Thursday, January 17, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



Chiding Army Chief grossly inappropriate

It is very unusual for the Army Chief to hold a press conference, particularly when the defence forces are fully deployed and a near war situation exists on the border. Undoubtedly, he must have held the press conference at the bidding of his minister. He was asked some very searching questions, including the one related to the possible use of nuclear weapons by an opponent in the event of a war.

His reply to this question was unambiguous, forthright and pointed, and entirely in line with the “Indian Nuclear Doctrine” as spelled out in the document on the subject, prepared by the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB.) The document is unclassified and in public domain. Moreover, the Defence Minister himself had aired similar views a few days ago. For the minister to chide him and term his handling of the subject at the press conference as “cavalier” is most unfortunate, grossly inappropriate and against all military propriety.

Military ethos do not permit even “ticking off” of any appointment holder in the presence of his command, no matter how high ranking an officer or dignitary attempting to do so may be. This public rebuke of the Chief of the Army Staff has gravely undermined his position, especially at this juncture. In reply to another question, Gen Padmanabhan quite rightly brought out the fact that keeping the morale of the Army high was his business and that he would sustain it as high. With his own position discredited by his minister, he will find it difficult to sustain the morale of troops.


The place of the Chief of the Army Staff is unique in the military scheme of things and he must be seen, by his officers and men, as infallible and beyond reproach. Any attempt to openly denigrate him is bound to seriously compromise his position and adversely affect the implicit faith and confidence the Army must have in him. Admittedly, the Indian political class, unlike in most other countries, has no military background, but self-education on matters military is possible, at least by the Defence Minister.

On the subject of use of nuclear weapons in the Indo-Pak setting, it is imperative that no-doubt, whatsoever, is left in the minds of the Pakistani leadership that India will unhesitatingly follow in letter and in spirit the nuclear doctrine as enunciated by the NSAB. The Defence Minister may not have read the doctrine paper and may not be aware that on three previous occasions Pakistan is known to have threatened to use nuclear weapons to thwart Indian conventional force deterrence. Therefore, it was all the more necessary for the COAS to make the Indian position abundantly clear to Pakistan.

The Defence Minister has “chided” the COAS as one would a school boy. Perhaps he lacks the essential dignity, military propriety and courtesy which must go into dealing with the Chiefs of Defence Forces. His fraternising with the troops at Siachen and elsewhere has been adversely commented upon by the Press and by those aware of the sanctity of the channel of military command and the apolitical character of the Indian defence forces. One cannot help but recall the earlier sordid and disgraceful act of sacking of the Naval Chief by the government, consequent to the mishandling of the case by Mr George Fernandes.

Lieut-Gen HARWANT SINGH (retd), Chandigarh

It’s damaging: One was pleased to hear the Army Chief, popularly known as Paddey, assuring the nation and the service personnel about the military preparedness to deal with any situation, including the nuclear threat. Definitely it was a morale-raising event for which the nation was eagerly waiting for the chief was to the point, clear and confident.

But I am sorry to say that the event was short-lived due to our third rate tainted political bosses who cannot tolerate the good showing by the service heads. They have the knack of creating confusion and demoralisation. What was so objectionable that the Raksha Mantri had to chide the Army Chief publicly which I am sure did not go well with the morale of jawans.

To me it looks that it was a deliberate attempt by the Raksha Mantri to lower the prestige of the service heads amongst the service rank and file. What can be more damaging at the present times ? Could he not keep quiet for once? He has done it before with the chiefs and he has done it again.

The Raksha Mantri was more cavalier, branding his political authority. He is playing with the morale of the services. God save us from such ‘kurta-pyjama” leaders.

Brig Kuldip Singh Kang (retd), Chandigarh

Irresponsible remarks: Admonishing even an ordinary subordinate in public is bad enough. And the Army Chief is no ordinary subordinate. He commands the world’s fifth biggest army of 10 lakh troops.

Incidentally, this is the second adventure of the present Defence Minister, the first one was a full-fledged dismissal of a Naval Chief.

There have been instances of uncharitable remarks by the defence ministers from Krishna Menon onward. Sadly, we in the armed forces have been getting it, because we have been taking it.

Wg Cdr C. L. SEHGAL (retd), Jalandhar

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