March 29, 2011 12:26:54 AMThe core of the book deals with the issue of national security
, says Sanjoy BagchiReminiscences and Reflections
Author: Lt Gen SK Sinha
Price: Rs 650
Lt Gen SK Sinha joined the Army in 1943 when World War II was on. After graduating from the Indian Military Academy, he saw active service in Burma with General Slim’s 14th Army engaged in ousting the Japanese from South-East Asia. He went on to fight in Indonesia and after Independence, against Pakistan in Kashmir and insurgents in the Northeast.
Sinha became the Vice-Chief of the Army Staff and should have become the Army Chief, but at the last moment Indira Gandhi superseded him. It was suspected that the inner circle surrounding Mrs Gandhi had fed her suspicions about Sinha’s familial proximity with Jayaprakash Narain. If his loyalty to the Government of the day as the Army Chief was being doubted, strangely it was never questioned when he was the Vice-Chief. Indeed, there had never been any occasion in independent India when the loyalty of any defence officer to the Government of the day could ever be questioned. The Indian Army in this regard has been unique, unlike its counterparts in Burma, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan that had been tempted to seize political power. It is especially distinctive because the neighbouring armies along with the Indian Army had the same parentage and shared the same traditions, ethos and esprit de corps.
Lt Gen Sinha has been regularly writing non-controversial features in the newspapers while in retirement. He has now collected his contributions in a book form. In this book, he has divided them into four parts. The first part contains his memories of the days in the Army. The second part deals with various aspects of national security like the secessionist movements in the country and the festering Kashmir problem. The third part is concerned with insurgency in the Northeast as well as the communist variety. The last part contains a miscellany of a variety of subjects ranging from the role and office of Governors to supremacy of civil power and some controversial subjects like the misuse of national awards, etc
An important feature in the collection is Sinha’s role as Ambassador in Nepal. VP Singh had not shown much evidence of farsighted regard for the country’s national interest during his tenure as Prime Minister. But his picking up of Lt Gen Sinha from retirement as India’s Ambassador to Nepal was brilliant. Rajiv Gandhi, his predecessor, was an immature Prime Minister surrounded by an equally immature bunch of his school chums. In a fit of temper, he had perpetrated one of the worst disasters on a neighbour that was not only a small land-locked country, but also a buffer against a bigger and more powerful enemy.
He denied the renewal of the Trade and Transit Treaty with Nepal, resulting in its economic strangulation with shortage of all essential commodities. It created an intense animosity against India and I had personally witnessed this feeling, while on a visit as a UN representative, not only in the Nepalese Government but also at the local UNDP office
It was in this context that Lt Gen Sinha went to Nepal
. He was, however, well-equipped. Having been the Colonel Commandant of the Gurkha Regiment, he knew the Nepali life and customs. He had often trekked through the homeland of the Gurkhas; and, he was fluent in their language. Soon, he was able to build a rapport with the King, the politicians and the people; and, he got the lapsed treaty renewed to the satisfaction of both sides
His tenure was perhaps a classic example of proper diplomatic relations between a big country and its small, prickly neighbour. Curiously, the King used to converse with his Prime Minister in English but with the Indian Ambassador in Nepalese.
It is a pity that he was not allowed to continue the good work by VP Singh’s successor. Lt Gen Sinha should write a more detailed account of his time in Nepal to serve as a model for the Indian envoys in other neighbouring countries. The core of the book deals with the issue of national security and terrorism in the Northeast, Kashmir and even the Naxal stronghold. He has classified terrorism into three kinds: The secessionist variety, the religious type and the revolutionary nature
. The origin and the development of each are different. The secessionist terror emerged in the Northeast when the Nagas and Mizos felt that their local resources were diverted for the enrichment of the ‘outsiders’
. A tell-tale example was the location of an oil refinery in Uttar Pradesh, instead of Assam. Later the conflict assumed an ethnic form between the tribals and the immigrants which was aggravated by the Congress using the Muslim immigrants as its vote-bank
. The terror in Kashmir was inspired from outside by religious fundamentalists to whom the presence of a multi-religious society was anathema
. The Naxal movement exploited the abject poverty and economic deprivation of the indigenous people
for the capture of political power by foreign ideologues.
The fight against militancy is like a war that has to be fought to a finish with a single-minded devotion. It should not admit any policy of appeasement and needs to be pursued with absolute co-ordination of all forces, supported by prompt intelligence and quick offensive deployment.
The author has pointed out “glaring deficiencies of paramilitary leadership” and poor morale of the CRPF. The higher echelons of paramilitary forces are manned almost exclusively by the IPS cadre with little or no combat training and who lead not from the front but from their headquarters far away from the scene. He has stressed the importance of training in jungle warfare for all CRPF men
Lt Gen Sinha’s experience demonstrates the need for a strong political will to fight insurgency that is often lacking in the political arena. It requires the maintenance of offensive spirit, and there should not be any place for misguided feelings of human rights.
The author was Governor for full terms in two ‘difficult’ States. He has written two short pieces on the office of the Governor and the relations between Governors and Chief Ministers. The Constitution has retained the position of Governors as ceremonial heads of States and as agents of the Union Government. The ruling parties have tended to treat the post as a parking slot for retired or defeated politicians who cannot be accommodated elsewhere. Of course, the difficult positions have been usually filled by competent persons from the civil or military professions. Governors are not entirely ornamental as they are often required to play crucial roles. They are called upon to tread skilfully between the political needs of a Union Government of a different hue and the political rights of a popularly elected State Government.
The author has wide experience in this treacherous field. Having been in the Army, he has the ability for objective analyses. He is articulate to shed more light compared with his political counterparts who are rarely so equipped.
Sinha would do an immense service to the nation if he were to undertake a detailed examination, based on his personal experience, of the role and function of the Governors.
--The reviewer, a retired IAS officer, is a Fellow of Royal Asiatic Society, London