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A navy adrift

UPA must answer why it accepted D.K. Joshi’s resignation if it was going to delay replacing him.

April 1, 2014 12:21:43 am

UPA must answer why it accepted D.K. Joshi’s resignation if it was going to delay replacing him.

It has been more than a month since Admiral D.K. Joshi resigned as the chief of the Indian navy, in the immediate aftermath of the fire on board INS Sindhuratna. But the government is yet to appoint a replacement, making do with acting chief R.K. Dhowan. In keeping with its indecisiveness in matters of national security, the UPA had referred the matter to the Election Commission, citing the prevailing Model Code of Conduct.

The EC wasted no time in giving its approval. But why did the government deem it fit to refer an administrative appointment to the EC, when such permission was not required in this case?

The ministry of defence (MoD) has reportedly begun the process for appointing a naval chief. Even if a new chief takes office within days, it doesn’t explain why the navy was made to wait for so long. Allowing for the fact that Joshi’s resignation has disturbed the line of succession, why has there been no urgency in securing the administrative and operational ends of a crisis-hit navy?

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Given that the string of naval incidents since the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak in August 2013 all occurred under Joshi’s watch, it was in the fitness of things that he quit. However, it’s pertinent to ask now why the MoD accepted his resignation if it was not going to follow up on it, above all, by appointing a new chief who alone could begin to set things right. Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, the only naval chief ever sacked, was replaced overnight.

In the end, this — hopefully — concluding chapter of the UPA’s spectacularly incompetent management of military matters risks appearing as another delaying tactic by the government to protect itself, making Joshi look the fall guy. A.K. Antony, as India’s longest-serving defence minister, cannot be unaware of how important the chain of command is for a military service or the dangers of factionalism that might stalk India’s navy in its current state. But then, the higher defence management, in the UPA’s 10 wasted years of peace, has remained indifferent to any substantive issue affecting the morale and operational preparedness of the armed forces.

That it has cared little about inducting new platforms for the navy, letting it exploit old platforms like its Kilo-class submarines beyond their normal life cycles, or failed to induct a new artillery gun for the army, is thus unsurprising. But it is as dangerous as letting an aspiring blue-water navy, with 7,000-plus km of coastline to defend, work without a chief for over a month. The defence minister should consider the costs of leaving a headless navy to his successor.

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