A Tribune Supplement

NDA 60 Glorious Years

Chandigarh, December 7, 2008


First step in and out of the NDA
Lt-Gen Harbhajan
Singh (retd)
It was on a chilly winter dawn in January, 1949, when we arrived at the vacant, almost desolate barracks in Dehradun that housed the newly established Joint Services Wing. 

Memories of another day
I am not a product of the National Defence Academy (NDA) but had the rare privilege of being an Instructor (Military Faculty) there from 1981-1984, as a Captain/Major.

Heroes: NDA’s gift to the nation

Param Vir Chakra
n Ashok Chakra

Joint training institutions are the answer
Vijay Mohan
Defence policy built upon supposedly predictable actions of a potential adversary is a dangerous folly.

Training for leadership
The National Defence Academy is rightly called the “cradle for leadership”. Here boys (girls are not yet allowed) straight out of school get into a uniform which they take off only after they retire, a service period that covers about 35 to 45 years.

Shooting Star
The country’s first individual Olympics medal winner, Lt Col Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is an alumnus of the NDA’s 77th Course. He had won Silver in shooting in the 2004 Olympics held at Athens.

Girl who could not make it to NDA
Geetanjali Gayatri
A pebbled driveway, an imposing old English-style mansion, a nameplate announcing Lt-Col Desraj, and, inside, a picture on the mantelpiece in the drawing room — that was my maternal grandfather for me.


First step in and out of the NDA
Lt-Gen Harbhajan Singh (retd)

Lt-Gen Harbhajan Singh (retd)
Lt-Gen Harbhajan Singh (retd)

It was on a chilly winter dawn in January, 1949, when we arrived at the vacant, almost desolate barracks in Dehradun that housed the newly established Joint Services Wing.

We were excited and hopeful of a challenging career and a good life, but at that point of time did not realise that we were making history.

The Joint Services Wing, which was later re-christened as the National Defence Academy and moved to Khadakwasla, was the world’s first military institution to train officers of the three services together.

“A Monument in the Making”: Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, laying the foundation stone at Khadakwasla.
“A Monument in the Making”: Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, laying the foundation stone at Khadakwasla.

It was on the shoulders of the 190 cadets who formed up the First Course that the awesome responsibility of setting exacting standards, building up customs and traditions and laying down the institutional ethos fell.

The Course comprised youngsters from varied backgrounds and places. National integration and cohesiveness in 1949 was not to the extent it has now emerged and people knew very little about those in other parts of the country.

However, the cadets soon got to know one another, carved out their turfs, friendships blossomed and social relationships nurtured over the days to come.

Cadets experimenting on Operational Analyser.
Cadets experimenting on Operational Analyser.

In the beginning everything looked and felt very different and strange. Many things were new to us and the daily routine was tough with the day beginning early by PT and drill, followed by academic classes, workshop, service subjects, weapon training and field craft, some of which were quite interesting and enjoyable.

Till the end of World War II, military training institutions for cadets worldwide were separate for the army, navy, and air force.

One of the important lessons learnt during the World War was to have greater inter-service integration and hone the skills of the three services to fight as an integrated force.

It was therefore considered desirable to bring the cadets of the three services together right from the beginning, so that they could start developing and imbibing jointness from the very first day in uniform.

In 1941, the Government of Sudan placed a sum of Rs 14 lakh (a huge amount then) at the disposal of the Viceroy of India for building a suitable War Memorial as a token of recognition of the services and sacrifices of Indian troops in the defence of Sudan.

In 1943, Field Marshal Sir claude Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief suggested setting up an Inter-Services Academy as the National War Memorial. The Viceroy set up a committee, which included Jawaharlal Nehru as a member.

On September 22, 1945, it was decided that India should have only one academy to train officers for the three Services.

It was a very dynamic and important decision. There was no such institution even in the US or UK.

The report of the committee was approved in December 1946 and on September 23, 1947 as an interim measure, setting up of a Junior Experimental Wing of the IMA at Dehradun was sanctioned while the planning for the National War Academy at Khadakwasla continued.

The core of the Indian experiment was that youth from diverse backgrounds and beliefs would be trained together physically, psychologically and morally for sufficient time to be able to act in unison. They would live, study, work, play, win or lose together.

The camaraderie so developed in the formative years would ensure that the officers of the three services were on the friendliest terms and there was a spirit of give and take, mutual understanding and solidarity.

In later years when as senior officers they met each other in the course of their professional duties, they would not start in an atmosphere tinged with mutual suspicion, but in one enlightened with their previous knowledge of each other and common experiences and background at the JSW/NDA.

Cadets were divided into Squadrons and further grouped into Divisions and Sections. Since there were no senior cadets, a few JCO and NCO instructors made us fall in for different parades, but later the Course members were given these cadet appointments on a rotational basis.

The JSW started off with two Squadrons ‘A’ and ‘B’. A few British drill sergeants and PT instructors were brought in on deputation.

For the first few days we were in civvies with armbands bearing our academy numbers to identify us as the uniforms were being stitched.

To start with, cadets from the three Services were issued distinctive, service-specific uniforms.

However, soon this was done away with and all cadets were given a common Khaki dress, so that an atmosphere of homogeneousity and jointness prevailed.

Khakhi continues to be the NDA dress colour today. Donning the uniform marked the changeover from a civilian to a soldier.

Cadets were also issued bicycles to facilitate their movement within the campus. However, there were a couple of cadets, who did now know cycling and the poor fellows had to run from one place to another instead. Distances were not much but the trips to the firing ranges was quite tiring.

The training started from January 11, 1949. It included academic classes and the civilian professors led by the Principal, J.T.M. Gibson, were a selected lot who had come in through the UPSC, but had no experience working in military environment.

The syllabus covered very large number of subjects in both science and arts. Civilian instructors were given powers to award up to seven “puttie parades” that required a cadet to change into several uniforms within a specified period as punishment.

Some cadets indulged in mock parade state reporting and orderly room procedures in classrooms as a diversion from studies. The sick bay was a favourite place for those who wanted to relax a bit.

After about a month of our arrival, weapon training started. Gradually sports and other hobby clubs also came into existence.

The facilities were by and large comfortable and the food was good and plentiful. There was a small cinema in a converted barracks that used to screen English and Indian films.

Our British instructors were quite intrigued and amused on watching actors and actresses running around trees singing songs in Indian movies.

JSW was housed in barracks in which Italian prisoners of war were kept during World War II.

The MES must have been quite busy for months to get the barracks, living and office accommodation and mess halls into shape and to provide the necessary furnishings and ancillaries by the end of December 1948.

In the first few weeks after arrival, the cadets too picked up shovels and spades to spruce up the area around their living barracks.

No cadet could go out to town unless he had passed the dreaded Drill Square, which meant that his personal demeanour and appearance passed him off as a military cadet. Nor were bearers allowed to polish boots.

Cadets were given a pay of Rs 90 per month and after deducting mandatory expenses for services like barber, washer man etc, Rs 25 was paid, which came in quite handy.

On June 4, 1949, the then Deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel formerly inaugurated the Armed Forces Academy at a ceremonial parade at Clement Town. Cadets of both ISW and Military Wing took part.

A month later, cadets forming the Second Course arrived and it was a big event. We were eagerly awaiting for the juniors to arrive and put them through their paces and initiate the new arrivals to the military ways. “C” and “D” Squadrons were added.

Considerable ragging took place but within a short period both the courses developed good rapport and friendships.

The First Course produced some outstanding military leaders as well as sportsmen. Gen S F Rodrigues, Admiral L. Ramdas and Air Chief Marshal N.C. Suri who headed their respective services at about the same time in the early 1990s, were from the same Course, which is a rare occurrence.

Two members of the course, Rear Admiral R.P. Sawhney and Air Marshal Didar Singh, rose to become the Commandants of their alma mater.

Three officers from the Course were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra in the 1971 war — R.M. Vohra and Hanut Singh while commanding armoured regiments in the Shakargarh Sector and K.S. Pannu while leading his Para battalion in the famous air-drop over Tangail for the march into Dacca.

On January 26, 1950, when India became a republic, a big function was held in the evening. Normally at formal dinner nights, English food would be served, but for the first time Indian food was on the menu at such an occasion.

On November 23, a ceremonial parade was held at the Military Wing for laying-up the King’s Colours of Indian Regiments, in which JSW cadets also took part.

The Passing out Parade was perhaps our most significant moment and a historic event for the institution. To us it meant that we had crossed an important milestone in our career path successfully.

The PoP for 172 cadets was held on 8 December 1950 thus marking the successful completion of the training of first batch of the first ever inter-service academy anywhere in the World. Quite a landmark in the soldiering history of the World and lives of 1st “J” cadets.!!

General (later Field Marshal) K.M. Cariappa, the first Indian chief of the Indian Army took the salute. Wing Cadet Captain Ashok Datta commanded the parade.

Datta (A-26) had the distinction of being the first ever cadet who got “A” rating at the Service Selection Board.

The SSB took this as a case study and monitored Ashok’s career while he was at the JSW, later IMA and thereafter.

He proved the SSB rating right, as he became the Academy Cadet Captain in JSW, won the President’s Gold Medal for being the best allround cadet and later repeated the same at IMA also.

Unfortunately, his brilliant career was cut short when he passed away at a young age while he was only a Lieutenant-Colonel.

The PoP was a nostalgic event as cadets of the three services were to go different ways. Everyone was looking forward for a short break and taking up the next phase of training.

The Army cadets had to march only a few miles away to the Indian Military Academy. The Air Force cadets were eager to take to the skies, but perhaps the Navy cadets were the happiest as they were to proceed to England for further training.

The concept of NDA that aimed to bring the cadets of the three services together right from the beginning has stood the test of time, both during peace as well as war over a period of over half a century.

The First Course and subsequent ones have shown great joint services spirit. One has to just ask, “Are you NDA?” and then all the barriers vanish and every thing falls in place.

— As told to Vijay Mohan

(Lt-Gen Harbhajan Singh is from the First Course and retired as Signals Officer-in-Chief at Army Headquarters)

Memories of another day

Maj-Gen Raj Mehta (retd)
Maj-Gen Raj Mehta (retd)

I am not a product of the National Defence Academy (NDA) but had the rare privilege of being an Instructor (Military Faculty) there from 1981-1984, as a Captain/Major.

As I look back, my NDA tenure stands out as the most memorable in my 38-year-long career.

The NDA story for my family began when three of my four brothers joined it over the years, each giving his own unique colour to the ethos that the NDA had rubbed off on them; converting them almost overnight from callow youth to smart, suave, self assured, supremely fit and capable men.

The joy and ecstasy after the passing-out parade.
The joy and ecstasy after the passing-out parade.

I did not join the NDA because I had ambitions of joining the IFS and thought the Army to be a plebeian option. However, dreams and reality don’t often match.

Becoming aware on leaving school that the rules permitted one to appear for the IAS/IFS after a five-year short service stint in the Army, I opted to do so; getting commissioned in 1969.

This was when my second association with the NDA began, this time, more personal, and emotional. In September 1971, it was clear to the Indian Army that we were going to war with Pakistan.

Just before we mobilised for moving to the border in J&K, my Regiment played a closely contested basketball match with The Poona Horse, a sister Cavalry regiment.

Playing for Poona Horse was my friend, Lt Arun Khetarpal, who had just joined from the NDA.

Still to do his Young Officers’ Course, he was an average player but a wonderful friend; shy, intense, very driven. Given his movie star looks, his tall, lithe frame, his deportment and his self-effacing conduct, he endeared himself to all.

That evening, we met at his Officers Mess. Arun surprised all present by suddenly announcing that, in the coming war; he would die and would be rewarded for gallantry. Something in his demeanour made me believe his premonition.

Deployed across the Basantar River on 16 December 1971, a few kilometres away from his battle, I heard his last radio message.

Mortally injured and bleeding, he radioed his squadron commander: “No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My gun is still working and I will get these ......”

He did, dying as he knocked off his fourth Patton tank. He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously. He was the embodiment of the spirit of the NDA.

The 1971 War was unique for my family too. The Army advanced on three thrusts during the Bangladesh War. I had one ex NDA brother on each thrust.

The youngest, Narender, got wounded by grenade shrapnel while charging a Pakistani bunker with his brave Garhwalis and was cited for gallantry.

He then had two weeks of service. Shammi, the elder, was Mentioned in Despatches. Balli, a Cavalier like Shammi and I, was also cited for gallantry.

In 1981, I was shocked to receive my posting to the NDA as an Instructor. By an unwritten convention, only ex NDA officers are posted there. I was amongst the privileged few who broke this convention as I was an “outsider”.

I remember standing in front of Arun Khetarpal’s portrait in Sudan Block, where the bravest of the brave are eternally sequestered within frames of gold-rimmed portraits; testimony to the Academy’s motto of Service Before Self and a source of deathless inspiration.

I took an oath then, that I would honour the NDA spirit in all I did in my military career. In subsequent command of my Regiment, a Rashtriya Rifles Sector in Kashmir, an Armoured Brigade, a Division on the Line of Control in Kashmir, I never forgot this pledge.

When I lay seriously wounded on the snow after an encounter with terrorists in South Kashmir in 1998, I remembered Narender’s gutsy ‘spirit of NDA’ at Hilli and slogged on.

West Point, the United States Military Academy after which NDA is modeled, has a poignant unofficial motto: “Much of the history we teach was made by soldier’s we taught.” One realises how true the motto is for the NDA too.

Much of modern India’s military history has been written by bravehearts like Arun Khetarpal who departed NDA’s portals carrying the torch held by Tanaji Malusare, the General for whom Shivaji, in February 1670, paid the ultimate eulogy: ‘Garh Ala pan Sinh Gela’ (I have got the Fort but have lost my Lion).

The Sinhgad Fort today oversees the NDA spirit physically and metaphorically. The 26/29 November terror strike at Mumbai yet again saw the NDA spirit on display in the ultimate sacrifice paid by young Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, an ex NDA whose heroic death paved the way to the NSG’s success.

To me, the spirit of the NDA is one export to fellow citizens all over India that the Academy would be proud of. Its embodiment lies in the NDA motto of Service Before Self.

I teach Leadership, Ethics and Values at FLAME, a leading MBA/ BBA University at Pune. I teach the boys and girls the spirit of the NDA. Their staggering response is a salute to the NDA and its deathless bravehearts.

Heroes: NDA’s gift to the nation
Param Vir Chakra

DCC Gurbachan Singh Salaria (10th NDA ‘B’ Squadron) was commissioned into 3/1 Gorkha Rifles in December 1956. In 1961, the battalion formed part of UN troops stationed in Congo.

The UN Headquarters in Elizabethville was in imminent danger of encirclement and attack by the local gendarmerie.

A tactical roadblock had been established by the enemy. The task of clearing this roadblock was assigned to his battalion.

From left: Capt GS Salaria, 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal, Capt Manoj Kumar Pandey.
From left: Capt GS Salaria, 2/Lt Arun
Khetarpal, Capt Manoj Kumar Pandey.

In the ensuing battle, Capt Salaria with two sections of Gorkhas and two Swedish APCs, led the assault against a well entrenched numerically superior enemy, supported by two armoured cars.

The final charge with bayonet and khukris completely unnerved the enemy who ran away leaving forty dead.

Hit by a burst of automatic fire in his neck and bleeding profusely, Capt Salaria continued leading the charge till he collapsed.

For this valiant act, the country’s highest war honour, the Param Vir Chakra, was bestowed upon him.

SCC Arun Khetarpal (38th NDA ‘F’ Squadron) was commissioned into 17 Horse in June 1971. In December 1971, the regiment was in the Western sector where Indian and Pakistani troops were in battle array.

On December 16, 17 Horse joined battle with the enemy’s 8 Armoured Brigade. During the course of battle, 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal, leading his troops overran the enemy, reorganised and launched a second attack with an armoured squardron.

Ten enemy tanks were destroyed in the fierce tank battle which followed, four of them by the determined young Lieutenant.

His tank then receive a direct hit and burst into flames. Though severely wounded, he refused to abandon his tank.

With grim resolve he set about the task of destroying the remaining enemy tanks. The last one he shot was barely a hundred metres away.

The Lieutenant and his tank erupted in a final blaze of glory after a second direct hit on the turret. Thus ended the glorious saga of a brave young warrior.

A grateful nation conferred upon him the nation’s supreme honour for gallantry and heroism beyond the call of duty.

Cdt Manoj Kumar Pandey (90th NDA ‘M’ Squadron) was commissioned into 1/11 Gorkha Rifles. On 2/3 July 1999, the battalion was involved in the Battle of Khalubar in the Kargil sector.

Capt Manoj Kumar Pandey led his men in exemplary fashion and displayed extraordinary valour and courage in recapturing the Juber Top from the enemy.

He accomplished the assigned task with a display of astute leadership and raw courage. He led his men from the front and surged ahead despite the hail of bullets and accurate enemy fire from a commanding position.

The assault culminated in a hand-to-hand combat wherein he was grievously injured. With utter disregard for personal safety, he led his men by example and recaptured the post before succumbing to his injuries sustained during the operation.

He was awarded the nation’s highest martial honour for upholding cherished ideals and displaying raw courage under fire.

Ashok Chakra

Cdt Rakesh Sharma (35th NDA ‘J’ Squadron) was commissiond into the Indian Air Force. He underwent rigorous training with his Soviet counterparts in preparation for his space odyssey.

On April 3, 1984 he became the first Indian to orbit the earth. In space, he carried out scientific experiments with dexterity and excellence.

He was hailed as a hero of the Soviet Union and was awarded the ‘Order of Lenin’ and the ‘Gold Star Medal’.

He has carved a niche for himself in the roll of honour of space heroes and brought glory to the nation.

From left: Wg Cdr Rakesh Sharma, 2/Lt Rakesh Singh, Col NJ Nair, Maj RK Joon.
From left: Wg Cdr Rakesh Sharma, 2/Lt Rakesh Singh,
Col NJ Nair, Maj RK Joon.

For his contribution to the nation and for his act of bravery he was conferred the ‘Ashok Charka’.

Cdt Rakesh Singh (79th NDA ‘B’ Squadron) was commissioned into 22 Grenadiers. In 1992, 22 Grenadiers were deployed in the J and K sector for Counter Insurgency operations.

On December 5, 1992, 2nd Lt Rakesh Singh, officiating Company Commander ‘B’ Copy, was assigned the task of cutting off the escape route of eight fleeing Afghan Mujahideen, flushed out during operations.

In the process, exemplifying the spirit of aggressiveness, he single handedly killed five of the retreating Mujahideen before succumbing to fatal injuries sustained during the operation.

From left: Capt AS Jasrotia, 2/Lt PN Dutt, Maj Sudhir Kumar, Capt Harshan R.
From left: Capt AS Jasrotia, 2/Lt PN Dutt,
Maj Sudhir Kumar, Capt Harshan R.

In recognition of his brave and selfless act he was awarded the nation’s highest peace-time gallantry award, the ‘Ashok Chakra’.

Cdt N. J. Nair (38th NDA ‘I’ Squadron) was commissioned into 16 Maratha Light Infantry. In 1993, 16 Maratha Light Infantry was deployed in Nagaland.

On December 20, 1993, while heading an advance party of the battalion, the convoy was ambushed by Naga rebels.

Col N. J. Nair displayed indomitable courage in leading the attack personally to break the ambush and sacrificed his life fending his men. For this supreme act of valour he was conferred the ‘Ashok Chakra’.

Cdt. R. K. Joon (78th NDA ‘K’ Squadron) was commissioned into 22 Grenadiers. In 1994, 22 Grenadiers was deployed in Counter Insurgency operations in J and K.

On September 16, 1994, the battalion was engaged in carrying out cordon and search operations to flush out militants.

With utter disregard to personal safety, Maj R. K. Joon tracked the hardcore militants hiding in a house and killed.

In the exchange of fire he received fatal injuries. For his immense courage and gallantry of the highest order, he was awarded the ‘Ashok Chakra’.

Cdt A. S. Jasrotia (73rd NDA ‘E’ Squdron) was commissioned into 9 Para (SF). Subsequently, he volunteered for anti-terrorist operations.

In 1995, 9 Para (SF) was deployed for counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir. On September 15, 1995, Capt A. S. Jasrotia during counter-insurgency operations in the Lolab Valley, single-handedly killed four armed dreaded foreign militants before succumbing to his injuries.

He displayed sterling qualities of courage and leadership and died defending his comrades. For this act of singular valour the nation proudly conferred on him the highest peace-time gallantry ward, the ‘Ashok Chakra’.

Cdt P. N. Dutt (87th NDA ‘E’ Squadron) was commissioned into 1/11 Gorkha Rifiles. In July 1997, 1/11 GR was deployed in the Jammu and Kashmir sector for counter insurgency operations.

On July 20, 1997, the battalion was engaged in cordon and search operations in Srinagar town.

During the operations, 2nd Lt P. N. Dutt single-handedly killed two foreign militants before sustaining grievous injury.

Bleeding profusely, but unmindful of his injuries, the gallant Lieutenant killed yet another militant before laying down his life.

For holding his ground and displaying immense courage under fire, the nation bestowed upon him the highest peace time gallantry award, the ‘Ashok Chakra’.

Cdt Sudhir Kumar (72nd NDA ‘J’ Squadron) after commissioning had volunteered for anti-terrorist operations.

On August 19, 1999, he was leading a squad of five men through the dense undergrowth of Haphruda forest in Kupwara of Jammu and Kashmir.

He abruptly came face to face with two armed terrorists, barely four meters away. Major Sudhir Kumar fired and killed the first militant and charged at the second trying to escape into the hideout, harbouring around twenty militants.

Shocked at his audacity, the militants attempted to flee. Single-handedly, he engaged and killed four of them.

In the crossfire, he was hit in the face, chest and arm. Though mortally wounded and bleeding profusely, he continued to direct the firefight. He passed away holding on to his radio set.

For his valiant actions and conspicuous bravery beyond the call of duty, he was awarded the ‘Ashok Chakra’ posthumously.

Captain Harshan R of 2 PARA Regiment (Special Forces) laid down his life at the altar of duty while battling Hajrat-ul-Mujahideen terrorists at Lolab velley in the border district of Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir on 20th Mar 2007.

Captain Harshan R, who hails from Manacadu in Trivandrum, is an alumnus of the National Defence Academy.

He joined the 101st Course in the Academy as a cadet on 10 Jan 1999. During his stay in the Academy, he displayed a high degree of courage and extraordinary leadership traits on all occasions.

He, during his training in the Academy excelled both in Outdoor Training and Academics. He was also an outstanding sports man. On 29 Nov 2001 he passed out from the Academy.

On Dec 2002 Captain Harshan R was commissioned into 2 PARA Regiment (Special Forces). He was groomed to be a tough commando of the elite ‘Red Devil’ unit to perform during exploits.

He had also earned the coveted Parachute wings and maroon beret, the hallmark of Special Forces, commandoes.

On March 2007, he was deployed as a commander ‘A’ team of 2 PARA Regiment (SF) in Lolab valley of Jammu and Kashmir, in the area which comes under 8 RR sector. On 20 March 2007, he received a message about the presence of some hardcore terrorists in Chhoti Margi area of Lolab valley in Jammu & Kashmir.

Despite heavy snow, Capt Harshan led his men and cordoned off the house in the early hours of the morning.

Four terrorists came out of the house firing indiscriminately to break the cordon and came face to face with Capt Harshan R. He killed two of them on the spot but was hit by retaliatory fire in the neck.

Despite grevious injury, he continued to fight till he breathed his last. His valour in the face of heavy odds inspired his men to pursue and eliminate the remaining terrorists.

The nation honoured this brave hero by bestowing upon him the ‘Ashok Chakra’ posthumously, the country’s highest peace time gallantry award on 26th January 2008, at the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi.

The citation and the medal were received by his father Mr K Radhakrishnan Nair from the President Smt Pratibha Patil.

Joint training institutions are the answer
Vijay Mohan

Lt-Gen S.B.S. Kochar (retd)
Lt-Gen S.B.S. Kochar (retd)

Defence policy built upon supposedly predictable actions of a potential adversary is a dangerous folly.

In today’s volatile environment when we are ringed with enemies, a sane system of defence is to expect the unexpected - be it from land air or the sea.

Stating this, Lt-Gen S.B.S. Kochar, former Commandant of the National Defence Academy, said, “Towards this extent, future warfare would entail joint operations involving all three services, the prerequisites for which would be joint training and camaraderie. It is here that institutions like the NDA assume significance.”

Date with water
Date with water

Pointing out that the tri-service character of the NDA was its biggest assets he said that the administrative infrastructure of the institution required a overhaul to train and groom officers to meet the serious challenges emerging over the horizon.

“A lot has been done over the years, but there is still scope for plenty more, particularly in academics and infrastructure,” he said.

The former Commandant said that the government must also pay close attention to the personal needs and expectations of the cadets if the NDA were to attract the cream of youth.

“Today no senior service officer wants to send his son to the NDA. It has also been my observation that the first 30-40 cadets in the merit list were picked up by industrial houses,” he remarked.

“We will therefore have to accept lower standards. Consequently, training would be harder and we would have to set very high standards,” he added.

General Kochar was of the opinion that in the prevailing socio-economic environment, the relationship between the State and the citizen is in turmoil and the citizen is disturbed.

“The relationship between the State and the citizen has become altogether materialistic. Should thereafter the State conduct itself in such a manner that the citizen either finds or even perceives that the State has failed in its commitments and obligations, then there is every likelihood of the citizen withdrawing their allegiance,” he remarked.

“There is a lot of bondage between morals and morale and if there is a feeling that the leadership is immoral, morale breaks,” he added.

Youngsters opt to join the NDA when they are at an impressionable age. Today they are IT savvy, have access to the Internet, newspapers and TV and are fully aware of what is happening in society.

“If they find that the State is not delivering, they would be reluctant to join or it would be the last option for them, thereby having an adverse impact on the quality and quantity of manpower,” he said.

“Given our vast borders and coastlines, numbers are important despite whatever technological advances,” he added.

To build up institutions like the NDA, a concerted effort is required. In addition to requisite infrastructure, advance training aids, proper facilities to cadets and incentives like stipend, the NDA must invite students of reputed institutions and colleges to its campus to showcase its ethos and traditions, he said.

The country’s leadership too must have greater involvement with the institution. When Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister, he used to spend some time with the cadets every year. Such instances rarely occur now.

General Kochar was of the opinion that the NDA should open its doors to girl cadets. “Daughters of lot of officers would also join in and it would be a healthy atmosphere for the academy,” he said.

“With permanent commission on the anvil, well-groomed women officers would be an asset to the services even if they have to serve in support or service arms,” he added.

Training for leadership

Brig Ravi Palsokar (retd)
Brig Ravi Palsokar (retd)

The National Defence Academy is rightly called the “cradle for leadership”. Here boys (girls are not yet allowed) straight out of school get into a uniform which they take off only after they retire, a service period that covers about 35 to 45 years.

In its existence of 60 years, the Academy is rightly proud of the valour and sacrifice of its cadets, three of whom have been decorated posthumously with the Param Vir Chakra, any number who have earned Maha Vir Chakras, Vir Chakras and other gallantry and distinguished service awards.

A number have headed their respective Service and one has even represented India in space.

After retirement, a few have gone on to become governors, cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and magnates of industry. Some have devoted themselves to social service, unsung but not forgotten.

Presumably every academy that trains officers could lay claim to such feats of excellence. But all ex-NDAs will testify to the fact that - well, the NDA is different.

The NDA produces leaders, but this is not a treatise on leadership, how the NDA organizes its training and so on.

It is an attempt to show how a cadet imbibes the tenets of leadership and authority, a spirit of comradeship and selflessness during the training.

Why does the NDA think it is different? For two reasons mainly, one, because cadets of all three Services are together for three long years and two, when some of them meet again in course of their duty, particularly in war, it is these bonds that draw them together.

Needless to say, a cadet’s training is a rounded one. It includes academics, stressed more now than ever before, training related to one’s specific service, physical training, riding, sports, cultural activities, adventure training and so on.

Whatever a cadet wants to do, whatever he wants to excel in, is available and encouraged. And as a cadet undergoes such an experience at a formative part of his life, he learns, develops and later passes it on.

This allround training environment is overlaid with discipline, spit and polish and above all, camaraderie.

The real learning for leadership lies within the band of cadets for as they compete with each other, they also help each other and learn to share.

In the process they build up character as a collective entity and as individuals. This is what the NDA is all about.

A few examples should suffice. A former cadet who retired as a Lieutenant General recounts that during physical training he could not clear the horse apparatus.

The PT instructor, a non-commissioned officer, one day very carefully explained to the cadet what he should do and placed a handkerchief on the floor where he should take off. As he soared over the horse a feeling of exhilaration gripped him.

The instructor now challenged him to compete with him to jump from even further away from the horse till the former pretended to give up against his ward. It was a lesson in leadership without words.

Another case that would be familiar to many generations of cadets is the test to jump off the 10 metres diving board into the swimming pool below. It is a simple test, but once you baulk, fear grips you as it does many cadets.

A cadet did it one term and froze the following term when his turn came. Nothing would induce him to take the leap. A fellow cadet now took matters in hand.

He took his friend up, stood by his side and they jumped together holding hands. He did it again and again till the fear was overcome. This incident speaks for itself as a lesson in camaraderie without official intervention.

The last example is a lesson in magnanimity by the Academy authorities. Cadets are after all young men, boisterous and mischievous and a very developed system of punishments exists in the Academy to keep over-boisterousness in check.

In a celebrated case, a particularly brave but naughty cadet crept up the dome of the Sudan Block by night and placed a pith hat (riding hat) on the lightning conductor.

Next morning the whole Academy was convulsed with laughter that the authorities had been got the better of.

Furious inquiries followed - in actual fact everyone including the Commandant knew who had done it.

But in the true spirit of the NDA the culprit was never discovered. Draw your own inferences, but is it any wonder then that the NDA should continue to produce outstanding leaders?

(The author belongs to the 21st Course and passed out from the NDA in
December 1961).

Shooting Star

Lt Col Rajyavardhan Singh RathoreThe country’s first individual Olympics medal winner, Lt Col Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is an alumnus of the NDA’s 77th Course. He had won Silver in shooting in the 2004 Olympics held at Athens.

Commissioned into 9 Grenadiers (Mewar), from the Indian Military Academy, where he had won the Sword of Honour, he belongs to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.

With Five international gold medals to his credit, Colonel Rathore began his shooting career in 1998 and made it to the finals of the Men’s Double Trap Shooting at Athens.

Conferred the award of Padamshree, he was awarded the Arjuna award for his outstanding achievement in sports and is also the recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, India’s highest sporting honor. The Army decorated him with the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal for distinguished service.

On his return from Athens, He actively toured the country, meeting students and motivating youngsters for greater participation in sports.

He urged them to take up sports as it built character, leadership qualities and team spirit and also stressed upon self-discipline in the society. He was the flagbearer of the Indian contingent at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

— Vijay Mohan

Girl who could not make it to NDA
Geetanjali Gayatri

Battalion and Squadron colours.
Battalion and Squadron colours.

A pebbled driveway, an imposing old English-style mansion, a nameplate announcing Lt-Col Desraj, and, inside, a picture on the mantelpiece in the drawing room — that was my maternal grandfather for me.

Vacation after vacation, both long and short, which we spent in Clement Town (Dehra Dun) with my grandmother, he watched over us, his grandchildren, with his unwavering gaze from the frame.

He was an enigma to us since we had been brought up on stories about his bravery and magnanimity.

So, when everybody was busy and I could steal some moments to be alone with him, I would stand on the sofa and look into his smiling eyes, hoping the uniformed officer in the picture and my mother’s hero, would come to life, if only once.

I spent my childhood believing in magic and fairies and in this hope that one day he would oblige and I would meet my grandfather, the man who inspired his children to face adversity and emerge better and stronger human beings.

Belonging to the Dogra Regiment, he died in 1963 in Jairampur, near the Indo-Burma border (in erstwhile North Eastern Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh), in an accident while he was returning from duty. This was 13 years before I was born.

He was cremated at his last place of posting by his “extended family”, his unit, and brought back to the house and family in an urn.

My mother, then 15 years and the eldest of the three siblings, till she lived, could not help shedding a tear every time she recalled the day their world came crashing down.

Just before joining duty in NEFA, he had bought a house in Clement Town for his family to move in from Pune, his previous place of posting.

He never lived there, he didn’t die there and yet, he was the moving spirit behind everything in that house.

His uniform with the nametag, his Ray Bans, his watch, shoes et al were a must-see for us every time we went to meet my granny, Beeji, as we fondly called her.

It took a lot of cajoling and pleading to have a peek into his trunk which lay in the puja room.

It must have been one of those visits that prompted me to consider a career in the army. Both my maternal uncles were passouts from the National Defence Academy (NDA).

It was there that my grandfather had once been instructor in the erstwhile Joint Services Wing in the late 1940s and a Quarter Master and Adjutant.

His sons had followed in his footsteps and joined the army despite opposition from my grandmother.

I, too, his grand daughter, oscillated between joining the army and pursuing journalism. However, my visits to my grandmother’s house tilted the scales resolutely in favour of donning the olive green.

During my schooling, I would daydream about being in uniform and even joined the Scouts and Guides to test if I was a woman of substance, whether I had it in me and if I could stand the rough and tumble of a life without the comforts of my home.

I would like to believe that I did better than most of the others and even gave myself full marks for a career in the Army.

As I began to explore ways to get into the army, I realised I would never make it to the NDA, the cradle of most army officers, and all because I was not born a boy. At the NDA, my spirit didn’t count, my gender did.

I almost felt cheated and even weighed the option of applying under the Short Service Commission offered to women.

I realised again that the doors of the army were not open for women seeking entry into combat.

Up against a brick wall and given my interest in writing, I decided to join journalism and take the road that led straight into an Indian army bunker.

I made myself believe that the pen was mightier than the sword (and the gun) and decided to let the pen chart my course, life and my dying dream. I took the plunge into journalism in the late 1990s.

Nearly seven years on, my first brush with my “old flame” happened. One sultry afternoon in 2005, the Editor called to ask me if I was keen on doing a 21-day Defence Correspondents’ Course.

I certainly could not have asked for more for it would allow me a stay in “my Mecca”, the NDA.

At the NDA, the Sudan Block on the horizon, groups of cadets trudging back to the campus after a punishment trip to Singhgarh fort, the NDA’s insignia accompanied by the motto “Cradle for military leadership”, attending lectures in classrooms for cadets, sharing a meal with them in their mess — everything kept me awestruck for months after the course was over.

However, back with vivid memories of the experience, I sometimes explain to my six-year-old daughter that the army, country, courage and nationalism are all synonymous and inter-changeable, while my husband encourages her to consider the army as a career option when she grows up.

I now hope that with time, the army will change too. While permanent commission for women officers has become a reality, I am hoping the NDA, too, will move on and open its doors to sprightly women fired with love for their country.

Though I left the NDA with reluctance after the training module, I promised myself to be back someday. For my daughter’s passing out parade to realise my unfulfilled dream. Maybe.

The army, I hope, will not ground another dream. Instead, it will lend wings to this dream and that of many others wanting to soar high from where our motherland is the only religion, from where divisive genders, castes and religions cease to exist, from where nationalism is not a fragmented ideology but a uniting force that binds our India together.