Yesterday, we saw the Chief of India’s Naval Staff hand in his resignation which was promptly accepted. Admiral D K Joshi submitted his resignation taking moral responsibility for the criticism against the performance of the Indian Navy over the last year. The Indian Navy, as you know, came in for a certain amount of flak after a series of accidents big and small. The sinking of the INS Sindhurakshak following a dockside explosion in August 2013 was shocking and this was followed by the recent accident involving the INS Sindhuratna. As I write this on Feb 27, we know that two officers seem to have lost their lives following the accident and seven sailors are still in hospital.
I believe Admiral Joshi has done the right thing in handing in his resignation in the highest traditions of the service. As the old Naval tradition goes, the captain always goes down with his ship. Although it happened many years ago, I still carry vivid memories of the pictures of Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla going down with the INS Khukri in the 1971 Indo-Pak war when it was torpedoed off the Eastern Coast.
The Defence Minister, Mr. A K Antony however has no qualms of assigning the responsibility to the service Chief and sitting pretty himself. A far cry from the days of yore when Lal Bahadur Shastri did something which would be considered unimaginable in this day and age in indian politics. Shastri, who was then the Railways Minister resigned owning up moral responsibility for an accident in 1956 which left 144 people killed. These days railway accidents and all kinds of scams happen every now and then but no politician seems to care.
The Defence Minister has a role because many of the things happening in the Indian Navy are beyond the control of Admiral Joshi or indeed of any other serving Chief. As this article in the Hindustan Times shows why. The procurement of important ships of war have dragged on for years. There is no doubt that our submarine fleet is aging and aging fast. Little surprise therefore that there were a spate of accidents involving them.
Somehow in our country we seldom have Defence Ministers who are well versed with the ways of the Services. Most have been more focussed on proving that the civilian Government is supreme and the advice of the Service Chiefs is no longer valued as it was in the past. It appears that our Prime Minister scarcely meets the Service Chiefs. He leaves that to the Defence Minister who in turn leaves it to the Defence Secretary and other bureaucrats in his Ministry.
We show a marked preference for rallying behind our defence services only at the time of war and calling for their assistance only when things get out of hand in civilian governments. The time has come for our politicians to give far higher importance to their relationship with the Service Chiefs and through them with the thousands of men and women who serve the armed forces, often working in extremely hazardous conditions in the air, on the ground and at sea.