Soldier,scholar,institution builder

Soldier,scholar,institution builder

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

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,China’s 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 India’s 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. India’s 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

the subjects.

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 Jasjit’s 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.

Jasjit’s most significant contribution was in the abiding chink of India’s national security — the management of higher defence. In early 1998,when the NDA government assumed charge,a task force led by the late K.C. Pant was set up to review policy challenges and recommend long overdue structural changes. As the member-secretary,Jasjit Singh laboured for months and produced a comprehensive document that sensitised the political establishment as to what had to be done to remedy the situation.

The Kargil War followed,and subsequently the NDA government initiated some more committees and task forces — but regrettably,there has been no tangible change to the existing national security lattice right down to UPA 2. In my last few interactions with Jasjit,he spoke passionately about the many areas that still needed to be addressed by him as an analyst — and fretted that he did not have enough time. This,despite working diligently for as much as 16 hours,every day.

A committed air warrior to the end,Jasjit had his own reservations about some issues like the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). But,to his credit,he was one of the early votaries of enhancing India’s maritime and naval capabilities.

Awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2006,Air Commodore Jasjit Singh served the country as soldier,scholar and institution-builder,and surmounted many challenges — both personal and professional — with commendable commitment and stoicism.

The writer,a retired commodore,served as deputy director of IDSA from 1996 to 2004