Monday, January 21, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



George Fernandes must apologise to the whole nation

The remarks made by Defence Minister George Fernandes regarding answers given by Gen Padmanabhan, Chief of the Army Staff, during a press conference on January 10, were highly inappropriate, lacked decorum and maturity. The General amply emphasised that “it will be a mad man who thinks of using nuclear weapons and these are only meant as a deterrent.”

It is his business to reiterate absolutely and unambiguously the Indian doctrine, which is that India will not be the first to use such weapons but will retaliate fully in case any adversary dares to use them first. Needless to say that for such a repost, second strike capability is a must. Such unambiguous statement of intent at the level of the COAS, who also happens be the head of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, is an extremely important part of nuclear deterrence.

General Musharraf has let loose psychological warfare and is miles ahead of the Indian leadership in this regard. He has the temerity to use words like “lay off” towards the Indian leadership and get away with it. When and if the “balloon goes up”, as breaking of hostilities is called in military lingo, it will be Gen Padmanabhan, the other Service Chiefs and the uniformed military who will be pitted against Musharraf, the Pak COAS. George Fernandes and the like will only be making speeches. It is so essential for our military top hierarchy to keep Musharraf and co in proper place by using the language that he best understands. What Gen Padmanabhan said and the way he said were the need of the hour and most appropriate.


Mr Fernandes obviously lacks the decorum and courtesies to deal with the disciplined defence forces. The episode of sacking of Admiral Bhagwat, the then Chief of Naval Staff, bears ample testimony. He is used to leading agitated workers to create anarchy and has had no experience in interacting with a class of our society whose whole ethos is based on being firm but fair and courteous. He must never forget that he is dealing with officers and gentlemen, who are gagged by military discipline and the oath they have taken. He should not take this as weakness and belittle them in public.

It is not difficult to imagine, how pleased Musharraf must be to see what is going on at the top echelon of the Indian defence setup. The Raksha Mantri, therefore, needs to make amends and tender an apology to the whole nation, for not showing due deference and courtesy to the views expressed by the nation’s Chief of Army Staff, the seniormost military personality of the country, on operational matters, particularly at a time when our troops are deployed operationally against Pakistan.

Lt Gen HARBHAJAN SINGH (retd), Chandigarh

George at it again: Mr Fernandes is trying to run the country’s almost 1.5 million armed forces as a trade union, with the service chiefs as some sort of faction leaders in that union, and to be “chided” by any “tom, dick and harry” politician is the surest way of lowering the morale of the armed forces leadership. Also, such attitudes provide the motivation for politicisation amongst the rank and file.

In his press conference, the Army Chief kept himself well within the Government’s own pronouncements on the country’s nuclear policy. Of course, the General said whatever he had to exactly the way an Army Chief should! After all he is not supposed to be a politician. So, what was there for the minister to chide the Army Chief about? This business of “chiding” service chiefs in public by Defence Ministers, duly played up by the media, is becoming bit of a joke. It is to the good luck of our politicians and bureaucrats that India’s service chiefs, nay the whole service community, is far too well disciplined and patriotic, which permits the politicians and bureaucrats to play God Almighty.

Surely, the Army Chief is not required to obtain the Defence Minister’s clearance or to submit a script of his press conference. On the other hand, it is Mr Fernandes who needs to obtain his PM’s clearance before uttering anything in public, on any issue and anywhere! Or, perhaps Mr Fernandes felt upstaged by the Army Chief “talking” about matters nuclear before his own trip to the USA and his press conference preceding it.

The minister has done enough damage already by trying to be a field commander and conveying the feeling amongst the rank and file that only he as their political head can do something for them and not their commanders in uniform. Fernandes, as political head of his ministry, must learn to confine himself to his main function, i.e. to serve the armed forces by ensuring that the wherewithal is made available to the Service Chiefs to keep the services operationally fit and well looked after. And, in so doing fulfil his overall charter to the nation as its Defence Minister.

Mr Fernandes would also do well by himself and the country if he were to learn that the armed forces thrive on a meticulous dress code. His inappropriate and shabby apparel is an embarrassment not only to the armed forces but to the whole nation when he so proceeds to represent India. Surely if the PM, the HM and the FM can be appropriately dressed, for the occasion and place, so should the country’s Defence Minister!

Lastly, let Mr Fernandes not forget that “anybody” can be a Defence Minister but “anybody” cannot be a Second Lieutenant, much less a Chief in the armed forces.

Maj Gen K. KHORANA (retd), Panchkula

Thoughtless: It is well known that Mr Fernandes is in the habit of shooting from the mouth without thinking, and this time he has put his foot in his mouth again. He (supposedly being the Defence Minister) should know the esteem in which the troops hold their Chief and to publicly speak against the Chief of the Army Staff would only serve to lower the troops’ morale. To think and say that the Chief of the Army Staff is an irresponsible person who speaks “in a cavalier manner” only reflects the demented thinking of the Defence Minister.

It has been said that “a nation that does not honour its dead warriors will perish” and this would seem particularly true in case of India where self-serving politicians rule the roost. Why would any soldier want to die for his country when he knows that his sacrifice will go in vain and his family back home will be left to fend for themselves, and even though these politicians announce ex gratia payments or other compensation, most of it never reaches the family and is pocketed by the very same politicians.

The armed forces of India are most probably the only institutions where people join and work because they believe in what they do, and not for just monetary gains. And the kind of “respect” shown to soldiers by these politicians and all the rest is downright disgraceful. Everyone remembers the soldier during war-time, but after the war is over, everything is forgotten, all the sacrifices, all the dead, all forgotten! Till the next war, when suddenly everyone remembers the valiant soldiers.

During the Kargil war everybody was being very patriotic but now, two years later, has anyone even bothered to see what has become of the families whose men who sacrificed themselves so that the rest of India could sleep peacefully at night. I daresay not!

A nation that does not remember its past is doomed to relive it.

HARKIRAT SINGH, by e-mailTop

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