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Why I Would Want To Join The Indian Navy All Over Again

By – Commodore Srikant B Kesnur (Retd)

Background

Today, Tuesday, 19 Jul 22, marks exactly 40 years from the date, I joined the National Defence Academy (NDA), in Khadakvalsa, near Pune, as a naval cadet. The NDA, as a prestigious tri-services academy, is focused more on initial grooming for a long career in the Armed Forces, and, therefore, introduced one to Service specific subjects – the Navy in my case – only in the final year of our training there. However, with the NDA as the springboard, the rest of my 37 years were spent in the ‘whites’ until my superannuation, recently, on 30 Jun 22. While the Academy deserves a separate essay, today let me focus on the Indian Navy and why I would choose to join it all over again, if I were given half a chance to do so.

Looking back though, my joining the Navy was entirely fortuitous. Like many Indians, I did not have too much acquaintance with the sea and, while belonging to a state in peninsular India (Karnataka), I had my first view of the sea at the Gateway of India, as an eight-year-old. I was terrified of it, though it may seem amusing today considering that the Gateway, mostly, has placid waters through the year. A brief visit to Karwar, many years later, was all that I had to add to my ‘marine exposure’. Consequently, like many of my classmates, at Sainik School Bijapur, I opted for Army as my first choice when filling the form for NDA, in the autumn of 1981. There was also the rather naïve belief that we all, friends and classmates, who together opted for the Army, would stay close to each other for the rest of our lives. That evening, my Father who taught in our school, and who had just returned from a short visit out of town, cursorily asked me, as to what had transpired over the past couple of days. I filled him on the news and, in passing, told him of filling up my NDA form. When queried by him as to what I had opted for, I replied ‘Army’. “Why not Navy?” he asked. Years earlier, when he joined the school as teacher, he was most impressed with the school Principal, a Navy Commander, who cut a sharp figure in his whites and who, apparently, was quite a ‘charismatic’ personality. ‘Not too many from the school join the Navy’, he reasoned and ‘you will do something different’. I was not sure, if I was persuaded by the argument; but in those days, children listened to their parents and, thus, the next day, I went and amended my form, to read ‘Navy’ as first choice. The die was, thus, cast.

Introduction

Truth be told, I was not too keen on a career in the Armed Forces at all. I fancied careers in law (fed on a vast diet of Perry Mason books), media (as a crusading journalist) and politics (believing that I somehow had it in me to be successful in that field). However, in small town India of those days, there was not much traction for such ideas.  Moreover, being a student in Sainik School meant it was blasphemous to entertain such thoughts. Above all, I felt deeply for my father’s expectations – he had been born in poverty and raised in penury and badly wanted that his son become ‘a Class 1 Gazetted Officer with a Sarkari naukri’. Given my good academic background qualifying for NDA and getting the adequate high merit for Navy (considering the limited vacancies) did not pose too much of a problem. What posed problems though were life in NDA and its mental and physical challenges? Consequently, my performance dunked, my confidence ebbed and I somehow managed to just stay afloat and pass out with my course. My stay there had mixed memories – some good, some not so much. It took a tenure as a Divisional Officer, few years later, for me to understand the ‘DNA of NDA’ and the method behind the madness.

It leaves me with a bit of wonder even now, but I was able to recover my mojo, almost magically, on breathing the sea air at Kochi and embarking INS Beas, our Cadets Training ship, in July 1985. From then, it was a long, eventful, fun-filled journey of 37 years until my retirement. Musing about it, the one refrain that comes back to me and which I mentioned in my farewell speech to my colleagues is ‘I would want to join the Navy all over again’ even though mine, was by no means, the perfect or model journey of a naval officer. Incidentally, it is a feeling that many of my friends and other veterans (now that I am in their camp) share. Why is it so? Why do we feel these emotions? Is it just a bit of nostalgia laden syrupy sentimentalism or is it something more? While I will leave it to psychologists to analyse this aspect, let me simply try and break down into some ‘component parts’ why we think this way. It may help readers of ‘Mission Victory’ to either relate to their own set of experiences (for those who have served in uniform) or it may help provide some understanding (for those aspiring to a career in the Whites).

File Photo

Pride

Pride is the first emotion that comes to mind. This operates at several levels. There is pride in wearing uniform and in being recognised for it. The uniform gives one a distinct identity. Of course, there is associated glamour and, even though, I am biased, I think Navy has the smartest uniforms with resplendent white and black outfits and gold in the form of stripes, sword, buttons and other accoutrements. Wearing of uniform is a respectful ritual, the moment one dons it, you tend to stand taller, smarter and tauter. But the pride also goes beyond the mere pomp and show and the preening. The uniform is not a modelling club, it is about a certain association with the larger ethos of the service. The pride is hence about the service itself and the inherent nobility of soldiering. Without any disrespect to any profession, it’s an accepted fact that some like medicine, nursing, teaching, armed forces are regarded as noble and being much more than about merely making a living. Highly professional navies ensure that such ethos seep in, drip by drip, but constantly, into one’s veins. A call to arms in the service of the nation can sometimes be heroic but is always euphoric. Without making it feel like a cliched stereotype, there is a distinct feeling of quiet pride in serving our nation.

As with many people who have served in the Navy, I faced many disappointments and setbacks as part of life and these were taken in stride as best as they could. But I am sure, they or I never had the feeling of ‘what am I doing in life?’ That was a question we never had to worry about. Sociologists may blame it on indoctrination, but when you live in a world where phrases like ‘duty, honour, country, courage, commitment, service’ are part of the lexicon and ethos, you are bound to be affected. Mind you, I am not a ‘triumphal drum beater’ of the standard military vocabulary and as a wannabe academic, I was often uncomfortable with exuberant displays of set catchphrases or choreographed drills. Yet the beauty of Armed Forces and, especially, a thinking service like the Navy, is that it allows one a certain latitude to interpret values and virtues and contextualise them. Therefore, old world values or a desire to live by them do not become unfashionable in the Navy. Thus, the pride is a combination of many factors – some distinct and others inchoate, but one feels the highest sense of purposefulness when doing one’s duty. And that contributes to the joy of working.

High Quality Of Life

Notwithstanding the above, it is also true that humans cannot live on love and fresh air, or honour, alone. One doesn’t need to invoke Maslow or any other management Guru to emphasise the simple point that anyone seeking a career or joining a profession would place a premium on quality of life and material factors such as salary, perks etc. While none of us joining NDA in teenage years thought much of these, it was because we had been told that ‘life in faujis generally good’, whatever that term meant then. In any case, without good material conditions any organization will find it tough to retain its people and, thus, it stands to reason that the government, and indeed, the Armed Forces, will strive to give the best that they can to their personnel. In recent discussions, opinion is divided among many commentators and analysts as to whether our ‘pay, allowances, perks and other hygiene factors’ are good enough and whether we are far behind corporates and other agencies in this regard. That is a debate for some other time and one where I don’t necessarily have the competence to comment.

INS Jalashwa, File Photo

For my family and I, from what we saw and experienced, the Navy gave us a high quality of life and that’s what mattered. It is often said that people in the services are ‘rich people with no money’ and I guess that makes sense. At the end of day, rich or poor, even in purely financial terms is relative and contextual. Personally speaking, I also believe that in a country like India which has many poor and less privileged and we figure in the top 5 percent, a certain social awareness and conscience is necessary. While we must indeed work and strive and seek riches and prosperity, it cannot be our only purpose in life. Viewed against that perspective, the Navy ensured that we were always materially comfortable and provided the amenities and facilities that allowed wide range of hobbies and sports to be pursued. Dwelling in the best parts of towns, not having to commute long distances for work and getting a chance to indulge in our interests was more important than the bank balance. The pay and allowances were good enough (for me) but any lingering doubts about them were offset by the charm of staying in cantonment areas and military precincts which were clean, green and orderly. The Navy, additionally, gives one the bonus of residing in big cities and coastal towns, which have their own catalogue of attractions. To breathe pure air, to stay close by the sea (or sometimes, as we experienced, in the hills) and to transact business in an efficient environment is a blessing hard to describe. It is true that much more can be done about our living conditions, especially with respect to accommodation, but it is better to view the glass as being half full in this regard.

One of the most important aspects that stems out the good quality of living is that it actually allows an individual to have a clean life – in terms of financial probity at least. Arguably, when you are provided for adequately, the inducements for corruption or the incentives for ‘shortcuts’ for making money are less. Whether this corelation is correct is for experts to judge, but it is indeed true that Armed Forces life is, by and large, free from issues like corruption, bribes, pilfering, money laundering etc in our day-to-day life. It is nobody’s case that our systems are perfect but it is true that our daily lives and most of our transactions are untainted by many of the blemishes and ills that plague society outside. It is a truism that most of us sleep soundly at night, because the seductions and tyrannies of corruption don’t hover around us.

Great Experiences

While pride provides us with a sense of purpose and identity and quality of living makes our life comfortable, our memories of service life are made by our experiences. In that respect, Navy has given me a treasure trove of memories. And this is one arena where Armed Forces really score over the rest. For one, there is enough adventure even for those of us not inclined to be adventurous. Be it the act of getting into sea-boats and being lowered at sea, be it crossing the Jackstay or moving from one ship to another in helicopters and landing on tiny decks, be it firing exercises or crawling through tiny spaces to reach the Aft Steering Position (ASP) or climbing high to go onto the Crow’s Nest, be it negotiating heavy seas in small ships or traversing from ship to the beach in small inflatable craft, even an ‘ordinary navyperson’ will have enough hair raising moments and enough to talk about to one’s grandchildren. Conquering or coming to terms with seasickness, vertigo, claustrophobia or many other queasy moments is not easy but you go through them anyway. And after a while, you find at least some experiences giving a high. For most, that’s adventure enough.

There are also other sorts of thrills and beautiful moments that make for life in the navy. I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed some of the most glorious sunrises and sunsets and some spectacular moon rises too, all at sea. The sea provides a vibrant canvas showcasing nature’s beauty and fury across a widely diverse range. The calm seas or the roaring seas are beautiful in their own way just as a moonlit sky and a dark sky are equally magnificent invitations to unravel the mysteries of the universe. Starry nights or stormy ones, blue seas or grey ones, bright days or cloudy ones, dusk or dawn, the seas offer unparalleled vistas. One doesn’t have to be a romantic to be moved by the splendour of the seas and vastness of the oceans, but if you are one like me, then you will be blessed to experience some of the most thrilling moments at sea or by the sea.

Not all experiences need to be adventurous or awesome to be memorable. Sometimes, one is plain lucky. The enormous opportunities to travel in the Navy means that over the many years in service, I have been fortunate to visit more than 20 countries around the world and several exotic places within India including some ‘remote’ corners. The visits and stay abroad gave us a chance to absorb other cultures and systems, see their famous spots and locations, enhanced our exposure and broadened horizons. The visits in different parts of India helped us understand our own country better. While guide books and travel magazines will write in great detail about tourist attractions, life in Fauj gave us unique experiences because of our access and position. Thus, it was humbling seeing our soldiers, up close, at the borders in Arunachal Pradesh or Sikkim or Jammu and Kashmir. It was thrilling flying over the Siachen glacier or landing in small amphibious vessels on small islands in the Nicobar group of islands. And there were numerous experiences of these kind.

Physical Endurance & Mental Strength Test; File Photo

The exalted position of being a representative of the government also meant that in such visits, especially abroad, one was welcomed with certain respect and given privileges and access that were not available to others. Frequently, this also enabled one to meet authorities in higher echelons of government and private companies. The idea is not to boast about them but underscore how that helped one to get closer look at governance structures, strategic concerns and policy issues and how one was able to meet leaders and statesmen and, how all of that helped my own growth. For example, representing India in international conferences gives one a big high, to have the national flag on one’s desk is a matter of honour        that one cherishes and remembers for long. In short, it is the abundance and uniqueness of our experiences that makes life in Navy so memorable and triggers the desire for ‘action replay’.

Great Friends & Super Shipmates

If experiences provide the skeletal framework for our memories, the flesh and blood into that is put in by our friends and acquaintances. And once again, Armed Forces are fortunate in this regard. The inherent need for team work in all our endeavours, the camaraderie engendered by facing difficult situations together and the fact that we just don’t work together but also live together makes for the unique alchemy that defines our relationships. The Navy does not have a regimental system like the Army but the (comparatively) small size of the Navy, makes it possible to imagine the whole of the Navy as a regiment. And, because, ‘you sink or swim together’ on the ship, relationships in the Navy have a different hue.

Naturally, therefore, some of our best friendships and bonds have been built in the Navy. The same holds good for our spouses and children too. Even where there is not necessarily deep friendship, the camaraderie of some association – coursemate, ship mate, squadron mate, same building type, etc – enables bonds to be made which are reliable and stable. In adversity, the Navy mate is both your first port of call and the last resort. And in good times, they are great fun to hang around with – hassle free, non-transactional and, usually, solid.

Serving for as long as 36 years and moving up many senior positions has meant that I have also had the privilege of observing and working with our men – the sailors. Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen are the very essence of our services, the heart and soul of the Indian Armed Forces. Simple folk at heart, most of them drawn from India’s villages and small towns, they are, arguably, the best human resource one can ever get. They serve with great sincerity and devotion and with wants/needs that are far more spartan than other sections of society. They give so much and ask for so little. This not only makes our work satisfying and fulfilling, but also enables better sociological understanding.

Naval Cadets Training At NDA, Peacock Bay

To quote the great Navy veteran, ship designer and corporate leader Captain Mohan Ram (Retd) who in his book “My Ships Sailed the Seas but I stayed Ashore” paraphrases a Honda Club advertisement to conclude “You meet the nicest people in the Navy”. This is a sentiment we all share, which is one reason we seek people of our ilk. Civil Society uses a phrase called People Like Us (PLU) to describe this phenomenon. However, PLU has a kind of snobbish tinge, advertising exclusivity and elitism. The bonds built in the Navy, on the other hand, are anything but that. We were people thrown together in the crucible. Region, religion, language, caste, creed, financial status does not matter, what matters is the common association of being in the uniform. My Father, long back, very perceptively, told me that “In India, it is only the Armed Forces and Bollywood that reflect the full diversity of our country and its infinite variety”.

Opportunities For Human Resource Development

The combined result of all the factors elucidated above form an excellent ground for what Maslow calls ‘self-actualisation’ needs. In simple words, life in the Navy provides an optimal avenue for us to maximise our own human resource potential. It provides us the ideal platform to be the best version of ourselves. I think it was Paulo Coelho who once said “It’s the possibility of one’s dreams coming true that makes life interesting”. The Navy makes it possible for many of our dreams to come true. I will give examples from my own life not with any trace of immodesty but merely to illustrate how Navy made it possible for a boy from “middle class, mofussil India to experience the most incredible riches”. This would be true for many others too.

Here I invoke author Joseph Conrad who said ‘the highest time-honoured title of the seafaring world is Captain’ to thank the Navy for choosing me to be the Captain (Commanding Officer) of two frontline warships of the Navy. It is, of course, a position one aspires to, as part of seeking growth, upward mobility and recognition within the system. But at the end of it, you realise it’s a privilege, to be able to lead a fine set of people and to be able to do one’s bit at the sharp edge of the fighting force that the Navy is. Experiences of other leadership positions resulted in similar feelings – of humility, and gratefulness for being given opportunities to shape a grand enterprise. One’s own growth, during such appointments, in terms of understanding human behaviour, motivation and concerns of the naval apex is invaluable.

While the Command tenures were important, my entire naval journey was one that constantly enhanced my skill set or knowledge. It was the Navy that facilitated my authorship of many books, it was the Navy that made it possible to acquire many educational qualifications, it was the Navy that encouraged my pursuit of PhD, it was the Navy that further fuelled my passions for history. It is courtesy the service that I had a most memorable diplomatic assignment in East Africa and had exposure to many facets of international relations, foreign cooperation and also some significant events that occurred then such as maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden region. It is because of the Navy, that while being firmly anchored in operations, I could also extend my arms to meet and interact with academics, scholars, think tanks, media-persons, museology experts and a whole range of interesting people who piqued my curiosity and helped me learn more. It is because of the Navy I was able to serve in a variety of tri-service institutions and assignments and get a purple tinge to my white uniform.

If I can misquote the famous author CLR James and borrow from his memorable lines to argue “What do they know of Navy who only Navy Know”, and bring out how important it is for an individual to know much more about the wider world to better understand his own profession. The good thing is that the Navy itself believes in this credo. As an adaptable and agile service that places equal importance both to reflex action and reflection, the Navy provides maximum avenues for ticking several items in one’s bucket list. The Navy as a thinking service places premium on scholarship and gives incentives to creativity. While it may not reflect the external aura or breezy informality of Silicon Valley startups, there is enormous place and respect for innovation, imagination and intelligence in the service.

INS Vindhyagiri, Courtesy: Defence Talks

Above all, the Navy cares. It is possible to argue, at least theoretically, that an upwardly mobile life in the corporate world too may have fetched similar rewards. But does the corporate world score when it comes to caring? I will just give one instance here to emphasise my point. Circumstances worked in such manner that both my father and mother passed away in naval hospitals (a decade apart) when they were staying with me. While the ultimate outcome was decreed by God, the extraordinary care and compassion with which they were treated in naval hospitals throughout their convalescence was touching. My shipmates and other friends coming together to arrange everything from the last rites to paperwork, or before that, visiting my parents and looking after them in our absence from station was very humbling. Above all, my bosses gave me long leave to look after their treatment and post death formalities.

Such acts, in turn, makes one to respond similarly when we are in a position to help or be useful. This creates a virtuous circle of goodness and kindness. Let me emphasise that I am not suggesting that life in navy is all ‘treacle and honey’ full of saintly people. Far from it. In fact, I am suggesting that we are ordinary men with ordinary impulses but it is the creation of an ecosystem like the navy that enables group dynamics to be of high standards and outcomes where the total is more than the sum of its parts.

Conclusion

the good things about the service is endless. The wonderful aspect about this journey is that each of us will have had ‘similarly different’ experiences. The people, locations, chronology, nature of our experiences may be different but the characteristics and conclusions are essentially the same.

To conclude I can do no better than to quote Capt Mohan Ram again “I think the best reason to join the Navy is that one can have great fun. There is an innocence, playfulness and devil care attitude to life in General. We are serious about our work but do not take ourselves seriously. The Navy builds character, gives one resilience and the adaptability to meet any unforeseen emergency. I am what I am largely due to my years in the Navy. Once in the Navy, always in the Navy. Some love affairs never end”.

Life in the Navy completely transforms an individual. Which is why even though I believe (immodestly perhaps) that while I may have made a hot shot lawyer, a successful politician or a rockstar TV anchor, given a chance I would want to join the Navy again.


Cmde Srikant Kesnur (Retd), VSM, PhD (Retd) superannuated recently, on 30 Jun 22, after 36 years in the Navy. An alumnus of NDA (68, D), DSSC (55 th SC) and Naval War College (NHCC 20), the officer is a specialist in Communications and Electronic Warfare. His Naval career saw him command two frontline fleet ships – INS Vindhyagiri and INS Jalashwa, apart from numerous operational, training and staff appointments. He has also been Instructor/Faculty at NDA (Div Offr/AQ), DSSC (DS/HOTT Navy) and NWC (Deputy Commandant and SI). He also did a tour of duty in a diplomatic assignment as our Defence Adviser, in the High Commission of India, Nairobi, Kenya, with East Africa as his area of responsibility. A PhD from Mumbai University, he also holds five other post graduate degrees. He has been the Lead Author/Chief Editor of 11 books/monographs published by the Indian Navy. Prior to his retirement, he was the Director of the Maritime Warfare Centre, Mumbai and also the Officer in Charge, Naval History Project.

Courtesy: Mission Victory India

And then they came for the Hindus

By – Rami N. Desai

The critical race theory movement that started by canceling George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and then shifted to attacks on Jewish supporters of Israel has quietly adopted a new and unlikely target for castigation: Hindu-Americans. From elite American universities and to left-wing controlled state and local governments, activists are waging a campaign to smear the nation’s fourth-largest religion and stigmatize its practice. While this kind of hatred against Hindus isn’t new, it’s time for political, civic and business leaders to speak out against it.

The status of Hinduism in America hasn’t changed much since the religion was blamed for driving Mrs. Sara Chapman Bull insane more than a century ago. Mrs. Bull was a writer and a philanthropist who became a lifelong sponsor and financial supporter of Swami Vivekananda, a highly revered Hindu monk and philosopher. Mrs. Bull bequeathed her entire estate to Vivekananda’s organization, the Vedanta Society. The two had developed a close friendship with the monk calling Mrs. Bull Dhira Mata or the Calm mother.

But, when Mrs. Bull died in 1911, her daughter, Olea Bull Vaughan, challenged her will in court, arguing that Hindus had driven Mrs. Bull insane. It was a devastating display of hatred towards Hindu practices. The petition stated that the “testator’s brain had been inoculated with the bacteria of faith taught by Indian Swamis.” The evidence: Mrs. Bull burnt incense and meditated. The court ruled against the Hindu monk and reverse Mrs. Bull’s will. As Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero puts it, “Hinduism went on trial in the United States of America.” Unfortunately, Hindus and Hinduism still face the Hinduphobia that formed the basis of the 1911 trial.

The irony of course is that the concept of “caste” is not native to Hinduism or Asia, let alone India. It is a word of Iberian descent, a system imposed by colonialists originally to distinguish “older Christians” from “newer converts.” Discrimination against new converts would be justified as an attempt to maintain lineage, or Casta. Indeed, the concepts of caste society, or Societa de Castas, and blood purity were imposed on Hindu society by Portuguese colonizers to divide a Hindu society built on egalitarian social structures. History and facts matter little, it seems, to the critical race theory movement. The entire movement against caste appears to rest on one shoddy survey conducted by Equality Labs, a far-left social organization, which took unverified reports of discrimination from 1,500 anonymous respondents to represent the facts of life for 5 million Hindu Americans. The Equality Labs report inexplicably defames Hindu society and misrepresents the true nature of structures in Hindu society. And it has now become the foundational publication cited by those pushing for anti-Hindu policies in governments, universities and corporations.

Further, the now infamous suit brought forward by California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) against Cisco alleging that the company’s managers who belong to a higher caste had discriminated against the complainant who belongs to a lower caste and that the Dalit Indian employee (an alumni of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology) is darker complexioned than his higher caste managers. This utterly flawed premise of discrimination completely fails to explain the dark Brahmin found amongst the Hindus. But unfortunately, this too has become a landmark case in the burgeoning debate of caste discrimination. Academic institutions like Harvard University, Brandeis University (the first University to make caste a part of its non-discrimination policy), University of California (Davis), California State University amongst many others have also recognized caste discrimination based on the Equality Labs report. Ironically, considering the consistent negative criticism meted out to the Hindu society, it has been the most successful diaspora around the world. They tend to assimilate well in their host countries, they are successful entrepreneurs and professionals. They are generous and give back to the societies that they are welcomed by. For instance, Hindu Faith based non- profit organisation Sewa International’s response to Covid- 19 translated to $15 million in food, PPE kits, medical supplies and groceries being served in lower income and vulnerable communities. Over 5000 volunteers were engaged, and this was just in the United States. Their Covid relief extended to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Trinidad amongst a host of other countries in need, irrespective of race, gender, religion or nationality. But the chances of this being spoken of or used by the Hindu diaspora to defend themselves and their egalitarian approach to life would be a rarity. The issue lies with the complacency of the Hindus to protect themselves, prevent their identity from being attacked and leverage their strengths. It’s been a long-standing deficit. 

Present non-discrimination policy can address the issue of caste discrimination if at all a case comes up, but to single out Hindus, to make them targets is in itself discriminatory. History has a way of repeating itself. Hinduism is going on trial once again.

Rami Niranjan Desai is an author, columnist and anthropologist.

The Article first appear in News Bharati

Evidence from Savarkar’s life – VI

By: Shreerang Godbole

On 23 July 1908, Tilak was sentenced to transportation to Mandalay, Burma. This news shocked Indians staying in London. They organized a meeting to condemn this sentence and requested the Moderate leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale who was in London at that time to chair the meeting. Gokhale not only declined their request but failed to attend the meeting. This enraged some revolutionaries and they mulled the idea of killing him. Savarkar pacified these hotheads. He rebuked them that their very thought was sinful. Savarkar warned that this senseless act, an attack on a compatriot for holding a different viewpoint would be detrimental to the strength and reputation of the revolutionary movement.

On 1 July 1909, Madan Lal Dhingra killed Sir Curzon Wyllie. Niranjan Pal who was Savarkar’s comrade in revolution narrates a significant incident. He writes, “The assassination of Sir Curzon Wyllie reminds me of another great trait in Savarkar’s character, his humanity. An Indian student laughingly described how Lady Curzon Wyllie ran down the staircase and threw herself on the body of her husband. All this was too much for Savarkar. “A wife sobs her heart out for her husband and you laugh at it! I do not trust you, I cannot!” Savarkar had replied in burning indignation.

On 19 February 1915, when Moderate leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale passed away, Savarkar was in the Cellular Jail, Andamans. The jailor Barrie who treated political prisoners and especially Savarkar with an iron hand hurried to Savarkar to break the news. ‘Well Mr Savarkar” said Barrie, “you always want news. Here is something for you. Gokhale is dead!” This news shocked Savarkar and he expressed his sorrow. Surprised, Barrie said, “But he was against you.” To which Savarkar replied, “No, no! I studied in his college. We may have had our differences, but opposition? Never! If only every Hindu becomes a patriot like Gokhale at the least …!” Barrie wrote down Savarkar’s response in his diary with the note, “On the surface, these Mahrattas may seem different and opposed to each other, but in their hearts, they are all one!”

Narayan Sadashiv Bapat alias poet Ulhas spent several years in close proximity to Savarkar when the latter was interned in Ratnagiri (1924-1937). He later became a supporter of MN Roy. Bapat has penned his reminiscences of Savarkar in a Marathi book Smritipushpe (1979).

The following incident narrated by him occurred around 1932 when Bapat was a lad of fifteen. In Bapat’s words: Once I asked Tatya (Savarkar’s nickname), “If someone were to kill Gandhi?” At this, he easily replied, “No, he is our own. He should not be killed.” I said, “But what if someone were to find his political positions to be harmful?” Savarkar replied, “If that happens, he may be interned for some time in some fort.” I have been narrating this incident for several years. I am penning it today. During the Gandhi Murder trial, I had asked the late Bhopatkar and even Tatya to record my witness, my reminiscence. But they felt that the Government was prejudiced and jaundiced. Rather than drawing the logical conclusion, they may conclude that a discussion had happened on Gandhi’s murder. Therefore, I kept quiet. I shall narrate one more thing. His extreme differences with Gandhiji are well known. But in one corner of Tatya’s heart, there was fellow-feeling for Mahatmaji. Many times, he would say, “His cow, shikha, Gita, Ram’s name…finally whatever said and done is Hindu.” Whenever I listened to his conversation, he would never refer to him as ‘Gandhi’ or ‘Gandhiji’ but always ‘Mahatmaji’ (pp 48, 49).

On 12 February 1943, Gandhi started a 21-day fast in Delhi. On 20 February, Savarkar issued a statement saying, “Mahatma Gandhi’s life is not so much his own as it is a national asset… the Nation which Gandhiji wants to serve by his fast even at the risk of his life does itself feel that his precious life at this juncture is of immeasurably greater value than his loss to it.”  To all-Party leaders who had assembled in Delhi at the time under the Presidentship of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Savarkar exhorted, “The time has come that all those who are deeply concerned regarding the serious condition of Gandhiji’s health and desire to leave no stone unturned to save his precious life should realize immediately, whether we like it or not, the only way which is likely to prove more effective than any other in saving Gandhiji’s life is to issue a national appeal.”

On 26 July 1943, Jinnah narrowly escaped a murderous attack by a Khaksar Muslim. The following day, Savarkar issued a statement, “I am extremely pained to learn of the murderous attempt made on the life of Mr. Jinnah and felicitate him on his narrow escape… Such internecine, unprovoked and murderous assaults, even if their motive be political or fanatical, constitute a stain on the public and civic life and must be strongly condemned.” 

On 6 May 1944, the Government released Gandhi from Aga Khan Palace, Pune. The following day, Savarkar issued a statement saying, “The whole Nation feels a sense of relief at the news that the Government has released Gandhiji in view of his advanced age and declining health owing due to his recent illness. It was a human act. I wish Gandhiji a speedy recovery.”     

It is clear that Savarkar did not approve of Gandhi’s death either by assassination or fasting. In fact, to go further, Savarkar did not approve of attempts to cause nuisance at Gandhi’s public meetings. The incident to this effect has been narrated by none other than Nathuram Godse in his statement (para 36, 37) before Justice Atma Charan (8 November 1948).

In Godse’s words: “Mr Apte (co-accused Narayan Apte who was later hanged with Godse) and I decided to stage a series of demonstrations in Delhi into his (Gandhi’s) meetings and make it impossible for him to hold such prayers… But when Veer Savarkar read the report of this demonstration, instead of appreciating our move, he called me and blamed me privately for such anarchical tactics, even though this demonstration was peaceful. He said, “Just as I condemn the Congressites for breaking up your party meetings and election booths by disorderly conduct, I ought to condemn any such undemocratic conduct on the part of Hindu Sanghtanists also. If Gandhiji preached anti-Hindu teachings in his prayer meetings, you should hold your party meetings and condemn his teachings. Amongst ourselves, all different political parties should conduct their propaganda on strictly constitutional lines.” Later in his statement, Godse spelt how he developed differences with Savarkar over a period of time.

Evidence from Savarkar thought

Savarkar had clarified his position on Gandhi in 1928 during the Bardoli satyagraha. In his words, “In the battle-field of Bardoli, the cause of that great patriot being, as of now, befitting a general and because it is only correct that we should, to the extent possible, fight shoulder to shoulder in a  national struggle called by anyone, this time, we intend to speak and act to co-operate and help Mahatmaji. We but oppose when national interest itself is in peril and that too in the context of the national cause. Individually, our motto should be ‘vayam pancadhikam shatam’ (we are one hundred and five – after Yudhishthir’s famous sentence that while five Pandavas and one hundred Kauravas were against each other, all one hundred five were united against an external foe); ours is!”  (Collected Works, Marathi, 1963-1965, Vol 4, p 204).

It is easy to assume that Savarkar, revolutionary that he was, was an unexceptional votary of violence, murder and mayhem. Nothing is farther from truth. Even in his revolutionary days, Savarkar disapproved of wanton violence.

In a letter dated 6 July 1920 written to his younger brother Narayanrao from the Cellular Jail, he writes, “But even while combating force with force we heartily abhorred and do yet abhor all violence. For violence is force, aggressively used force that is life killing. I never cherished not even in my dreams any aggressive ambition for personal or national aggrandizement, and so far was I from being a party to violence that I actually kept opposing it tooth and nail whenever I saw it used by powerful combinations against their weaker but righteous rivals. I heartily abhorred violence resorted to in days gone by – by ambitious men and nations not only outside India but even in India herself.”

Savarkar remained steadfast to this view to the end. Speaking at the valedictory function of his secret organization, Abhinav Bharat in 1952, Savarkar said, “The destructive revolutionary spirit that uses provocation, dissatisfaction, unrest, law-breaking, use of arms, secret conspiracy and the like as means to secure freedom for our nation from foreign rule is righteous only for that time-frame… when our foremost aim of securing freedom is met, the final duty of our successful political revolution is to immediately dissolve all such destructive revolutionary tendencies that have been ignited in armed and unarmed resisting people. Because our end now is to safeguard freedom, to do nation-building. Now it is law-abidement, not law-disruption; constructive not destructive tendency that is the rashtradharma.”   

Upholder of lofty values

Savarkar forever opposed the assassination or pointless death of his political opponents, irrespective of their country or religion. He respected the right of others to put forth a different viewpoint. Leave alone killing, he could not bear torment being caused to an innocent foreigner.  This trait is a consistent feature of his personality at different stages of his life. There is not a single episode in his life that runs contrary to this trait. Sense of justice and magnanimity were the hallmarks of Savarkar’s life and thought. Savarkar was undeniably a staunch nationalist with firm views but above all, he was a great humanist. Courtesy, dignity and probity in public life were values that were dear to him.

To insinuate that he was directly or indirectly involved in Gandhi’s murder is grave injustice to the man and a travesty of truth. But what can one say of his supporters who form and spread the impression that Godse’s act was in tune with Savarkar’s thinking? More than Savarkar’s detractors, it is these self-proclaimed Savarkar-supporters who put a damning blot on his fair name. Is it too much to hope and expect that his thoughtless supporters and motivated detractors will care to read and understand Savarkar in his entirety?

Ordeal by fire: Gandhi Murder and Savarkar – V

By: Shreerang Godbole

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated at 5.17 pm on 30 January 1948. On 31 January, police raided Savarkar’s residence and seized some correspondence. The then office-bearers of the Hindu Mahasabha (HMS) had issued a statement condemning Gandhi’s assassination. Nonetheless, in a separate statement dated 4 February 1948, Savarkar, who was then Vice-President of the HMS condemned the Gandhi murder in no uncertain terms.

On 5 February, the Mumbai Police arrested Savarkar from his residence and lodged him in Arthur Road (now Sane Guruji Marg) Prison. He was charged under the following sections – 302, 34, 100, 120-B and 307 as also sections 4, 5 of the Explosive Substances Act of 1878 and section 19 (F) of the Arms Act. In simple language, he was arrested and charged with murder, conspiracy to murder, illegal possession of arms and explosives or assisting in such illegal possession.

There is ample evidence to suggest that the Mumbai Police were acting with malice. On 11 May 1948, Savarkar was taken by them to the CID office. He was then made to sit in a chair and Godse and other accused were placed by his sides. They were all photographed in a group. In his affidavit dated 18 May 1948 before the Chief Presidency Magistrate, Mumbai, Savarkar rightly expressed the apprehension that this photograph may be possibly used to concoct evidence against him. 

The police subjected Savarkar’s personal bodyguard Appa Kasar to unspeakable torture. They forced him to lie on an ice slab for fifty-six days at a stretch, plucked his finger-nails and thrashed him till he became unconscious. All they wanted was a confession from him that would nail Savarkar! To his eternal credit, Appa Kasar did not wilt. He refused to give the statement that the Nehru Government so desperately wanted.

On 4 May 1948, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India issued a notification constituting a Special Court to inquire into the Mahatma Gandhi Murder Case. Justice Atma Charan, then District and Sessions Judge, Kanpur was appointed as Special Judge. The Court held its sittings in a hall on the upper storey of a building in the Red Fort, Delhi. Savarkar who was then in Mumbai, was brought to Delhi before the commencement of the trial. All the accused, including Savarkar were lodged in the Red Fort in a specially selected area which was declared to be a prison. The charges framed against Savarkar and his written statement are outside the scope of this article. 

(They may be read online http://www.savarkar.org/en/biography/written-statement-savarkar)

On 10 February 1949, Justice Atma Charan pronounced that “Savarkar is found not guilty of the offences as specified in the charge and is acquitted thereunder: he is in custody, and be released forthwith, unless required otherwise.” In supreme contempt of court, the anti-Savarkar brigade doggedly refuses to accept this verdict. Nothing short of Savarkar’s hanging would have satisfied their lust. Clutching at one sentence from the Justice Kapur Commission Report that came much later, they vehemently insist that Savarkar was guilty of the Gandhi Murder.

Impropriety of Justice Kapur

In a public function held in Pune on 12 November 1964, senior journalist and grandson of Lokmanya Tilak, GV Ketkar stated that he and some others had prior information of the Gandhi Murder. After much public outcry, a special Commission of Inquiry was appointed by notification dated 22 March 1965. Gopal Swarup Pathak, MP was appointed to make the Inquiry. On his being appointed a Minister, Justice Jivan Lal Kapur was appointed to conduct the Inquiry on 21 November 1966.

The ‘Report of Commission of Inquiry into Conspiracy to Murder Mahatma Gandhi’ runs into two parts of 354 and 383 pages respectively. It is also available online. In brief, the terms of reference of the Commission were as follows: (1) Whether any persons, in particular GV Ketkar had prior information of the conspiracy of Godse and others to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi; (2) Whether any of such persons had communicated the said information to any authorities of the Government of Bombay or of the Government of India, in particular to the late Bal Gangadhar Kher, the then Premier of Bombay and (3) If so, what action was taken by the Government of Bombay, in particular by the late Kher and the Government of India on the basis of the said information.  

The Commission published its findings on the basis of the available information and evidence. With regards to the first term of reference, the Commission mentioned the names of individuals who had prior information of the danger to Gandhi’s life (not just in the limited sense of Godse’s act). Savarkar’s name appears nowhere in this list. If as per the Commission itself, Savarkar had no prior information; his name should be automatically taken to be cleared. 

The Justice Kapur Commission was constituted under ‘The Commissions of Inquiry’ Act of 1952. By law, an Inquiry Commission enjoys the status of a Civil Court. An Inquiry Commission is a body that collects evidence; it is NOT a judicial creature competent to pronounce a verdict. It is vested with the powers to summon an individual and cross-examine him under oath, order search or submission of any document, record affidavits and the like.    

An Inquiry Commission is subservient to a Criminal Court. It cannot inquire into a matter settled by a Criminal Court. Once Justice Atma Charan’s Special Court had pronounced Savarkar ‘not guilty’, the Justice Kapur Commission simply had no jurisdiction to pronounce otherwise! If the Nehru Government really believed that Savarkar was guilty, why did it not go in appeal in a higher court against Savarkar’s acquittal? The answer is plain.

Nehru knew that the case against Savarkar was not just flimsy, it was simply concocted. This was conveyed by then Law Minister BR Ambedkar to Savarkar’s counsel LB Bhopatkar in a secret meeting. An account of the meeting was provided by Shankar Ramchandra alias Mamarao Date, editor of the Marathi weekly Kal some 35 years later (Kal weekly, 6 June 1983).

The account has been related by Manohar Malgaonkar in his book ‘The Men who killed Gandhi’ (2008, pp 284-285) as follows: ‘While in Delhi for the trial, Bhopatkar had been put up in the Hindu Mahasabha office. Bhopatkar had found it a little puzzling that while specific charges had been made against all the other accused, there was no specific charge against his client. He was pondering about his defence strategy when one morning he was told that he was wanted on the telephone, so he went up to the room in which the telephone was kept, picked up the receiver and identified himself. His caller was Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, who merely said: “Please meet me this evening at the sixth milestone on the Mathura road”, but before Bhopatkar could say anything more, put down the receiver.

That evening, when Bhopatkar had himself driven to the place indicated he found Ambedkar already waiting. He motioned to Bhopatkar to get into his car which he, Ambedkar himself, was driving. A few minutes later, he stopped the car and told Bhopatkar: There is no real charge against your client; quite worthless evidence has been concocted. Several members of the cabinet were strongly against it, but to no avail. Even Sardar Patel could not go against these orders. But, take it from me, there just is no case. You will win.”

The law states that if the reputation of an individual is harmed as a result of inquiry by a Commission, such an individual has to be given opportunity to state his case and place evidence before the Commission. The working of Justice Kapur Commission started after Savarkar had passed away. It passed adverse remarks against Savarkar when he had no opportunity to defend himself.

Clearly, Justice Kapur’s action was illegal, unjust and improper. Kapur does not mention Savarkar’s name among individuals who had prior information of Gandhi’s murder. Then how on earth does he conclude that ‘all these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group…’ (Vol II, 25.105). In dealing with Savarkar, Kapur’s language is inexplicably loose and vague. He reiterates roughly the same point elsewhere (Vol II, 25.97). But here the words ‘Savarkar and his group’ are replaced by ‘Savarkarites’!! Kapur clearly violated judicial ethics and committed the worst form of legal impropriety.  

Supporter and follower

In the legal process, Savarkar was exonerated of all charges related to the Gandhi Murder. Unfortunately for the Savarkar-bashers, this judicial verdict cannot be erased even if they move heaven and earth.

Instead of being satisfied by this small mercy, let us put Savarkar to one more test! Is the murder of a compatriot having difference of political opinion in keeping with Savarkar’s life and thought? Specifically, does Savarkar’s life and thought provide theoretical basis for Godse’s act?

To search for an answer to this question, one needs to distinguish between a ‘supporter’ and a ‘follower’. The distinction is not as simple as it might seem. Always a stickler for exact words, Savarkar once famously said that confusion in words leads to confusion in thought. In tune with Savarkar’s axiom that ‘he who fights is a braveheart, he who works is a worker’ one can say that ‘he who supports is a supporter, he who follows is a follower.’ Every follower of a leader is necessarily his supporter. But is every supporter a follower? The answer is ‘no’.

Shankar Ramchandra alias Mamarao Date worked for several years in the Hindu Mahasabha and went on to become all-India President. He did fundamental work in the purification of Devnagari script, a project close to Savarkar’s heart. Date had done yeoman work in the field of shuddhi or reversion to the Hindu faith of those converted to Christianity and Islam. The daunting task of editing and publishing Savarkar’s huge corpus of literature was accomplished by Date in Savarkar’s lifetime.

However, Date differed with Savarkar in his views on social reform and purification of language. If the question ‘Can Date be called Savarkar’s follower’ is posed to Savarkar’s supporters, chances are that they will invariably reply in the affirmative. However, if someone introduced Date as ‘Savarkar’s follower’ in Date’s presence, he would say, “No, I am only Savarkar’s associate. Follower I am of Tilak.”

Date well knew how difficult it was to call oneself Savarkar’s follower! Those who loosely use and comprehend words fail to draw a line between ‘supporter’ and ‘follower’. Nathuram Godse and his supporters, more often than not, support Savarkar. That qualifies them as Savarkar-supporters. But that is not the point. The point is – can Godse and Godse-supporters be called Savarkar’s followers?

Agneepath/Agniveer

By: M S VenkateshwarA retired officer from the Armed Forces of India

The Agneepath scheme announced by the government recently has invited extreme reactions from a section of people, both within the armed forces and outside, with some – from within the forces too – going to the extent of claiming that one of the most dangerous outcomes could be ‘ militarisation of society – an extremely serious charge – when viewed in the context of the number of veterans in society today.

While the senior leadership of the services has become the object of derision and memes, significant blame has been laid at the doorstep of the political dispensation too, on issues concerning the execution and nitty-gritties of implementation, which is beyond their scope.

What is the truth and what should be the way forward ?

A lot of discussion has centered around a narrative already created – as an offshoot of opposition to anything that the government of the day does. The same cynicism applies to military leadership at the higher levels too, with the retired fraternity being fairly unsparing in showing a mirror of ‘ virtuosity ‘, probably forgetting their own recent past in the very same positions of authority. Some comments – in the form of memes – have been downright derogatory and unbecoming of conduct expected from the ‘ services ‘ community.

Policy Making

There has been an attempt at confusing the roles of policy making, and execution. Policy is made by the government and execution is left to the services. The government directive would have been to work out a scheme on the lines of the short service commission for officers, with financial implications being specified, if at all. It is presumed that it would have been a consequence of a study, since policy making does not happen in a vacuum. The nitty-gritties thereafter, would have been left to service HQs, to work out the modalities. Hence, the issues of the rank structure, etc. would have been worked out by the services themselves. To say that government has dictated issues like rank structure is to deliberately muddy the waters !

The difference between policy making and execution/implementation needs to be understood clearly to assign culpability if any. However, from a holistic assessment, it can be safely surmised that the benefits likely to accrue to the individual as well as society make it a win-win for all.

The positives of the policy

At the end of the tenure of four years a few thousand well-trained youth at the peak of fitness – both mental and physical – will be joining the civilian society with no individual family commitments . At the individual level, it will provide them the ability to take risks – which becomes a great handicap a few years down the line – in whichever career option they choose. The liberal options being announced for pursuit of higher education for those who wish to, makes for availability of very promising alternatives to the youth. For the country, there will be a few thousand trained youth – every year – to absorb, and make the best use of. And these are youth who carry no baggage – hierarchical or otherwise – and can be groomed by the organisation they join. It is a given that the organisation will be the gainer since they will have a bunch of dedicated, motivated and most importantly, trained manpower who can be moulded, and entrusted with responsibilities beyond capabilties of normal people, secure in the belief that their integrity would be beyond reproach. And the tenure in the armed forces will be their USP .

Benefits to Society

The fall out of youth with integrity and character joining the work force will not be lost on the rest of the people who come in contact. This will have a ripple effect on the rest of the organisation in terms of efficiency and morale, since this will be an annual feature. It would not be mere hype to predict that a lot of organisations would be waiting to induct these Agniveers , mainly because they are an extremely well trained resource being made available.

Over a period of a few years, the change in society itself will be visible, since the forces have always been considered as a classless – albeit hierarchical – community. The same will rub off at the grass roots of society too, since most of the intake is from the rural areas !

Effects on the Military

The most important effect on the armed forces and hence a huge responsibility will be to ‘ manage change ‘. The arguments being bandied about – about the turnover and short duration of tenure – doesn’t not paint the leadership in a good light. The management of change in the units will rest upon the officers. The ability to extract the best from the men under command does not change, whether they are in permanent service or short service . If the template of the short service commissioned officers be any yardstick, are they – in any way – lacking vis-a-vis the permanent commissioned officers ? If so, the blame has to be taken by the leadership, and the same should be applied here too. There should be no leeway in any aspect of service. There are enough processes to weed out the bad apples by strict punishment being meted out and an example being set.

Today’s youth are growing with technology and are far smarter, if the adage of ‘ every succeeding generation being smarter than the previous one, since our ancestors were apes ‘, holds true. Therefore, the fear of them not being up to the task or being found to be wanting in any way, is unfounded.

Issue of Rank and Dress

This should not even be an issue, since these are mere cosmetics. The authorities – the Service HQs – should and probably would, certainly have the flexibility to change these since these issues are an internal affair, and beyond the scope of the civilian beaurucracy and politicos.

Fear of Militarised Society

Those among the experts – retired, serving or civilians – putting forward this apprehension really need to introspect. It is the kind of charge which points all the fingers at the one pointing it. It is akin to saying that the training in the armed forces churns out criminals ! Nothing can be farther from the truth than this misplaced charge. In all these decades of highly trained men – with huge experience – leaving the forces, the number ‘ turning rogue ‘ has been a statistic that armed forces all over the world have been extremely proud of . To raise such fears is to indulge in runour-mongering to prove a point and ‘ is an insult to the ethos of the armed forces* . However, should it happen, exemplary punishment to the initial cases should settle the issue once and for all. But to use this argument for withdrawing the scheme is to hold the country to ransom. Also, it implies a failure of the forces in training their soldiers, sailors and airmen.

The charge of 75 percent being perceived as rejects does not hold water since it is in nature of service in all military organisations. Even amongst the officer cadre, the steep pyramid ensures that only a miniscule number make it to the top. Those being overlooked is always construed as a limitation of the organisational structure rather than a failure . The same is a part of the formal counseling process, an aspect that needs to be inculcated in this case too. Needless to say, it is extremely important to ensure these kind of negative vibes are avoided at all costs, to avoid a spiral and prevent a culture of despondency at the very beginning . It assumes greater importance in these times of toolkits, which are highly effective in inflaming passions .

Conclusion

For the naysayers and the non-believers, one would only request them to go back in their career and recollect how they felt when they were immediately out of training, and freshly-minted commissioned officers who felt ‘ the world was their oyster ‘ and they owned it , purely on the strength of the confidence in their abilities , arising out of their extremely good training in the forces.

The same privilege should be accorded to the future Agniveers too , rather than make them dependent on doles, in the form of permanent absorption as the only option.