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‘I am yet to see an NDA cadet who has failed in any part of his life’

No. One can never think of that. In the (armed) services,the growth pyramid is steep at the top.

Written by Pranav Kulkarni |
December 14, 2011 1:32:19 am

Lt Gen Jatinder Singh,Commandant,National Defence Academy (NDA),who visited The Indian Express office for an interaction,talks about the changes and challenges that the nation’s premier defence training institute is facing and why he believes the defence forces are still the best career option for a youngster. The Idea Exchange was moderated by Senior Correspondent Pranav Kulkarni

Pranav Kulkarni: When you were a cadet,did you ever think you would be Commandant?

No. One can never think of that. In the (armed) services,the growth pyramid is steep at the top. Of the entire batch,just one per cent rise to the highest ranks. So,one can never think like that. This is the highest rank I could have reached,with age not being on my side.

Anuradha Mascarenhas: How were your days as a cadet?

Those were the days when India was still in her formative years. Things were rudimentary and have changed a lot now. Then,computers were not even heard of. Now,the entire NDA is on campus area network. That time,we did not even know binary,the very basic of a computer. The Army training used to be on a 0.303,today you have phenomenal weapons,automatic weapons. There are a large number of changes,technological as well as infrastructural. India has grown phenomenally and so has the NDA.

Manoj More: What is the status regarding the controversy on closure of the road between Chandni Chowk and NDA?

On September 28,we gave a written statement. That covers our perspective/role in the entire episode. The matter is sub-judice. There was a PIL filed. They went to court,which has given a decision in our favour understanding the security aspect of the NDA. One must understand that the NDA is a national heritage,an iconic institute of the nation. An institute of national importance. We at NDA feel that the road is for NDA,it was given to NDA with restrictions imposed by the government that things will not come up,there will be no commercial activity in that area. But things have come up. Why? I don’t know. They have come up in the past. Beyond this,I cannot comment as the matter is sub-judice.

Ishfaq Naseem: There are a number of other defence institutions in the city,do you interact with them for training?

Our training is related to what the services requirements are. Each service has a laid down curriculum,which we follow. There is an Inter-Services Study Group (ISSG) that meets occasionally to review the training. We have an Academic Study Group to review the academics. Based on these reviews,we carry out training. We interact with other establishments for training purposes. But security is my headache. I have to maintain the security not for myself but for the country.

Sunanda Mehta: There is a distinct change happening in the composition of the NDA. There is a decrease in the number of children of Army officers while there are many cadets from rural backgrounds now. How has this affected the Academy? Have any changes been made in the training given this trend?

Earlier,20-30 per cent were officers’ children,now that has come down. It is natural. Today,children as well as parents are much wiser. Earlier,there used to be limited options: Engineering,medicine,the IAS and the Army. None wanted to join engineering or medicine because it involved lot of studies. So the easiest course left was the Army. Having joined,though,one realised how much one had to study! See,the entry is not in my hand. We have 70 per cent of cadets coming from backgrounds other than military and we welcome that. What it takes to be a leader cannot be changed whether he is from rural background,services background or any other. A military leader is different from other leaders. We make military leaders in the NDA. I am yet to see a person trained in the NDA having failed in any part of his life – whether he has retired as a Major,a Lieutenant Colonel or has taken up any other option. That is the type of training we provide the cadets. Their background is immaterial because the selection process is one. The UPSC conducts the entrance exam and selects 10,000 candidates from across the country. They are then put through Services Selection Board (SSB) and only 350 who are finally selected join,out of two-four lakh applicants. So at entry level,everyone is the same. From there,we pick up and train. Training is uniform for everyone,including foreign cadets. And from this training,you will realise that the chap who was last in merit will be performing the best because there is not much difference between them.

Pranav Kulkarni: Are you happy with the quality of cadets coming to NDA?

Yes,the quality is excellent.

Anuradha Mascarenhas: What about the foreign cadets?

Their intake is not a concern of the NDA or the Government of India. It is what the country selects and sends. What we are concerned with is the education. We do not give degrees to the cadets. We are educating them to obtain a degree. Degrees have their own rules and regulations. The entry level for BA,B.Sc and B.Sc Computer Science for Jawaharlal Nehru University is 10+2 and so is it for other universities in India. That is where we have a little bit of a problem. Majority foreign cadets are not 10+ 2 or equivalent,so their take-off level is a little lower. They go through the regimen but do not qualify for a degree. They go on to become leaders but cannot appear for university exam because of the lack of initial qualification.

Chandan Haygunde: From which parts of the country do you find more cadets coming in and which are the areas from where the numbers are less?

There are very few from Gujarat,Orissa,Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A majority comes from north and central India. Among states,Maharashtra is in the top five. Punjab is not there,though.

Manoj More: Do you support compulsory military training?

In my view,compulsory military training is required where there is a shortage of people volunteering to join the Army. Today,there are stampedes where recruitment is happening. Do we require compulsory military training?

Sunanda Mehta: So why is there a shortfall of officers?

That is basically because of infrastructure. If I have the infrastructure for 6,000 cadets,there won’t be a shortage. But for 6,000 more,the infrastructure required would be tremendous. The amount of money the government will require to pump in is phenomenal.

Aaditi Jathar-Lakade: Are we likely to see women candidates in NDA?

I am a proud father of three daughters. Each one of them wanted to join the Army. As they could not,the elder one married an Army officer. She is a doctor and my son-in-law is also a doctor. The second one wanted to marry an officer,but when she could not,she married the brother of an Army officer. My younger daughter is currently doing her MBA and when she comes of age,I am sure she will select a fauji. That apart,these decisions are taken at the highest level. It is not for me to decide whether girls would come to NDA. If they could,my daughters would have been the first ones to join.

Anuradha Mascarenhas: Can you comment on the recent reports about censoring the posts on social media sites?

As a policy,I would not want to comment. But as a soldier,I would like to educate people. As a Lieutenant General,I know whether I should be on Facebook or not,whether I should post my photograph in uniform on Facebook or not. For a cadet to know all this is too early. Therefore,at different levels they have to be taught different things.

Sunanda Mehta: Earlier,the NDA was like an isolated island of training. Now,the outside world has come in because of the Internet,the media exposure. Has it made the training difficult or has it helped?

Technology gives them access to the outside world. Outside world access to NDA may still be restricted. That is why the restrictions are still in place. While we have opened out – for instance I have come to you,but I will not give you anything I should not tell you. But this is my 38 years of training. This,a cadet will not know. Certain restrictions are good for the country. NDA is still an island – an island of excellence. Our time,there was no NDA Ball,now that access is permitted.

Pranav Kulkarni: With scams like Adarsh,Sukna and other land-related disputes,how do you make the cadet believe that what he has chosen is the best?

The fact that he has come to the NDA… he knows this is the best. There are so many other easier options available. They are easier but wrong options as far as he is concerned. That is why he has come to the NDA. Having said that,his perception has to be the same. Therefore,ethos,values which are the prime movers of a man,for a good leader in future,need to be inculcated. We have a laid down Honour Code to be followed by a cadet. Cadets ensure that it is followed by other cadets. In Honour Code,cadets can award legal punishments to each other if they do anything against it. These are some ways in which you train. But he (cadet) has it in him that this is the best service which has stood (by) the nation,which has not failed the nation.

Pranav Kulkarni: But doesn’t this in addition to the ‘squadron tradition’ get misused?

That is why we are there. There are laid down punishments. Honour Code permits Academy appointments to award punishments that I give. Cadets sit and decide whether a cadet gone against the Honour Code,they decide the punishments. Traditions change over time. Traditions change if they are misused. Good parts remain,bad parts change.

Pranav Kulkarni: For instance,returning to the squadron front-rolling if a match is lost. Is it necessary?

It is not there now. During my time,if you spoke about traditions,you would not like to come to the Academy. Front-rolling is part of military training. If a chap can’t front-roll,he cannot pass out.

Anuradha Mascarenhas: The NDA mess has been one such tradition.

As many as 4,600 calories are given to each cadet every day,but we make sure he burns them daily too.

Sunanda Mehta: There is the issue of stipend too. Those in railways and civil services get a stipend while undergoing training unlike the NDA cadets.

We have told the government that this needs to be looked into to make it more attractive for students to join. But all other academies are finishing academies,the NDA is not that. But still,we have taken up the issue.

Chandan Haygunde: Should the Army be involved in anti-Naxal operations and is it part of NDA training?

At NDA,we study every problem,not just Naxalism. Every type of combat – whether conventional,insurgency related and so on… we cover it. It is based on the syllabus that is laid out. Today,a cadet is much more aware than anyone else.

Ishfaq Naseem: What about lifting Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA)?

No decision in a democracy should be taken in isolation. One decision is where the Army is actually called in. We did not go there on our own,we were called. When we are called,we have to have powers. When you are talking of withdrawing powers,you have to consult us.

Pranav Kulkarni: The NDA is the only tri-services institution in the country. But do you see that integration taking place at the top? Is it jointmanship or ‘course-mates at work’?

I was 42nd course,Juliet Squadron. We were 28 cadets,of whom 70 per cent were from the Army and the rest from the Air Force and Navy. The squadron spirit thrives till you die. It is not only the course spirit,but squadron spirit — jointmanship is related to your upbringing in the NDA,that was the vision. You may not be working together,like for example if I am in the Army HQ,my coursemate may not be with Air HQ,but if he has a counterpart in Air HQ,it will make a difference… it will work. This is the spirit and that is the benefit we are reaping at the national level. It is the spirit of coursemates… like I said the pyramid is thin at the top,very few people reach the top. So the decision making at that level is very cordial when you are an ex-NDA.

Sunanda Mehta: There was a phase when a lot of officers were leaving the forces and taking up corporate jobs. There were bright officers. Now with the new pay commission,has this come down?

Being a democracy,people can leave for greener pastures but services requirements cannot be compromised. Because services requirements are the nation’s requirements. The nation’s defence cannot be compromised. So much money is spent on moulding a cadet into a leader,one should not leave him that easily.

Pranav Kulkarni: Is there correspondence between IMA,INA,AFA and the NDA?

As NDA Commandant,I visit all these academies. I did that when I took over as Commandant to get their opinions on the cadets. They keep telling us shortcomings and plus points. We capitalise on plus points and work hard on the negatives to make sure we send out a complete man,a complete leader. Similarly we take feedback from Young Officers’ course,Company Commander course and others.

Pranav Kulkarni: And how is the response?

Excellent… not a single ex-NDA has failed in life. All the chiefs today are from NDA. The last time they visited together,they were from the same squadron. There are large number of foreign cadets from NDA,they go up to become chiefs. After the training we impart,many countries take them as officers without sending them to finishing academies.

Sunanda Mehta: What is one change you would want to bring about in NDA?

I would not like to bring about any change. It is working beautifully. We are producing world-class leaders. Yes,I would like to bring about infrastructural changes much faster… Sanctions take a little long.

Pranav Kulkarni: Did you always want to join the forces? How’s the journey been?

It was an ambition to join NDA. One had heard of the NDA,never visited,so when one became a cadet there was no looking back. I excelled in my training,passed out as Squadron Cadet Captain of Juliet Squadron. Even after becoming a Lieutenant General,I am still in touch with the Divisional Officer and Squadron Commander I had in 1969,so you can imagine the impact they had on me. The grooming one receives at NDA is extraordinary. The capability,capacity development is such that you never felt you were an inferior human being. You took on everything with courage and determination. Every challenge was faced squarely. That is how I have risen to the highest rank. The journey has been full of challenges and sacrifices. My biodata says ‘counter insurgency expert.’ But this combat is not fought at home but on the field. Then your wife,children are not with you. These are the sacrifices one has made — one’s children,wife have made. These are the aspects the civil population cannot realise. They look at the glory,they look at the Commandant’s bungalow. But 38 years have been full of hard work and sacrifice. And no compromise.

Pranav Kulkarni: And you still feel youngsters should step forward and join the forces.

Of course. This is the best profession that anyone can aspire to take up and grooming in NDA is the best in the world.

(Transcribed by Pranav Kulkarni )

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