‘Vested Interests Have Stalled Reforms,’ Former Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi Tells NDTV: Full Transcript
This interview transcript went missing from the NDTV site without explanation, so here it is.
Here is the full transcript of NDTV’s interview with Former Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi.
NDTV: What prompted the government to accept your resignation with such haste?
Admiral DK Joshi: On the speed of its acceptance I really have no comments. In my letter I had requested that it would be with immediate affect. I said it should be done immediately. No issue with that but that it was accepted in a couple of hours amused me that there was such haste to pin it on someone.
NDTV: That it was accepted within 10 minutes I am told
Admiral Joshi: It took a couple of hours, certainly not 10 minutes but fairly quickly
NDTV: That was Mr Antony’s reaction
Admiral Joshi: There was I think surprise. Nothing more.
NDTV: Normally one would think that such a resignation would be taken to the Cabinet Committee on Security, at least to the Cabinet or to the Prime Minister. Do you think that happened?
Admiral Joshi: Well I wouldn’t comment on the process that may or may not have been followed, but that it took just a couple of hours should perhaps provide an indication of the route it took.
NDTV: But was it done to get rid of the problem and not let the problem get beyond you to the Minister and to the MoD?
Admiral Joshi: it would appear that the haste with which it was accepted perhaps there might have been consideration that what happens if this fellow changed his mind?
NDTV: But what really pushed you into resigning?
Admiral Joshi: The root cause is this dysfunctional and inefficient business model that we have, wherein professional competence, domain expertise, accountability, responsibility and authority, these all reside in separate silos in different locations. While professional competence, accountability, responsibility is with the service that is not the case with authority. And by authority I really mean the power to approve something, empowerment to approve something or the other. For example, change of submarine batteries, which are available indigenously or for commencing refits and repairs of ships, aircraft, submarines in Indian yards, the service does not have that empowerment. That’s a broad construct as a background. Where there is authority there is no accountability. And where there is responsibility there is no authority.
You don’t have to accept this coming from me. For more than a decade now recognising fully that higher management of defence needs reforms, several expert committees have been formed. Virtually all their recommendations have been identical, but vested interests have ensured that the more substantive ones, which bring authority and accountability together, have not been approved. Some peripheral ones have been progressed but nothing substantive.
You will be, for example, told listen we have created HQ IDS. But it’s a headless wonder, its head was never appointed. I have been CISC, CINCAN tenure. I know it very well. Then they will tell you how the service HQs have been named as Integrated HQs, Ministry of Defence, but as the then Defence Secretary told the Standing Committee on Defence, the changes were mostly cosmetic as indeed they are.
NDTV: When you say vested interests, who do you mean? Let’s get it out
Admiral Joshi: Vested interests, to you and your perceptive listeners are very clear. These are the ones who wield the authority without accountability. With that as a backdrop in my letter, I had said I am accepting the moral responsibility for the dent caused to the professional image of the navy on account of a few accidents and incidents. Image is the key or the operative word here. Many things go into making or demolishing of the image. Chief among them is the professional conduct of the service. There is no denying the fact there were issues there. But correctives were put in place. But apart from that there were many factors external to the service, which were entirely beyond my control. For example, the support extended to the service and by support I do not mean charity or favours being done. Was your proposal for replacement of submarine batteries being approved in time? Were your ships offloading done in time? Was the ordinance for armaments being purchased in time? And the answer to all of them is known. And all these have an effect on image and morale of the service. Now submarine batteries, changing of the batteries is not a minor issue like two guys lift a car battery and start off the car. It requires crane effort, degutting of a submarine, often shifting them from one coast to the other. What also has to be seen is the impact on submarine arm for instance. Having been told you are an elite arm, run deep and run silent, we can’t even provide them with replacement batteries in time. A more untenable and ridiculous example cannot be given. Or we can’t give refits to ships in our own shipyards in time. This is the support I am talking about.
Another dimension of this support is when things go wrong and occasionally they will, in any high technology enterprise things will go wrong occasionally, does the establishment support you or does it rush to make ‘frittering away of national resources’ kind of statements? Again it impacts the image. Also the power of the media; the power of the media to make or mar the image is unquestionable. Within that what I wish to illustrate is that may be two or three relatively junior and reporters are able to drown out the voice of reason of the rest of the mainstream, national media entirely, because of our tendency to believe what is sensational, and not what is well-reasoned and mature reporting.
For example there was one TV reporter. When the Sindhurakshak tragedy, where every channel was showing the submarine on fire, it was a national tragedy really. But the fate of those trapped inside was not known. This reporter is standing on top of Raisina Hill and telecasting a news that we are told that the Navy Chief is headed to Bombay, but we do not know if he will visit the site of the accident, because when the Uttaranchal, not Uttarakhand, tragedy happened the Navy Chief did not go there, although he is a native from that place
NDTV: That’s a personal attack
Admiral Joshi: Apart from being a personal attack it brings out the level of education and maturity of this reporter. Does he feel Navy Chief is headed to Bombay to join Bollywood or trade shares in Bombay Stock Exchange?
NDTV: That’s an unfortunate part of the media.
Admiral Joshi: Precisely. And for a so-called defence correspondent he does not even know the names of our border states. And what he perhaps was implying is that service chiefs should intervene in natural disasters if they are natives of that state.
Then there were these two newspapers. One of course was the one which had invented the coup theory, and this reporter was darling of the foreign vendors, and to show his importance he would author articles like the reporter is in country abc at the invitation of xyz. Then there was another paper which had a banner headline ‘VikramAditya is unable to refuel from tanker at sea. The ship is incapable of navigating at high seas at 56 km an hour’. Any kindergarten kid will tell you we don’t measure distances for ships in nautical miles and knots. That is the level of knowledge and professional grasp of this reporter. It was a blatant lie.
Here were Chiefs of foreign navies calling me and congratulating me, ‘what an achievement. You had taken over the ship in Arctic conditions in the month of December-January, and without any prior work up it refuelled several times with our tanker and touched Karwar, the first port it entered. It was widely reported by the media a week earlier than this headline. So a blatant lie; so a point I am bringing out is that largely ignorant, relatively junior reporters are able to drown out the reports of mature reporters.
NDTV: But going beyond those headlines, were the Ministers and those in the authority also guilty of believing those reports, rather than asking you what exactly was happening?
Admiral Joshi: Well when you issue statements like frittering away national resources I think its a very damning indictment of a service. To begin with frittering away sort of implies willful waste, and when related to an armed force it is tantamount to treachery.
Now the sensible media at that point in time had erupted and said this is a most unfortunate and unwarranted statement and rather than rendering support to the service, I remember the phrase used that time was ‘clearing the yard arm should not have been done, it was being attacked. But that voice was drowned out. This trio ad nauseam getting onto the hourly chant of Navy frittering away national resources, accidents in 4 days, 5 accidents in 6 days, was able to cloud the minds of even learned people to such an extent that when this 56 km an hour headline appeared, one of the Cabinet Ministers rang me and said Chief, what is this that I read about trouble with Vikramaditya? I had to tell him if we had to believe this report, then the ship has sailed on love and fresh air, because the indisputable fact remains. The ship had not entered any port and the ship had refuelled several times! But that is the power of negative reporting, particularly when they are fed constantly.
NDTV: So was it an inside job, a sort of soft coup from within? Were you forced into a corner?
Admiral Joshi: I don’t think there was nothing internal from the service. But that feeds were being given is indisputable. We know who was constantly feeding this so that should something go wrong, the service is the villain. Knights are knights in shining armour. There was a job of a particular agent of the establishment to continuously feed this news. But of course that is not the reason why I put in my papers. Like I said, I took responsibility only for the in service aspects, but they were circumscribed by the events that I described.
NDTV: But I want clarification from you. Does the gap, the cleavage between MOD and service HQ remain as wide as we know or perceive it to be?
Admiral Joshi: You have already said it. And all your perceptive viewers know that
NDTV: So what would you want on defence reforms?
Admiral Joshi: Nothing. You don’t have to go by my stand. You dust these reports and implement their recommendations. They prescribe to you what needs to be done to bring authority and accountability together, wherever it has to reside.
NDTV: Let’s look at a larger question. A Chief’s resignation is not a matter to be sneezed at. Was it an emotional decision to go out mid way?
Admiral Joshi: Sentiments and emotions were certainly involved, but it was driven purely by practical consideration and realisation of on ground situation.
NDTV: Was it frustration at the functioning? Was it building up?
Admiral Joshi: It was building up for a long long time. One had been watching the way the cookie crumbles and that is long before one becomes the Chief.
NDTV: Where do we go from here? People have said you brought it upon yourself by being harsh on your juniors, and then had no choice but to quit when things became worse.
Admiral Joshi: Was there pressure on me on account of actions taken against erring subordinates? No. The actions were taken only in respect of serious professional lapses, and that by itself did not put me under any pressure. But again, limiting myself to in service, I have always believed that beyond a point moral responsibility has to travel upwards. And this is what I told my Flag Officers, that while I relived many officers at some point in time the Captain of a good ship navy has to leave.
NDTV: I again come back to the same question. What next? Where do we go from here? How should the reforms come?
Admiral Joshi: Hard decisions need to be taken.
NDTV: Are you in favour of more tri-service jointmanship?
Admiral Joshi: Of course
NDTV: I still have to get that answer. When you took the decision, looking back could you have done it differently?
Admiral Joshi: No I would not have. The operating environment was dysfunctional and I felt being a service chief is not just about preening about on national TV, take a salute on Republic Day. People tell you oh you looked so smart in your uniform. In actual fact you are unable to get a set of batteries for your submarines and to my mind that was a completely untenable situation for continuation as a Chief, it had been building up.
NDTV: Did the Defence Minister ever ask you relevant questions? Are our politicians capable of understanding defence issues?
Admiral Joshi: I know where you getting at, but those who know me will tell you that I am not a sort of person who will take the complaint only once to the higher authority and keep quiet about it.
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