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Air Commodore (retired) Jasjit Singh,who passed away on Sunday,August 4,in Gurgaon will be long-remembered as a pioneer of Indian defence and security studies. A decorated fighter pilot awarded the Vir Chakra in the 1971 Bangladesh war,Singh commanded Number 17 Squadron (MiG-21) and later served as Director Operations in Air Headquarters. A keen researcher,noted for his scholarly aptitude and many service papers,he joined the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in the early 1980s. At the time,the late K. Subrahmanyam was IDSA director and Singh was soon elevated to deputy director.
In 1987,Singh was appointed IDSA director,despite the military being an institutional subaltern in the Indian matrix,and this was enabled by the faith Subrahmanyam reposed in his deputy. From 1987 to 2001,Jasjit Singh led the IDSA and nurtured a large number of researchers and analysts who now constitute the Indian strategic and security studies community. During his IDSA tenure,Singh made a major contribution to Indian thinking apropos the nuclear issue,modernisation of the military,reviewing the defence budget,air-power and naval issues,internal security challenges,the end of the Cold War,and more. A prolific writer,his articles and books,singly authored and edited,are numerous. His most recent edited volume,Chinas India War 1962: Looking Back to See the Future,was released a few weeks ago.
The IDSA,under Subrahmanyam and Jasjit,made a significant contribution to the shaping of Indias nuclear discourse at a time when the country was ostracised and under severe international sanctions. The Sapru House,where the IDSA was then located,was the venue of intense deliberations and analysts,academics and media personnel were regular visitors.
Having joined the IDSA as a researcher in the late 1980s when Air Commodore Singh had taken over,I have personal recall of this period. Our interlocutors included the late Madhavrao Scindia and Rajesh Pilot and some current luminaries in the political spectrum.
The US-led war for Kuwait in early 1991 saw Jasjit meticulously following the military operations and providing some of the most rigorous battlefield analyses derived from visual imagery a first for Indian print-media. Indias nuclear tests of May 1998 and the Kargil War of 1999 again saw Singh publishing two definitive edited volumes in a relatively short period and they still remain the more authoritative books on
Post the IDSA tenure,Jasjit was editorial advisor for defence and strategic affairs for The Indian Express,and then moved on to found the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS),which he headed till his untimely demise. The first of the three service think-tanks the other two being the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) and the National Maritime Foundation (NMF) under Jasjits rigorous stewardship,CAPS has notched up an enviable track-record and has published almost 70 volumes/ monographs in the last decade,of which a third have been either authored or edited by Air Commodore Singh. One of the books he laboured over was the biography of the Marshal of the Indian Air Force,Arjan Singh,now into its second edition.
Jasjits most significant contribution was in the abiding chink of Indias national security the management continued…