Guilty or Not?

December 21, 2023by Rajeev Hora0

“In case we ever come across a situation which challenges the core of our ethical/ moral fibre (even if it is legally right), we should not hesitate to unbutton the left pocket.”

Dear General Naravane,

Greetings from a fellow veteran! Today I write to you about the excerpts from your waiting in the wings book, ‘Four Stars of Destiny’. My focus is especially on the parts related to the controversial Agniveer scheme. Almost every Indian military veteran worth his salt has an opinion about this venture and so do I. At the very outset, I must tell you that I am not going to share my outlook on this with you. Simply because it is not going to make an iota of a difference to the fait accompli.

Also, my letter is not about the merits/ demerits of the scheme or about how decisions are taken at the governmental level. My scribbles are just about you, a man I consider of great esteem, honour and impeccable integrity. Not many in the world rise to the position you got to occupy. Leading the world’s third largest army which is at the front-end of national security, is no mean task. Undoubtedly, the responsibility is unimaginably huge.

At this stage of my life, it is not difficult to read the undertones of a script. And I can very well read them in the excerpts attributed to you. On that basis, the extremely simple question that I would like to ask you is as follows:

“Did you at any time feel that military preparedness of the Indian Army would get significantly impacted (adversely) if the Agniveer scheme was unrolled in the final form that we see it today?”

No, I am not seeking information about how some smart bureaucrats turned your original ‘Tour of Duty’ on its head. Or how the CDS was asked to lead this monumental change and that you were just a bystander? I am a bit of a persistent guy and I get back to my digital question above. I have a conviction that there should not be any shades of grey in a General’s mind when it comes to handling such super-critical matters.

So, if the answer is that you were totally convinced that there would be absolutely no impact on national security preparedness, there is actually nothing more to tell the world. You were in agreement and an important cog in the decision-making process. It is understandable that we all make important decisions in our lifetimes with the information available at a point of history and we are expected to stand by them. If at any stage we feel we took a wrong call, we stand up, acknowledge the same honorably and move on.

Now I come to the other alternative. Here the presumed answer is that in your professional opinion you felt there would be a noteworthy impact on long-term military preparedness. Well, even if you don’t say it, your body language in various fora said enough about it. And today, so also your excerpts under scrutiny. Let’s admit it, for all practical purposes, the matter had been sealed before you handed over the baton to the next incumbent. Sadly, the matter does not quite end here.

At this point, I am being seriously assumptive that the latter is true. And if my assumption is true then my next simple question is that, “Why did you not offer to resign rather than becoming a reluctant party to the decision?” Retrospections of willing/unwilling do not matter. I am sure you must have weighed your options all along. But the vital thing is that your acquiescence or otherwise at that moment mattered. It was going to be a watershed moment in the glorious history of the Indian armed forces.

General, you know it better than most of us that when we take over command, we have to reconfigure the two front pockets of our uniform. The right pocket to hold the organization’s ethos and principles with which we have committed to lead. And the left one with an undated resignation letter. The logic being that in case we ever come across a situation which challenges the core of our ethical/ moral fibre (even if it is legally right), we should not hesitate to unbutton the left pocket.

The government has done absolutely right by their perception of the whole issue. They have to balance numerous financial variables and we as good soldiers will always fight with what we have. But muted consent of the highest war specialist when his heart is crying out against it, is not acceptable from a responsible man. The word responsible comes from the ‘ability to respond’ which we are all entrusted with at each stage of our careers. Our response is what comes back to gladden or haunt us much later.

Knowing you, I have no doubts that your reflections are not an election gimmick although they may ultimately become one. My perception is that they are a veiled attempt to seek personal redemption. Trust me on that one, General. It won’t come that way. I can say from personal experience that the mirror on our walls is a bloody loud rascal. We can’t possibly shut him down.

Civil-military relations in a constitutional democracy can always throw up unforeseen complexities. But speaking truth to power and voicing conviction is not always hara-kiri but sign of a strong spine. ‘Walk the talk’ is just not another catchy and convenient phrase. Navigating through such delicate situations is an art, not many people after Field Marshal Manekshaw have shown a dispensation with.

I can’t wait to be proven wrong. I would love to hear from you or your friends who hold a different opinion. Ah! Before that I am wondering if your book will be even allowed to see the light of the day.

Post-retirement conscience is a very funny thing indeed! We all have one.

Including me,
Horax (Casper)

Postscript: I love group decision-making by committees. They somehow very gently dilute the guilt. After all, we are in it together.

First published at on 21/12/23

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