SUNDAY MAGAZINE

To war with wisdom

Proud Heritage: The Defence Services Staff College. Photo: K. Ananthan  



PANKAJA SRINIVASAN

The list of alumni of The Defence Services Staff College at Wellington reads like a Who's Who of the armed forces.



At the height of the Cold War, this was perhaps the only place where officers from the armed forces of the U.S. and the erstwhile U.S.S.R. broke bread together.

IN the midst of various battles that were being fought during Partition, a silver owl was creating its own skirmish.Forty years before this in 1907, the British set up the Indian Staff College, in Quetta (now in Pakistan) to train military officers to become the "brain of the army" in India. It was modelled on the Staff College at Camberley, England.

Contentious move

In 1947, the Indian Staff College moved to Wellington, Nilgiris, where it came to be known as The Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) or the Raksha Seva Staff College. The move was not without its share of contentions. There was acrimonious debate over the rightful ownership of the college mascot, a solid silver owl, presented to the college in 1907. The matter was clinched by an inscription on the owl that clearly stated, "Presented ... to the Indian Staff College."This owl is still the mascot of DSSC, along with the motto, "Yuddham Pragnaya" - To War With Wisdom. It holds pride of place and one sees it everywhere in Wellington. The annual college magazine is called The Owl while its monthly newsletter is The Hoot and even the coveted institution tie has owls embroidered on it.The Fijian coup leader S.L. Rabuka is a graduate of DSSC, and a popular anecdote doing the rounds is that he learnt how to engineer a coup here and then went on to do the same in his own country! Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo graduated from this college in the 1960s. At the height of the Cold War, this was perhaps the only place where officers from the armed forces of the U.S. and the erstwhile U.S.S.R. broke bread together. Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was an alumnus here and the present chiefs of the Army, Navy and the Air Force, have all passed through its portals as has the Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, R.N. Malhotra. The first post-Independence Commander-in-chief of the Army, General K.M. Cariappa, was one of the earliest Indian officer graduates of the college in Quetta.No wonder then, for defence officers, both Indian and foreign (there are students from over 20 friendly foreign countries doing the course) graduating from DSSC is a big deal. They proudly affix PSC (passed Staff College) after their names. A PSC is considered a pre-requisite for holding important military appointments.

Tales of valour

The low sprawling buildings of DSSC are replete with reminders of tales of valour. Portraits and moving citations of some of India's greatest war heroes grace the foyer of the prestigious Tri-Shakti Complex that comprises a state of the art auditorium and a sand model room. Among them are Major Somnath Sharma, the first Param Vir Chakra recipient (India's highest wartime gallantry award), Flying Officer Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon, the first and only Paramvir Chakra recipient of the Indian Air Force and Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla of the Indian Navy who was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra and went down with his ship INS Khukri in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. They won the awards posthumously.Spread over an undulating area, the classrooms reverberate to the sound of debates and discussions on military history and strategy, studies on foreign armed forces, leadership and management. Outside, flowerbeds, trees, and hedges grow, also with military precision. Uniformed officers move in disciplined groups from one lecture to another. The 45-week course includes a Forward Area Tour, and an Industrial Demonstration Tour where students acquaint themselves with life in the border areas and the functioning of leading industries in public and private sectors. Luminaries like A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Nani Palkhiwala, Rahul Bajaj, T.N. Seshan, J.N. Dixit and others have regularly lectured at the college.

Unique institution

Air Vice Marshal A.S. Gurunathan, who studied and also taught here till he retired as the Chief Instructor, best explains what makes DSSC unique to the military fraternity. He says, "That warfare in the recent past has been joint reinforces the belief that the days of single service warfare is long over. That DSSC is one of the first Joint Service Institutions in the world is a tribute to the vision and foresight of our elders, both political and military."Visitors to the college often ask why, when various rooms and auditoriums are named after great Indians like Ashoka, Sardar Patel, Chandra Gupta, Chanakya, Kattabomman and Valmiki, Mahatma Gandhi is conspicuous by his absence. And invariably the answer they get is, `Gandhi being an apostle of peace, it is considered inappropriate to name anything after him in an institution that teaches warfare"