.  When DC was forced to at least go and see the condition on ground, the gentleman did not get down from the helicopter fearing that he might not be allowed by public to board the helicopter. DC uttarkashi did not feel safe to visit and see the conditions of pilgrims at Gangotri and Harsil. The pilgrims kept asking “where is the administration, if the army has to do everything why is government spending national wealth on them”. That is the condition of our so called elite.
It is sad that the  public of India does not even know why a soldier defy the logic and conventions? Why does he risk his life? In-spite of the fact that there is no written rule where a soldier is supposed to die while performing his duty, yet he does so. It is ethos, tradition and character of soldiers that prompt them to do so. Second factor is  because he knows he is not a government servant, he is an elite and serves the nation. He also knows that he is the last bastion and pillar on which the nation is dependent upon. Every other department has failed and can fail, but nation can still recover. But if the soldiers fails, the nation will fail. No other government agency can redeem it. It is elitism that separates soldiers from the rest.
Unfortunately over a period of time the elitism has been killed and soldier is repeatedly told he is a government servant that too semi skilled.
Whereas soldering is most complex, technical and skilful job which is unparalleled.  It is an old saying that the day a soldier starts behaving like a government servant it is the beginning of erosion of foundation of a nation. 
To quote the examples of US/ UK  and other countries – When the body of a martyr is brought back to US,  the captain of the aircraft makes an announcement prior to take off  “we are privileged to fly back martyr  xxxx on his last journey back home”. On arrival of the body of the martyr on US soil and his native place, water canon salute is given. Entire crew  lines up on tarmac to pay last respect. The CEO or the highest authority of the air port receives the body along with the Guard. All passenger stand in line till body is moved out. But alas here …. when the body of Maj varadarajan was being flown from Srinagar to Chennai, the Captain was requested by an officer accompanying the body to announce that Maj Vardarajan is on board on his last journey back home. The captain of the aircraft refused to announce that  saying it will send a kind of bad feeling and omen to people flying and thus he will not do so.
The body of martyr soldiers are taken out from the cargo gate which is indeed an insult. And we continue to accept it without highlighting it.
It is only Mr Chandrashekher MP Rajya Sabha from Bangalore who is fighting a lone battle on this front
We need to introspect and make the nation aware. Profession of soldiering is not a routine government job. It is different.
We all have  heard in the news today that Doctors did not turn up in Chennai, the government staff did not turn up for discharging their duties…… But soldiers did their best whole day. Is it that there lives are not precious? 
Plz  think and share to create an awakening in the nation.
Plz  think and share to create an awakening in the nation.
The captain of the aircraft refused to announce that  saying it will send a kind of bad feeling and omen to people flying and thus he will not do so.
The body of martyr soldiers are taken out from the cargo gate which is indeed an insult. And we continue to accept it without highlighting it.
I, sir, am shocked, disgusted and plain stumped… I feel disgusted and want to puke. Is this true? If the above incident is true, I am deeply pained; Major Varadarajan – or any of the other martyrs – don’t deserve this. This is callousness in the extreme. We are alive and safe today precisely because of brave people like him. And we cant even do the smallest gesture of respect?
Or is it the opinion of people here that sharing stories of bravery on Whatsapp, liking on Facebook, crying ourselves hoarse on social media is sufficient? Not by a long shot, it isn’t.  

Defence : Budget Brings No Cheers {Business Standard}

Published March 13, 2015 by vishalvkale

I normally carry my own articles and analysis; for the first time, please read an article on Business Standard on the Defence Forces {Business Standard}, which is self-explanatory, and is a factual analysis. This is a small attempt from my side in educating the people, at least those who may not be aware. The genuine needs of our Defence Forces cannot be put off; having said that, it is equally true that we are a developing country, and funds are always going to be extremely scarce. 

But does that mean we spend historical lows on defence in percentage terms? I am sure the Government can find space in the budget for a better allocation to the genuine needs of the security forces. I understand the difficulties faced by the government, and am not stating the Government doesn’t want to; they have to make some difficult choices in the governance of the nation, and are a democratic government. They have to meet the needs of a diverse set of requirements, all of which are genuine. 

That is why I appeal to the people – can we please allow and ask our government that we the people can make some sacrifices, and that please ensure proper allocation to the defence of the nation? I do not know what those sacrifices will be myself; but I am certain of one thing – if we empower our government, and build democratic pressure on them, they can easily find half-a-percentage point of GDP more to allocate to defence, or at the very least, a decided, definable, emphatic and firm increase in the allocations as well as other steps that may be needed to modernise and make our defence better than it already is. All it requires that we the people empower our Government, which is clearly one of the best we have had, with our support and voice for such a step enabling them to take the hard decision that will perforce be required. In true democratic fashion. Please keep in mind the challenges we as a nation face on the security of the nation, India!

The articles lists in detail the genuine requirements of the Armed Forces of India; I request all to read the article. The link to the original article is provided above. And please remember that no one can state with certainty that we will have to fight a war; then again, it is also true that no one can say for certain that we wont. It is better to be prepared; furthermore, we the people of India owe it to our protectors, The Armed Forces, to do something for them. They deserve our support, and more. 

For the armed forces, Budget brings no cheer : Ajai Shukla, March 9, 2015, Business Standard

The Budget presented on February 28 has disappointed the armed forces. With acquisitions in the pipeline worth almost Rs 20 lakh crore, military planners protest that the allocation of Rs 94,588 crore, not a rupee more than what was allocated in last year’s budget, is far less than what is required.

Over a period of 15 years, Rs 31 lakh crore worth of acquisitions are needed, say sources in the that carries out long-term planning of acquisitions for the three services.

Adding to the military’s disquiet is the repeated inability of the ministry of defence to spend the capital budget on new equipment. Year after year, chunks of the capital budget are surrendered unspent, or diverted to the revenue budget for funding running expenses like military salaries, and maintenance of equipment. (TIGHT PURSE STRINGS)

Walking a tightrope

A Business Standard analysis of equipment requirements over the next 15 years and the likely funds available finds a precarious balance between needs and means.

In the near term, there is precious little money to meet the three services’ requirement of Rs 20 lakh crore worth of equipment. However, as the years go by, especially in the next decade, an expected real increase of 10 per cent per annum will allocate Rs 22.5 lakh crore by the end of 2027-28 towards the military’s capital budget.

This includes a cumulative total of Rs 5 lakh crore for the army, Rs 5.65 lakh crore for the navy, and Rs 7.72 lakh crore for the air force. Another Rs 4.17 lakh crore will provide capital funding for Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factory Board, joint staff, railroads and military land and buildings.

Given the army’s requirements of Rs 5.29 lakh crore, that leaves a shortfall of Rs 30,000 crore. Thewill be short of Rs 1.75 lakh crore. The alone might have the money it requires.

These projections assume that the distribution of funds between the three services remains static. In fact, the share of the navy has steadily grown over the years, rising from barely 5 per cent of the overall defence budget to 16 per cent today. The military implications of a “Look East, Act East” policy might result in further increases for the navy, with some analysts predicting that the navy’s allocations might inch up to 20-23 per cent of total military spending.

Future budgetary projections are always uncertain, and Lieutenant General Anil Chait, who coordinated tri-service budgetary and acquisition planning until he retired as chief of the Integrated Defence Staff last May, points out that with 60 per cent of the military’s equipment requirements being sourced from abroad, any significant rupee devaluation would indeed buy less.

Battling for modernisation

While the army remains the service most in need of modernisation, land systems in general are significantly less expensive than aircraft and naval equipment. A large chunk of the army’s modernisation budget will go towards procuring, or indigenously building, modern howitzers, rocket launchers and various missile systems. There will be large expenditure on modernising the army’s mechanised forces, including the indigenous development and production of a main battle tank and infantry combat vehicle.

Also being developed indigenously is the digital backbone for a “networked force”, which will include communications and data networks like the tactical communications system, as well as soldier-specific networks like the battlefield management system which was kick-started last week.

Trouble at the seas

The navy’s maritime capability perspective plan envisages a 160-ship force that is centred on 90 capital warships like aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes. While there are currently more than 140 vessels, the navy has barely half the destroyers and frigates it needs. About five ships need to be inducted each year just to replace warships that are decommissioned after completing their 30-40 years’ service. Much of the navy’s modernisation budget, therefore, would go towards constructing new warships and submarines.

Submarines will form a thrust area. These include twelve conventional submarines, of which six Scorpenes would start rolling out of Mazagon Dock next year. Another six will be built in India along with a foreign shipyard. will build another two nuclear missile-carrying submarines of the Arihant class and develop and build six nuclear-powered attack submarines.

A hefty chunk of the expenditure will go towards developing a brand new naval base on the Andhra Pradesh coast at Rambilli, which will be the key operational base for the Eastern Naval Command. Money will also be spent on the Western Naval Command’s premier new base at Karwar, and on naval facilities in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

Air strike capabilities

With just 35 fighter squadrons against the authorised strength of 42 squadrons, and with another 11 squadrons likely to be decommissioned before 2022-23, the air force’s focus is on acquiring fighter aircraft. Besides the Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft, it will buy six squadrons of Tejas light fighters, 80 more Sukhoi-30MKI fighters under an existing contract, and upgrade its fleet of 50 Mirage 2000 and 125 Jaguar fighters. There is under way an Indo-Russian programme for 144 fifth-generation fighter aircraft as well as another DRDO project for at least 150 advanced medium combat aircraft.

These procurements do not include a host of high-tech development projects that are planned for developing the battlefield capabilities of the future: space surveillance, launch-on-demand satellites, hypersonic vehicles, electronic warfare systems, cyber warfare capability, unmanned combat aerial vehicles and a range of drones that have precision strike capabilities. DRDO has programmes under way to develop high altitude long endurance and medium altitude long endurance drones, long range cruise missiles and an anti-ballistic missile shield to shoot down incoming nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

None of these have been budgeted for, except through the DRDO’s budget. However, in a 15-year perspective, some of these projects might reach fruition, but their introduction into service would require additional funds.

Book Review : The Garud Strikes by Mukul Deva

Published November 2, 2014 by vishalvkale

This book review is dedicated to the Indian Armed Forces, and its brave personnel, who sacrifice their all for our nation…



The True Story Of The Officers and Men of The 4 Guards And Its Indomitable Commanding Officer – Lt Col Himmat Singh {later, Lt Gen Himmat Singh PVSM Retd}. The 4 Guards were among the first units to enter Dhaka during the 1971 war. This is their true story and history – told by the people who created the aforesaid history!

  • Lt Col Himmat Singh
  • Major V Uppal
  • Major Chandra Kant
  • Major S.P. Marwah
  • Major I. P. Kharbanda
  • Major A. S. Chouhan
  • Major V. K. Dewan
  • Captain Surinder Singh
  • 2nd Lieutenant B. B. Midha
  • Guardsman Nahar Singh
  • And many others… 

This is their story… embellished, teased out and filled out by the skill of Mukul Deva, himself an ex-Army Major…

The narrative is controlled by Major Mukul Deva {Retd}, and is a deeply moving and brutal account of the war as seen through the eyes of the men who fought it… this is a tour-de-force from the pen of the author, who is much better known for his fiction works. Well, this is a book that reveals a lot more about the man Mukul Deva, as well as  the retired Major. I guess it is true – you can take a man out of the Army, but you cannot take The Army out of a man…

The book is a very important contribution in the literature on Indian Wars – there are very few, with the only other mainstream book that I recall being Kargil penned by Gen VP Malik. This is a rather unfortunate reality, that there is a dearth of quality literature on our contemporary military history – a fact that is just plain indefensible! I shall explore that aspect more fully in a subsequent blogpost, so let us continue, for the moment, on our journey into the experiences of 4 Guards during 1971

The book focuses on the wartime exploits of one battalion – The 4 Guards, commanded by Lt Col Himmat Singh, an officer who subsequently rose to the rank of Lt Gen. It takes a unique approach – one which is laudable as well as exceptionally powerful. It tells the story through the memories of the soldiers who actually fought the war. The  plot is unfolded in a meeting of the war veterans, who reminisce about the sequence of events, interspersed with a normal story-telling style. The combination is powerful – it takes you into the trenches of the war, and into the minds of the soldiers. For the first time, you get a glimpse of the mind of a soldier as he rushed towards what may be certain death!

For the first time in my life at least, I have got a glimpse of what it takes for a man to go to war. For the first time, I get a glance into the mind  of a soldier. And this is done in what I can only call an extraordinarily adroit fashion, which takes nothing away from the pace of the story, and in fact adds to the story as well as helps in creating the right atmosphere. I have read other war books – Russian, and Western; but not one comes even remotely close to this one. Not even close. 

This is a story whose narrative is controlled by the author – but is told by the men who actually fought the war. This is a story of the war as it was fought, as it happened – not as a post-mortem, or a statement of historical events told in an impersonal manner. This is a first-person account, nostalgic yet racy and fast-paced, full of emotions, feelings, rage, honour, disgust and nostalgia all rolled into one. That is what makes this book a tour-de-force; the style adopted by the author has many, many advantages, a few of which have been mentioned above. The author lets his feelings, his  thoughts, his emotions and his analyses seep into the narrative in places, strategically chosen in the plot; these act as powerful punches that hit you straight in the gut, leaving you at a complete loss for words or response. 

Yet another factor that hits you – and hits you very, very, hard – is the blunt and factual telling of wartime wounds, deaths, killings etc in an unedited form, as is. At that time, you realise what war really is – unlike the other honour and glory-filled movies and books.  This is not a sunday morning walk through the park; this is war. Real war, brutally narrated in all its glory as well as gore. The justification for the war is also present; making it a complete picture. 

The difference in the two armies – our Indian Army and the Pakistani Army has been clearly brought out in a few telling episodes, and a few authors’ thoughts. The stark difference in the two makes for chilling reading from the POV of  a civilian. For instance, sample this thought from the author, in the context of a short but graphic description of the brutalities carried out by the Pakistani Army in Bangladesh : 

The anguish in his voice was raw to this day. I tried to visualise what he had described, and failed. My mind could not grasp such a reality. I tried to understand the pain and horror they must have experienced, but in vain. But then I correlated it with the news of the day, when Pakistani soldiers beheaded an Indian soldier, and I could easily see that the Pakistani Army had lost its soul a long time ago. This is not the way soldiers behave. Warriors the world over live by a code of conduct, and such animal behaviour is not part of it. There can be little hope for the nation when its Army {its pride and glory} stoops to such bestial behaviour

The book is filled with such brutal indictments of the Pakistani Army, which are nearly impossible to refute. And yet, they are narrated in a manner that fail to ignite anger; only an indefinable sadness. The picture you get is of an amoral and soulless force without any link to human decency, as even recent events like the torture of Capt Kalia and his men bear testimony to. It also lays bare the hatred that the Pakistani Army has for India, as well as the fact that this is not a new post-1971 phenomenon. It lays bare in no uncertain terms what our India has been through – for no fault of ours. Just because we have a neighbour filled with rage and amorality!

This is a book that will shake you to the core of your existence with its powerful narrative, and force anyone with any notions of peace with Pakistan in the near future to face the reality that is the Pakistan Army, its animal instincts and inhuman behaviour, its lack of control and honour, and its soullessness. This is not something you will  find in other books, especially western books with their toned-down and one-sided narratives. 

Coming back to the narrative, this books helps you understand how India pulled of what the London Sunday Times called : “It took only 12 days for the Indian Army to smash its way to Dacca, an achievement reminiscent of the German Blitzkrieg across France in 1940. The strategy was the same : speed, ferocity and flexibility“. Although this is not a story of the 1971 war, you get a fuller appreciation of how the Indian Army pulled off the impossible, through ingenuity, courage, leadership, camaraderie, raw guts and inhuman hard work. You understand this through the stunning exploits of this battalion during the war. It is a story of how Indians overcame the numerous shortcomings that faced them, and, with classic Indian ingenuity and bravery, achieved the impossible. For that is what is was : Impossible. 

Read this book to understand how The Indian Army made the impossible, possible. Read this book to understand the sky-high standards of honour, valour, integrity, decency and professionalism that define The Indian Armed Forces. Read this book to truly feel what they go through for us… and, in the epilogue, read to find out just how atrocious is our treatment of these heroes and their families… something documented only recently by NDTV as well, in another case!

But, most importantly, read this book to understand how The Indian Army made the impossible, possible

This is a book that can be the core of a superb war movie script… 

Book Review : The Brave – Param Vir Chakra Stories

Published September 3, 2014 by vishalvkale

Param Vir Chakra (PVC) is the highest gallantry award for officers and other enlisted personnel of all military branches of India for the highest degree of valour in the presence of the enemy. Introduced on 26th January 1950, this award may be given posthumously. Literally, Param Vir Chakra means ‘Wheel (or Cross) of the Ultimate Brave’. In Sanskrit, ‘Param means Ultimate, ‘Vir (Pronounced veer) means Brave and ‘Chakra means Wheel.

The current book in question fills, in my humble opinion, a major gap in our literature : a mainstream book on the recipients of the Paramvir Chakra, their deeds, their bravery and their life story. This is a stunning but completely true fact – at least insofar-as my experience in concerned – that we do  not know much beyond the names of a few of these awesome brave men who did the impossible; or rather, who made the impossible possible. This book is about them, about their lives and their deeds. 

Who was Flying Officer Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon? What exactly did he do? Who was Captain Vikram Batra? Just what did he do that was so awesome? Who was Lieutenant Manoj Pandey? What were his precise actions, his exact deeds that led to his PVC? How did he do it? Who was Major Somnath Sharma? Lieutenant Colonel Tarapore? 2nd-Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal? Naik Jadunath Singh? Subedar Joginder Singh? Havaldar Abdul Hamid? Lance Naik Albert Ekka?

Read about how one man led  90 against a 900-strong enemy; and won. Read about how one man defeated 35 enemy soldiers. Read about how a brave soldier, stomach ripped open, kept fighting. Read about how a single unit, without artillery support, armed with Rifles, held off an enemy armed with Machine Guns, Artillery and Mortar. Read about how a young man refused to be evacuated from a burning tank, faced certain death, but did not flinch from his duty. 

Read all this and more, and realise that what these people – not just the PVC winners but also the entire Indian Armed Forces did, and have done in every war, every exchange of fire – was something special, something extraordinary, something superhuman; something that has no logical explanation. There can be no other explanation for some of the absolutely unbelievable stories that leap out of the book; it is simply beyond human comprehension… these weren’t / aren’t normal; they are special… Men India needed alive;; but Men who, by choice, laid their lives, for our India…

There is only one sad part about it : This compilation, this stupendous effort has come from the wife of a serving Army Officer; a person closely connected with Army Life, and thus naturally exposed to and emotionally connected with these people. This stunning book, which should rightly have been done by someone outside the Armed Forces, has been put together by the family of a Army Officer. Why did it not occur to anyone else to put together this work? Why did we have to wait so long for someone from the Armed Forces for this one-of-a-kind masterpiece? Permissions could have been obtained, approvals sought. Why, indeed? We do respect these soldiers – in fact, all soldiers. That is known. We do have an emotional connect with their sacrifices… and yet, no substantive effort to take their stories to the masses has happened. Why? 

Anyways, be that as it may, the book is a true masterpiece, as it is a stunning piece of research, and the effort shows. The task – that of putting together the stories of the sacrifices in graphic detail from 1948 onwards, deep form the mists of time – talking anyone and everyone who may have known about the true stories. The Author has used army reports, colleagues, Commanding Officers, Juniors – every possible source has been gone into, involving a considerable amount of effort. 

This is not a mere compilation of facts, and a retelling of official reports from the archives; each PVC recipient’s story is a vivid recreation of that day, as well as the events leading upto the day of the deed. Each PVC recipient comes alive in front of your eyes, and becomes much more than just a name on a book page, a name from history. The explanation helps you to understand the context of the sacrifice, as well as what it helped achieve; and the background detailing of the hero brings that character reality, and creates a vivid impact. 

You are left with an unreal feeling, and in a state of utter disbelief as you read of the tremendous and superhuman deeds of not just the single Hero, but the entire unit in battle, and feel a deep pride, a deeper gratitude and the deepest possible respect for these men of flesh and blood who put their own lives on the line; men who did what seemed impossible, men who challenged, and overcame the impossible… for what they achieved was impossible! This is a book that every Indian must read, a book that should be required reading in schools…

I cannot express it any better than this in words; read the book to be stunned into speechlessness and total awe of these unbelievable Great Men… Respect, Sir… Respect from a stunned Indian…  

Note : I have sourced this book from Badshah Book Store, Zanjeerwaalaa Chowk, Indore; I did not spot it; it was suggested to me by the said book store owner. Thank you, sir!

Do We Have Our Priorities Right?

Published August 25, 2014 by vishalvkale

Do We, As A People, Have Our Priorities Right?

This seems, at first glance, a strange – if not outright stupid – question to  ask. Especially considering that we together have just voted out a Government that hadn’t covered itself in glory. With the way events are seemingly coming together into a whole, an undivided and clear whole with a clear direction, giving the nation renewed hope and vigour, and driving up sentiment in nearly every sector that we care to examine; any question of misplaced priorities seems far-fetched at best, and pessimistic thinking at worst. 

I do not deny that the steps taken by this Government have been, by and large, excellent and welcome, despite a few worries here and there. We seem to have in place a much better Government than the previous one, for which we should be thankful. Credit where credit is due. This article does not intend to cast any aspersions on the Government at the center. The point is not the Government; it is we, the people. 

How do we set our priorities? How do we collectively prioritise the importance of things on a national scale? Do we actually place the correct importance on the most vital aspects that need Governance? Or do we get distracted by the non-essential, or sub-optimal, or less vital matters? I wish I could state that we set our priorities in the right order. But that is a statement that I must deny in its totality, based on current and present evidence. 

Among the challenges facing the Indian Nation are Education, Health, Defense Preparedness, Economy and Governance. On each of these parameters, there is a clear absence of the proper perspective and priority, based on the national discourse in Media, Social Media, Newspapers and Discussions with the Person On The Street. To be frank, not one of these topics is on the discussion or even attention of the populace at large. The standard statement I run across is “Achhe Din Aayenge, Intezaar Karo“. But very, very few people I have met have attempted to analyse how will these good days come about? And what needs to be done to realise them? And fewer still realise the power of a national discourse on these matters, and its ability to impact the national policy in these matters. 

We tend to eulogise and go gaga over some simple changes, and blow them out of all proportion. A case in point is a recent headline of how the Government staff is now coming in on time. This, a matter of basic discipline in offices, is touted as an achievement by the people and the Media; something NaMo, the Man Himself,  finds ludicrous. I understand the frustration and the sense of elation that is inevitable, that at last we have a leader who is now thinking of accountability among the Governmental staff. 

This, and other such cosmetic and minor changes, are hyped up; which is not bad – a nation that was used to uncaring public servants needed this elation and this sense of liberation. That is beyond  question. Positivity drives positivity. Similar are other streamlining measures that have been taken by this Government – each decision and step being in itself a generally highly laudable and praiseworthy step. Similar is the case in the economy, or most other sectors. At last, there is a sense of direction and a feeling of hope, which is frankly vital. 

The question is whether we should remain satisfied with such unimportant and cosmetic changes, and continue with our lives – or should we now set about raising the bar a notch {several notches, in fact}, and begin demanding what is ours by right : Education, Health, Defense etc? We have a Government that is set on proving its superiority over the previous one, and has taken some right steps. Rather than allow it to rest on its laurels, we should raise the level of our expectations, which does not seem to be happening. 

There have been no real reforms undertaken, or even indicated, by this Government as on date. If they are in the pipeline, I as a public member am not aware of them. Be it the Economy or the Education sector – nothing has been heard of real change. The major economic reforms are still stymied; in education, there is no hint of a focus on primary and secondary education. There is no hint of a war on corruption, with only the odd mention of an investigation or success in Swiss Banks or such like. Police and Administrative reforms are still not mentioned, while interestingly, the Government shows haste in Judicial Reforms. And we accept all this in silence. 

More worrying is the status of the Armed Forces. Report after Report has clearly pointed out the worrying state of the Arms and Ammunition of the Armed Forces of India. Several Armed Forces officers have spoken about it in no uncertain terms. We are short on Ammunitions,  Arms, Weapons Delivery Systems etc in a range of areas. This is public knowledge, well reported and covered. 

And yet, there is no hint of concern in the public, no hint of questioning the Government, or telling / informing our political leaders through various means available to us. There is no hint of any pressure on this Government, which has shown precious little signs of taking the much needed basic corrective measures, and seems to be by all reports on a fire-fighting mode, ignoring the structural corrections that need to be taken – like increasing GDP spend on Education and Health, Defense; Appointing the CDS, Reforming MoD, and many other basic structural corrections that are needed. 

I have heard conversations,  read WhatsApp messages, read social media updates and posts, read articles on mainstream media on any number of lesser important issues, but precisely nothing on these matters. I have read and felt the pride and joy of The Ganga Arti {Yes, I liked it, too}, I have felt the pride and joy of a Prime Minister kneeling on the steps of the Parliament, and touching his head to the ground; I have read  about how good days will come, I have read reels about the PMs  good deeds, and so on and so forth. I have read right-wing Hindu messages, which focus on the frankly peripheral matter of a Hindu revival; I have read pages upon pages of the discipline in public servants; I have read volumes on how Pakistan and USA have been put in their place. 

But I have heard nothing – repeat, nothing – on any of these vital parameters identified above, or indeed any number of other important matters that need national attention. Why dont we circulate messages, updates, write articles etc on what our nation really needs? Why are we as a people abdicating our responsibilities as responsible citizens? Why is being a Hindu PM deemed more important than being a performing PM? Why not circulate messages on these vital parameters, as we do other messages to “awaken” people, say, on WhatsApp, of the kind we normally send? If we can send messages on say, something offensive to our religion {which we do}, why cant we also send messages etc on these vital parameters? 

Our sad and unfortunate penchant of focusing on the unimportant and the peripheral over serious matters is a cause of worry. Do we prioritise, say,  protecting the tenets of our religion over that of the nation? Do we prioritise  simple basic discipline over hardcore reforms? Why doesnt the status of the Armed Forces create much passion in our minds and hearts as do other less important things, like religion, or an Arti, or tackling a foreign nation, or kneeling in front of parliament? Is this right? Do we have our priorities right? 

The NDA, Its 10 Points, Public Expectations, And Our Armed Forces

Published June 12, 2014 by vishalvkale

The NDA Government has just announced a series of focus area, or a to-do list, if you will. This is a great beginning, a start – at least a roadmap is in place. Reams have been written on this, so I will not write on these 10 points, but rather on what else needs to be done on a priority. But first, let us take a look at these 10 points

  1. Food Inflation
  2. Economy
  3. Jobs
  4. Taxes
  5. Reforms
  6. Agriculture
  7. Reviving Manufacturing
  8. Infrastructure
  9. Energy Security
  10. Urbaniszation

Sounds good… if they can pull it off. Time will tell. The key lies in overcoming Centre-State Issues, legal blockages, Public Interests Petitions that will surely follow if proper land acquisition is not done, meaning Land Acquisition law needs to be dealt with. As someone I know  {Mr Mohankrishnan R} pointed out, “Money being no excuse it is the question of speedy planning, land acquisitions, addressing environmental considerations and executing the projects on time. It is not unreasonable to assume that the present government will measure itself to these requirements. ” Can they pull it off without Police, Adminstrative and Judicial Reforms? I dont think so. And the news on all 3 is total silence, while the nation continues to hurtle towards a precipice.

Because, the moment you get into Land Acquisition, you run into the Land Mafia, Local vested interests, protests of affected people, etc – all requiring extensive administrative and police reforms. If anything, the news on that is disturbing, with recent events confirming the total lack of any movement on these vital reforms. You cannot expect fairplay in these matters without a free police, fast court redressal, and a fair reasonably incorruptible administration that is not hand in glove with local vested interests. And, if perchance these forces come together in unhealthy ways – you are staring at another andolan. Can the NDA do it?

Let us see. I reserve comment – except to state that I am skeptical. Without tackling the powerful vested interests, desired results will not flow. Sure, improvement will be there – no issues. But dont expect magic; it will be turbulent, and hard fought all the way. Might succeed, might fail. Let us see 

The single most problem area for this Government is high public expectation – if they do not deliver…  The writing is on the wall. And the public wont be looking for steady improvements – they will be on the lookout for a transformation. When passions run high, expectations go through the roof. Their biggest challenge is managing expectation – which is going to be impossible, any which way you look at it. Unless they can find a way to reign in inflation in the next quarter or two – which is a very, very tall order indeed. The most optimistic of estimates are looking at cooling inflation over a period of 8 quarters. This is in terms of public expectations

Stock markets are running amok; People are making big plans and talking big; Big Foreign players have suddenly become bullish about India; Nations have a fresh approach; people are running a fever… these expectations will have to be managed, if not met – through action, clear and transparent communication. So far, the NDA is spot-on in communication, at least. That is a big plus.

I cannot recall any such period of euphoria in the past 2 decades or more. The key is managing these expectation – India cannot afford to fall short. NDA has to deliver – and is HAS to manage these expectations properly. How will they do it? They have this initial period to strike gold. The Budget will be the key for a lot of reasons. For more reasons than one. That is one document that is the most awaited one.

The other aspect that is left is the needs of India’s Armed Forces. The Armed Forces need a massive infusion of funds, as they are in dire need of any number of systems. That will require money. This is one requirement that cannot be put off. They also require a relook at organisation, with steps like a CDS, and other needed interventions. Defence Procurement needs a thorough revision, while border infrastructure needs urgent refurbishment. A first step seems to have been taken, with the intention to clear the Fighter Acquisition within the next few months, while today’s reports show an intent to simplify road construction in border regions. This is heartening.

And this will be the litmus test for me as a person – I, despite being a person interested in Business and Economy, will be watching one thing, and one thing only – what is the NDA Government’s plan to refurbish the Armed Forces? And by when? I will be watching concrete measures taken, not words. The reason for this is simple – with the status the Armed Forces are in – they need the help on a priority, to ensure our continued security. This is best done when both our threats are in no condition to mount an offensive – covert or overt. Pakistan is neck deep in trouble, and China is currently locked into the USA-Japan-SE Asia triangle while fighting internal fires on the growth front. We have a few clear years in front of us, and it needs to be utilised. The UPA ignored these points – if the NDA goes the same way, and does not solve the Armed Forces problems, the intent will be clear. Let us see. if they are UPA-3 in another form, or really NDA. Time will tell  I hope, for India’s sake, that they deliver – my fingers are crossed… All the very best, GoI!