Monday, March 25, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



Air Marshal Sekhon’s letter: it may be normal, but system gets damaged

Air Marshal M.S. Sekhon’s letter to Mr Parkash Singh Badal to put in a good word for him to the Prime Minister (or the Defence Minister!) for a post of power within the IAF is a very normal and common place an instance for an end-seeker within the establishment today. Mr Simranjit Singh Mann has testified that further. It almost borders on the norm in the government establishment to bypass one’s immediate and higher hierarchy and to approach a minister or a politician in power to get a posting, ad hoc promotion or a foreign jaunt.

Evocation of primordial sentiments, communal consideration, ethnic affinity or simply the gift of a meaningful packet comes handy in making the approach to the powerful. Putting pressure on one’s senior for a certain gain by the juniors has become so common that even many seniors in various government hierarchies have reconciled with this way of the world. The system damage notwithstanding, this trend is eating into the vitals of our democratic set-up too. The act of the Air Marshal cannot be condoned as a normal practice by common people like me. The common man today seems more concerned about the damage to our system the upper elite is causing.

First of all, however, normal the mistake against the conduct rules may have become in our generally corrupt society, and however, routinised the default may have become in our decrepit personal and social behaviour, they do not justify themselves only on the strength of their repetition.


There exists in the life and nature of every profession a certain social compulsion which may or may not help the professional in his personal career. A soldier’s career rests on the spirit of valour that is made of discretion and daring. Human civilisation has set certain standards for every profession. For the soldier’s, the quantum of idealism in the practice of discipline is paramount and one has to reconcile with this situation of one’s life. Adventurism of seeking political patronage, specially on communal lines in a secular society’s secular defence establishment makes no daring of a soldier but a self-seeker’s indignity of bowing before people less than God.

What Air Marshal Sekhon is now known to have done, or what others of his ilk do without getting known is a total besmirchment of officer-like qualities which are considered the best part of a positive candidate for the selection in getting the President’s commission.

Air Chief Krishnaswamy has taken as much correct an action against the defaulter of the conduct rules as Admiral Bhagwat once insisted on taking but could not.

The Indian soldiery, within and without the service uniform, salutes only those senior soldiers whose headgear is intact at the right human height.

K. LAL, ex-Corporal, IAF, Mohali

He itched for action: From the outset let me say that I do not know Air Marshal Sekhon personally. He is not my relative and does not hail from my parliamentary constituency. As a member of Parliament, my attention has been drawn towards him because of the grave injustice done to this soldier. I concede that he should not have written a letter to the previous Chief Minister for a posting to the Western Command. I also think that Mr Badal lacked the administrative acumen in forwarding this letter to the Government of India. It is also unfortunate that this letter was leaked to the Press at a time when Air Marshal Sekhon was conducting an inquiry into the alleged violation of Pakistani air space by Air Marshal Bhatia and nearly triggering off an Indo-Pak war as reported by your reporter from Delhi.

Now the question obviously arises why the letter written by Air Marshal Sekhon was made to leak at this critical juncture? Is there no security in the vaults of the Government of India that such sensitive letters are made public? Air Marshal Sekhon’s inquiry into the Air Marshal Bhatia’s serious lapse may suffer from a bias. But will the black box of that aircraft tell a lie? That is as scientific a record as any D.N.A. test would be.

As an I.P.S. officer, though dismissed from service, I can understand the behaviour of Air Marshal Sekhon in writing the letter. Some soldiers have it in their blood to serve in forward postings where the real action is. And this was only possible if Air Marshal Sekhon was posted in the Western Command. The Southern Command could have been too dull and inactive for such an officer where not even one fighter aircraft squadron is posted on a regular basis. I have read military history and lives of famous generals extensively. I recall that the famous American General Patton and the British General Montgomery always itched for forward line postings where the action was. I think like them, Air Marshal Sekhon also suffered from such an itch.

By summarily sending him on compulsory retirement, the Indian Government has brought great dishonour not only to Air Marshal Sekhon, but also to the entire Sikh community which always takes pride in martial qualities, which are a legend as military history documents stand evidence. In the murky current vitiated communal atmosphere the Sikhs will always have a grouse that one of them was not given a fair opportunity to defend himself, save his honour and get justice. I protest.


Who leaked it?: Unfortunately for Air Marshal Sekhon, the letter has been leaked out and the news blown out of all proportions. One would like to know if there is any officer in the armed forces or for that matter in the civil services who has not indulged in such activities and who has soared to his/her present height with his/her own wings? We have the history of judges having been overtaken by their juniors; we have the history of committed officers in the Defence having been marginalised and subsequently putting in their papers. Rather than blowing the news out of proportion, the emphasis should have been on tracking the culprit who has leaked the letter. This aspect is also equally important and cannot be lost sight of.

Air Marshal Sekhon is a very capable person and at this juncture we cannot afford his removal from the scene and the humiliation that he will suffer. His capabilities and amiable approach to subordinates are well known among the Air Force personnel. The much damaging and bigger Tehelka episode is still fresh in the minds of the general public which has been ignored and the minister reinstated.

ARVIND, Chandigarh


Playing with fire

Aag ko hoti nahin apne paraye ki tameez,
Baat yeh bhool gaye aag lagane wale.

Whether the poet who wrote this Urdu couplet had a pre-monition of the shape of things to come or he wrote it as an intellectual piece of thought, is not relevant. However, the couplet underlines the need for religious tolerance in our multi-racial and multi-lingual society. What happened in Gujarat is a shame for all the right-thinking persons in a civilised society. Are the custodian of law and order and powers-that-be listening?

P.M. ANAND, Chandigarh


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