‘In my book I have not focused on controversies. Mine is a positive story’

Former Army chief General J J Singh,whose memoirs took him years to write and will be released tomorrow,discusses the book and his experiences in the world’s second largest Army in this conversation with Manu Pubby

Published:June 8, 2012 1:04 am

How did the book come about?

Many family members and well-wishers had been asking me if and when I would write a book,ever since I retired as Army chief. I started the exercise five years ago,putting together trigger points or ideas that were later expanded into chapters. It took me 3½ years to put it together on my computer. It involved a lot of research into my ancestry,my family background. I went to places like Siachen and Ladakh that played a role in my life. I have covered everything that I considered important. I wrote about two lakh words,two computers got written off and I finished the book on the third one. The book will come out not only in English but also in Marathi,Punjabi,Bengali,Assamese and Hindi,later probably Telugu and Malayam versions too.

What has gone into it?

The book has six parts covering my ancestry,childhood,career in the Army and tenure as Arunachal Pradesh governor. My approach has been very unorthodox. I have used simple language and ensured that it reads like a novel. I have written about my family background with interesting details about the experience of my grandfather,who was a sepoy who was incapacitated in Iran during World War I. I have described how at one time during the 1971 war,not only I but my father and both brothers were serving the nation — the elder brother was in the Air Force,the younger in the Medical Corps and Father in the EME.

How is it unorthodox?

I have tried to be creative and innovative. For example,I describe a fantasy that I often have. This fantasy has made my mental makeup as a warrior and a leader. I considered myself a warrior fighting for a just cause in my previous birth. I played the role of a rescuer who frees innocents being taken as slaves by invading armies,from India to Afghanistan. We would swoop on the captors and free the hostages. We would rehabilitate them. In my mental makeup this thing plays a part. When I traced my genealogy,these things got connected. This is the warrior in me.

What kinds of Army experiences are in the book?

There is a chapter on the death sentence to Brig Shaitan Singh. Militants used to call me that. They made three-four attempts to kill me. I was shot and badly wounded; I have described how that operation was carried out. It has been written from an interesting perspective,from the [point of view of a militant.

As Army chief,my memory is of the media swooping down on me,asking how I felt about being the first Sikh Army chief. And I realised that I had never thought of it like that. I had been brought up in a secular Army environment. I had studied across the country and hardly stayed in Punjab. As Army chief,I made a statement when the media asked me why the Army was resisting the Sachar Committee inquiries. I said that in the armed forces we don’t look at religion or which place a person comes from. I only see capability. For anyone to think anything else about me,I would say it would be false and mischievous.

Does the book mention the recent PIL over the appointment of the new Army chief? [The PIL,which alleged a conspiracy behind the appointment,was described as ‘communal’ by the government.

I have written how I felt when I heard such concocted stories. None of the petitioners knew me personally. How could they allege all that? How would a retired Navy chief know me? He should have met me and discussed the issue. Obviously,the reality is different. But in my book I have not focused on controversies. Mine is a positive story.

What about the recent controversies rocking the Army?

I have been positive. I have covered very briefly and factually what happened in my tenure. It is not at all negative,it is a positive reflection. I feel we have to look at what has happened in the past,what happened in the case of Gen Sinha and Gen Bhagat [both overlooked for Army chief and Gen S A McChrystal [removed as ISAF commander in Afghanistan after a scandalous interview against the US government. We have to see what democratic nations have done on such issues. It is about civilian-military relations. I have described that in a comprehensive manner.

Did you read General Pervez Musharraf’s autobiography [copy on J J Singh’s table before writing yours?

One of the trigger points I got was that we shared a common line — we were both chiefs at the same time,joined the academy in 1961,both our families migrated due to Partition. Things were similar till the time we both reached the rank of colonel. After that [it was different as we went into different systems. I have been reading his book and it was good to see how he handled various situations. It would be a very interesting comparison of two peers from different countries. I will be stating only things that are factually correct about him and me.

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