After the Indian Air Force facing innumerable fighter aircraft crashes, it now seems to be the turn of the Indian Navy to be affected by accidents. The reports — on the sad state of the Navy (Feb. 27) — show that the lax attitude of bureaucrats and Defence Ministry officials is what is resulting in the needless and unfortunate loss of lives. Why is the Ministry ignoring this factor and not ensuring that equipment is upgraded in a transparent manner? Why does corruption follow every deal? The accident gives one more opportunity for the Opposition to point fingers at the UPA.
The Indian Navy has been sailing through troubled waters for the past year. India has to work hard in ensuring indigenisation in all fields of defence research and development. We can ill-afford to be weak in terms of defence preparedness at this juncture when there is much regional tension and when the Indian Navy is spearheading India’s cooperative engagement with the Indian Ocean region.
The resignation of the Navy chief reminds one of Lal Bahadur Sastri who was honest enough to resign from the post of Railway Minister after a major railway accident near Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu. One of the reasons for the Admiral’s resignation is said to be his frustration over the indifference of successive governments and their failure to modernise the Navy. The fact shows that the government is least concerned about vital issues that concern the nation.
“On every ship there is one man who alone is responsible for the safe navigation, accurate gunfire and morale of the ship. In the hour of crisis he can turn to no other. He is the commanding officer. He is the ship,” is a quote I read decades ago in the magazine Naval Institute Proceedings — and imbibed in my functioning. Admiral Joshi’s honourable act is in line with the onus of command in the quote. It is a fact that many of the ships and equipment in the Indian Navy are old. The Navy does not have a submarine rescue ship. It is not as if ships cannot survive over time but there have to be periodic midlife refits and modernisation. That seems to be largely absent. This is because the men in uniform, the stakeholders, are largely absent in procurement exercises. Despite rising costs, there is a slide in financial allocations. All this comes from a generalist handling of the defence forces. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Commander of the services, the President of India, has not said anything yet on the development given that all defence staff serve at the “pleasure of the President.”
Admiral D.K. Joshi’s step is a rare phenomenon in Indian public life. He must have been very frustrated at the state of affairs in the Navy. It is shameful that highly qualified public servants have to face the music while the political class is left untouched.
Admiral D.K. Joshi’s move is admirable, one that maintains the all but forgotten tradition of accountability. It also turns the spotlight on the way things are run in another important organisation, the Railways. No railway official, least of all the Railway Minister, has said anything of significance on the spate of rail accidents that have occurred in the recent past. The Railway Safety Commissioner seems to always submit a report that avoids any mention of the accountability of railwaymen.