“What are my Orders?” OMG!

December 24, 2023by Rajeev Hora0

I am not advocating foolish bravado but sometimes in life, it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Dear General Naravane,

As I pen down this second open letter to you, inwardly I am getting a bit amused. During my training days, the only letter I wrote back home was just about once a month. And that too on strict orders from the Divisional officer. And here I am writing to my pen-pal General, twice in one week. Just not done by my modest standards. But frankly, you leave me no choice General.

Once again, I must reiterate that I consider you a patriot of the highest order and a man with impeccable integrity. Having said that, without further ado, I come to the second part of the excerpts which the publishers of your book, ‘Four Stars of Destiny’ have released to the public, prior to publishing it.

Excerpts of the book published in the media are summarized as under:

  • With the PLA moving tanks and troops in Rechin La pass on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh on the night on August 31, 2020, Naravane explained the criticality of the situation to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Rajnath rang back at about 2230 hours saying he had spoken to the Prime Minister and “Jo ucchit samjho woh karo” – do whatever you deem appropriate.
  • Narvane writes he reflected upon the country reeling under the pandemic, faltering economy, ability for steady supply of spares and the like in case of a long-drawn-out action, India’s global supporters and collusive China-Pakistan threat.
  • Naravane then called up Northern Army Commander Lt Gen YK Joshi and told him we should not open fire first as it would provide the Chinese an excuse to escalate and paint us aggressors. At Mukhpari (on the Kailash Range) the previous day, PLA first fired two round followed with three rounds by us. He asked Joshi to move a troop of tanks to the forward slopes of the Pass with barrels looking down at the PLA. This stopped PLA’s light tanks, being no match to our medium tanks.
  • PLA moved troops from Moldo to Chuti Changla area towards the South Bank of the Pangong Tso on the night of August 29-30 and some troops in the area of Kailash Range. By the evening of the August 30, the Indian Army was in a strong position on both banks of Pangong Tso and the Kailash Range. On August 30 evening, PLA moved troops in Kailash Range are and began digging 500 metres short of Indian locations at lower height.
  • At 2015 hours on August 31, Joshi informed Naravane four PLA tanks supported by infantry moving up the track towards Rechin La. They fired an illuminating round also.
  • Naravane writes he had clear orders not to open fire, ’till cleared from the very top’. A flurry of calls followed, between the RM, EAM, NSA, CDS and Naravane over the next half-hour and Narvane asked everyone “What are my orders?

Oh My God! This is my first reaction to what has come out in your attributed writings. You have painted a very grim picture of decision paralysis at the highest level at an extremely crucial geo-pol-mil moment for the nation. My follow-on thoughts go something like this:

I am not too sure, but you may be having a ghost writer helping you in penning down your memoirs. You are revealing the dynamics and some sordid details of the higher-level decision-making in the country. This process itself is classified in a way and you may be inviting trouble by being in violation of laid down codes of conduct in this regard.

Along with, your publisher probably does not realize that the ‘freedom of speech’ protection under the First Amendment is applicable only in the US. All publishers try to send out controversial teasers before the book launch to boost up sales. Only in this case, he is probably playing with a matchbox which you are blissfully unaware of. Very respectfully wise General, these attributes are bordering on the risqué. As in military parlance they say, your flanks are getting exposed. This of course, is just a gentle caution from a well-wisher.

On the subject proper, as per you, the senior political leadership had given you a go-ahead, “Jo ucchit samjho woh karo” – do whatever you deem appropriate. As a military commander, what more orders or directions do I want? This is the ultimate carte blanche from a decisive political leadership. By your going around asking the RM, EAM, NSA, CDS and who else you only know, you were in fact displaying your indecisiveness and not of the people you mention.

The intruder was on your doorstep and you were reflecting upon the country reeling under the pandemic, faltering economy, ability for steady supply of spares and the like in case of a long-drawn-out action, India’s global supporters and collusive China-Pakistan threat. This clearly displays a cluttered mind and a risk-aversive attitude. Something the enemy commander was probably comprehending all along.

I am actually aghast at this particular one. What happened to our Day 1 lesson in the military? That is ‘selection and maintenance of aim’. As the most important protagonist on the scene, you had only one job at that moment. That was to prevent the enemy’s forward progress with the resources at hand. And here you were uncertain, defensive and vacillating over ‘certainly important’ but not relevant issues at that key moment.

Your Northern Army Cdr was pleading for a go-ahead and you told him we should not open fire first as it would provide the Chinese an excuse to escalate and paint us aggressors. The man on the spot knows his job. You tied his hands while the political leadership had unchained yours. Once again, a terribly academic and defensive mindset for a person in charge of protecting our borders from external threats.

Hindsight is of course 20:20. However, all that was required was to inform the senior leadership that this is what was developing on the border and this is how you were addressing it or going to address it. If a veto came, you could have provided further information and additional options. If the veto did not come (and most likely it would not have), you would have been as it is, ahead of the game.

I am not advocating foolish bravado but sometimes in life, it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission. A bold spirit and real fine judgement is required to be exercised for such once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Safeguarding national security requires that in ample dozes.

I am amazed that all this happened under your watch and today you yourself are going around telling the whole world about it. Autobiographies are normally honest reflections to probe our own vulnerabilities, failings and feelings. But here it seems to be an obvious attempt to shift the onus on everyone except your own self.

You would probably be wondering if the government would let you go ahead with the publication of your book. My suggestion is that, you should in fact pray that they should not allow it. You had such a fantastic reputation whilst you were in service. By going through the attributed excerpts, I get a feeling that the world will see you in rather poor light after reading your stuff. And you will have none other but yourself to blame for it.

One part where you will have serious problems would be in backing your claim that you had clear orders not to open fire, ’till cleared from the very top’. Without evidence, such a sensational statement would remain just alarming rhetoric.

Parting suggestion from my side would be-Please revisit your intent behind this literary attempt. Is it to earn, to learn, to embarrass, to redeem or or to set the record straight? My words may be akin to extra-strong Colombian coffee, but I remain as I said earlier,

A well-wisher for you General,
Horax (Casper)

Postscript: How can I forget it is Christmas eve? A very merry Christmas to all my readers!!

First published at seekmediation.com on 24/12/23

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