As Director, College of Naval Warfare in Mumbai, in the year 2008; I took the Naval Higher Command Course student officers with me to a tour of South Africa and Mauritius. In Mauritius we visited the Folk Museum of Indian Immigration. We were surprised to see the records of all indentured labourers who came to British Mauritius from Bihar between 1834 and 1921 (the museum houses 2000 volumes of these). In the year 1835, slavery was abolished in Mauritius and hence these were called indentured labourers.
Similarly, if you go to the Cellular Jail in Port Blair, you would be stunned at the painstaking way in which the British maintained the records of all the prisoners brought from India to the jail that came to be known as Kala Pani (Black Water). The British were cruel and committed untold atrocities on Indian slaves, but, they were much better than us for their record-keeping or documentation.
When I saw Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi I was surprised to see in the end that almost all the credits and acknowledgments of Indian history records were to the Britishers.
We learnt many a thing from our rulers but we didn’t learn from them this due diligence in record keeping. This has resulted in many an embarrassing situation. After the Kargil War in July 1999, Grenadier Yogendra Singh Yadav was awarded the highest military honour: The Param Vir Chakra. His citation read that he was being awarded this posthumously. It was a big relief and huge embarrassment for Army Headquarters to know that he was actually alive. The Armed Forces of India are at perpetual war with the Indian bureaucracy for the step-motherly treatment that they often get (the present OROP controversy is one of the examples). However, it is a fact that we are equally poor in record keeping at least. Please read: Rediff On The NeT Army battling to correct its Param Vir mistakes.
We have had an Army Chief who embarrassed the nation no end through challenging the record of his own date of birth (Read ‘Army Chief’s Age – The Other Issues’, ‘Hats Off To General VK Singh’ and ‘Indian Army Before And After Operation Vijay’).
After the infamous 26/11 Mumbai Attacks, Indian government handed over two demarches to Pakistan. Amongst other things, the demarches asked for the arrest of and handing over of about 20 persons including gangster Dawood Ibrahim, Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist leader Maulana Masood Azhar and Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafeez Mohammad Saeed. It was widely reported in the Indian newspapers that the list also included at least four names of “hardened criminals” enjoying “immunity” in Pakistan when actually they were held in Indian prisons.
We fought a major war with China in 1962. Fifty three years later, we still do not have an officially accepted record of the history of the war. The Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report, also referred to as the Henderson Brooks report, is the report of an analysis (Operations Review) of the Sino-Indian of 1962. Its authors are Indian Army officers: Lieutenant-General TB Henderson Brooks and Brigadier Premindra Singh Bhagat, Commandant of the Indian Military Academy at that time. However, the report has not been declassified even though there has been hue and cry about its publication.
Why do we, as a nation and armed forces, land up in this mess? The reason appears to lie in the glory and glamour attached to operations and looking down on administrative skills. The armed forces have a Defence Services Staff College in Wellington (Nilgiris) to teach the middle ranking armed forces officers administrative skills. However, when an armed forces officer lands up after the Staff Course, say, in Naval Headquarters, he quickly finds out that practically it is so different from what has been theoretically taught to him. Many have realised that locating an earlier letter or file is a virtual impossibility. Hence, an armed forces officer is most likely to indulge in what is known as reinventing the wheel when it comes to long-standing issues (these are “long-standing” because of the babus in the Ministry of Defence).
In the IAF, for example, fliers want to do flying all the times. Attending courses, for them, is considered beneath their macho spirit. When I underwent Higher Command course with the Army (I did HC 25 in the year 1996-97), I was able to learn from my IAF counterparts that officers pull strings to get out of attending courses so that they can continue doing what they like most: flying.
On the lighter side, after leaving the Navy in end Feb 2010, I have found that my name and address held in various departments in the Western Naval Command has rarely been correct. Because of this, many a times, I have missed important meetings and functions. I have tried my best in the last five years to get the records corrected by writing mails with my correct name and address and have personally visited the Command Headquarters to get these corrected. However, so strong is our inclination to be administratively poor that until now I haven’t received many letters with my correct name and address.
Another curious thing that I have discovered is that in the header of the mail from an official/authority in the Armed Forces, if a telephone number is given, it is rarely of the officer signing it. If you have a query regarding the letter that you have received and you dial this number, you are likely to get connected to the clerk who typed out the letter and he would have no idea of what you are asking.
The Army Headquarters are the worst in this. At one time an opportunity arose in my corporate to employ retired Major Generals for some very senior billets. Through my friends in Naval Headquarters, I got in touch with the Army Headquarters (MS Branch). The officer there seemed to understand my request for the names of a few Major Generals who had just retired. However, after a few days when I was expecting a list from him, I received a mail asking me to spell out my requirement again by mail (this is a favourite ploy with all services headquarters). A phone number and Fax number was given at the letter head. Fifteen days of unsuccessfully trying to get in touch on those numbers left me totally drained out.
On the First of July this year, my course completed 40 years of having received President’s Commission. I retired five years back and likewise with my coursemates except those who retired as Rear and Vice Admirals later. All of us were full of nostalgia about our active time in the Navy. As if to bring me down to mother earth, just a day prior to that, on 30th June, I received a letter from the Pension Cell in Naval Pay Office that my Genform (a General Information order regarding movements of personnel) for having retired on 28th Feb 2010 had not been received by them. It has been only five and half years. Perhaps in another half a decade they would get it. Nothing changes; we are proud of our administrative inefficiency despite the computer age and improved means of communications.
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