Doing the honourable thing

Adm DK Joshi has resigned on Wednesday evening as India’s navy chief, taking responsibility for a series of mishaps and errors of judgement by captains of various ships over the past seven months. He has done the honourable thing as a true military leader should do but very few have had the moral courage to actual go through with.

Cynics have suggested that relations between him and the Defence Ministry had plummeted to a new low as he was seen to be underplaying the bunch of accidents much to the annoyance of the ministry mandarins and therefore Adm Joshi had no choice to quit.Although, as many would point out the fault should lie with the commanders on ground, the Flag-Officers Commanding-in-Chief, the navy’s two operational commands on the western and eastern seaboards. Like a true leader, Adm Joshi however took the blame upon himself.

Wednesday morning’s accident on the submarine INS Sindhuratna off the coast of Mumbai in which two officers are listed as ‘unaccounted’ for till the time of writing this one hour short of midnight on Wednesday, came as a last straw and Adm Joshi decided to take the moral responsibility as any military leader worth his salt would do!

What came as a surprise however was the immediate acceptance of the resignation by Defence Minister AK Antony. It was as if the Defence Minister was more than happy that someone was stepping up and taking it on the chin so that he would be spared of any blame coming right to the top in the defence ministry! Many questions need to be asked of the minister and the civil servants working under him for not holding the hand of the armed forces and meeting their requirements in time. 

It is no secret that India’s submarine arm has seen its strength getting depleted rapidly but despite a comprehensive and viable submarine accretion plan being presented to the government in 1999–15 years ago–no new acquisition or accretion has happened thanks to government apathy and disinterest. Yes, the navy has made mistakes. Yes, maintenance has been a bit of problem. Yes, young officers have made errors of judgement. But for all their sins of commission and omission, each and everyone in the uniform has paid the price by either getting sacked or removed and barred from any further promotion.

In contrast, has anything happened to the DPSUs and their non-performing assets? Has any Joint Secretary (Navy) been taken to task for not speeding up acquisitions or meeting deadlines for timely delivery of platforms? Has a defence secretary ever come under scrutiny for delays and dilatory tactics? Has Mr Antony, who only wants to preserve his ‘lily white reputation’ of probity and integrity, ever admitted that his risk-aversion has led to India’s defence modernisation being at least a decade behind schedule?

No Sir, the babus may be the ultimate decision makers on what to acquire or not (remember according to allocation of Business Rules and transaction, it is the defence secretary, and not the three service chiefs who are responsible for the defence of India!), but the fall guy in case of delays and errors has to be someone from the forces!

As the story of Adm Joshi’s resignation came in, I made some half a dozen random calls to serving and retired officers to gauge their reactions; I also received a dozen odd calls from serving officers in different ranks, mostly from the navy–understandably so–angrily seeking answers to the sudden development. To most it was a bolt from blue; some were cynical but across the board everyone was angry with the unfairness of it all.”The Chief has done the honourable thing a military leader is expected to do and we are happy about it. but what about others up the chain?”They were dismayed that there would be no accountability sought from the political executive and the bureaucracy for a sustained neglect of India’s armed forces.

As I stood in front of the camera tonight on prime time, all these thoughts swirled in my mind. Given the limited time available on TV, I tried to articulate as many as possible but as tomorrow comes, many more questions will be and should be raised. For tonight it is sufficient to say:

Salute Adm Joshi!


  1. February 26, 2014 -

    In the interest of the navy, will senior naval officers put aside their personal ambitions and convince the government not to accept the resignation of Admiral DK Joshi?Will Army Chief and Air Force Chief show camaraderie and spirit of jointmanship and request the PM and RM not to accept resignation of Navy Chief Were they not cadets together at the National Defence Academy (NDA)? Or have they all forgotten the spirit of jointmanship?

  2. February 27, 2014 -

    Ditto that. Also, will this not set a precedence for the other and future Chiefs while the babus remain unaccountable.

  3. February 27, 2014 -

    politicians and bureaucrats would take responsibility only if they are forced to. Soldiers take responsibility because they feel they should, because they are true leaders and because the force ethos is to stand up for what is right.

  4. February 27, 2014 -

    In complete agreement with Vikram Karve.

  5. February 27, 2014 -

    atleast army chief doesn't know jointmanship…he will never do anything for anybody…!!!

  6. February 27, 2014 -

    What Admiral Joshi has displayed is actual courage of conviction expected out of true leader. Though, not directly involved the Naval Chief has taken upon himself the responsibility of mishaps as head of Indian Navy. I salute such leaders and wish our Armed forces are able to groom, nurture and promote such officers to higher ranks. In sharp contrast, Kargil happened a Brigadier was fixed, and very recently the beheading of soldiers on the LC did not draw similar response from military leadership. This only raises questions on the ability of senior hierarchy to share responsibility rather than making junior commanders the scapegoat. In the instant incident, why is the Western naval Command head continues to watch the show, hoping like hell that his seniority will automatically push him up? Politicians and bureaucrats are the way they are because of inadequacies in higher defence management and the meekness with which the military hierarchy deals with them. Till the time the military hierarchy learns to stand up and confront politicians and bureaucrats the situation albeit will remain the same. The kid glove handling of bureaucrats by military hierarchy under the garb of civilian control has got stretched to far. What stops a Chief to seek regular meetings and attention from the so called Political Masters for the sake of forces and go down fighting, if needed? The problem lies within. Its fine to cry out loud after demitting office, but not do so, while in office is the biggest dis-service senior defence hierarchy can also be accused of? Indian Defence hierarchy probably needs many Admiral DK Joshi's to clean up the mess our politician + bureaucrat's and successive Govts have created in the management of Defence Forces.

  7. February 27, 2014 -

    The self-serving and dirigiste Indian bureaucracy, until fundamentally restructured, is an insurance against fruition of the idea of a resurgent India. It has mastered the art of rule by stealth at the cost of the country and its people.

  8. February 28, 2014 -

    As brought out by Nitin, the Defence Secretary is responsible for the defence of India. He has “outsourced” that responsibility to the three Chief's. So if anything goes wrong blame it on the Service Chief's, 'cause the Def Secy is only distributing responsibility – not taking on any responsibility. So convenient.

  9. February 28, 2014 -

    As incisively observed by Nitin, the responsibility of the defence of INDIA is entrusted on the Def Secy. He, in turn, has “outsourced” that task to the three Service Chief's. Consequently, any omission or lapse is deftly deflected on to the Service heads. Thus the teflon coated bureaucrat escapes all responsibility.