General B.C Joshi- a tribute
It has been a little more than ten years since the sudden and untimely passing away of Gen BC Joshi. Gen Joshi became Chief of Army Staff on 2nd July 1993 and passed away on 18th November 1994. It will be both useful and instructive to look back at the contribution of the Late Chief to the Indian Army whose career was so abruptly cut short in the middle of his tenure. Not being myself a military man, it will be presumptuous on my part to evaluate his contributions on the military plane; but as a human being and purely from the human angle it will be worthwhile to gauge the influence he had on the Armed Forces and the Army in particular.
My contact with him was only during the last four years of his life – 1990-94. However, it was a close and warm relationship based on a deep mutual trust. It was in November 1990 that I met him first. He was then the Southern Army Commander based in Pune. In our meeting which lasted over an hour, we discussed many things including the condition in which India was and the importance of spirituality. There emerged clearly a man with an intense patriotism and a spiritual aspiration. One could feel palpably his intense love for India; at the same time he felt a deep sorrow at the degradation of the country. He had a deep faith in the future of India. This faith was reinforced by his contact with the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother for they had stated in unmistakable terms that India had a high destiny and a role to play in the future of the world. It was this sense of India’s mission that was the true source of his motivation and inspiration in the last years of his life. He was also convinced that the Armed Forces had a key role to play in the fulfilment of this mission.
He was aware that this mission was spiritual and that India’s greatness and swadharma lay in making spirituality the central motive force of all life. He ardently desired and hoped that the Army could become an embodiment of this spiritual aspiration. Once he was convinced of this aim, he set out working on it; the first step was to work on himself sincerely in the effort at self-improvement. It is true that right from childhood there was a clear sense and understanding of the importance of spiritual development. But it was only in later life and particularly after coming in contact with South India, that he felt the strong need for a spiritual life. In fact he used often to say that he discovered spirituality after becoming the Southern Army Commander. At the same time he had no illusions of the difficulty of the task. On one occasion, he told me that he was trying hard to get rid of the ego; but it was not at all easy for almost the whole of his life it was the ego that was the driving force of all action. And in his disarmingly childlike manner, he said: “Give me some time and I shall surely succeed”.
Immediately after that meeting in Pune and after my return to Pondicherry, I wrote a letter to him thanking him for the hospitality accorded to me; more importantly, I wrote to him that since he was ardently aspiring to raise the Indian nation through the Army, two conditions had to be fulfilled. In fact, I wrote to him that for the success of any great work two fundamental criteria had to be fulfilled; first, one must have a clear vision of what one wants to do and secondly, one must have the discipline and will to implement that vision. In my opinion, one of the few institutions in India which had the will and discipline were the Armed Forces; as far as the vision was concerned, a true vision of the essence and uniqueness of India was absolutely important. The essence of India lay in spirituality, a spirituality that not only discovers the Divine but also expresses it in life. I wrote that in the modern times, this vision was most beautifully expressed and formulated in the writings of Mother and Sri Aurobindo. They not only wrote about spirituality but also explained how to solve all the problems that humanity is facing in the light of spirituality. I therefore proposed to him that if he could familiarise himself with these writings he would discover that he was sitting on a gold mine; subsequently he could present these writings in simpler language to the Indian Army for their own betterment.
It is evident that this letter touched a deep chord within him; he did not reply immediately to me, but when we happened to meet a few months later, he told me that he was very touched by the letter and that he would like to frame it in gold. It was also evident that not only was he touched by this letter, but he was waiting to find some ways of putting this into practice.
Thus when he took over as the Army Chief in July 1993, the refrain in all his talks to the officers and jawans was dharma and mariyada. At the beginning it evoked consternation and doubt in the Armed Forces. Many questions were asked and doubts were raised whether we were not going back to the middle Ages. Questions were asked: “Is not the secular structure of our society being threatened?” But he knew that spirituality and particularly Indian spirituality does not go against secularism, rather it enhances and raises it.
So he stuck to his guns and gradually disbelief and misunderstanding gave way to a deeper understanding and consequently a seeking for spirituality has started in the Armed Forces. In this context, here is a passage taken from a talk of General Joshi on introducing spirituality in the Army.
The question was asked: “How do you plan to introduce spirituality in the Army?”
“Well, the first problem, the negative aspect of that is the amount of ignorance that exists within the army as indeed within the country; very often spiritualism is considered synonymous with religion, while you know it and I know it, it is not so. So the first attempt which I am doing is that in my attempt to introduce spiritualism in a formal kind of a way, make sure that our secular ethos is not allowed to be disturbed. Because some people who do not understand the totality of what spiritualism is all about, tend to mix it with normal, ritualistic, religious practices.
The second point is that I am not making it compulsory. I am exposing people at the pre-commissioning stage at the Indian Military Academy, at the National Defence Academy and subsequently right up to the highest school of learning we have at the National Defence College in Delhi, capsules with the assistance of Dr. Reddy articulated in the army language which is simpler to understand. We will give these packages to people, leave a spark in them and hope that the spark will ultimately turn into a raging inferno of thrust for learning.”
He had a great faith in the destiny of India and was sure that the 21st century would belong to India. In a talk he said: “the subject I have chosen to speak to you on is ‘India’s destiny beyond 2000 and our role and contribution in it. ’ Let me say that it is my firm belief that the next century is going to be India’s century. It is not something new that I am saying. That clarion call for the tryst with destiny actually originated right here, when Sri Aurobindo in the early part of this century sounded out India to get ready for its destiny. Subsequently, towards the middle of the century, the Mother reiterated it. And she continued to do so till as recently as 1970. So this is your special legacy, this is your special heritage and I believe the time has now come to redeem this pledge, to take courage in both hands and to seek out our destiny.
Dr. Kittu Reddy and I some time ago found eight manifestations which are clear for one to see that it is indeed going to be so. Subsequently I have added the ninth manifestation to it and if you are prepared to look at the country and its events with Arjuna’s eyes, the writing on the wall is clear. But if you look at it with Duryodhan’s eyes I am afraid that even a Krishna may not be able to help you.”
Here is an example of some of the other steps he took in the Army to introduce spirituality. In an address by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati to the Police Academy, Mumbai on the application of Yoga in Managing Stress, he said:
“When General B.C. Joshi, Chief of the Army Staff, was in command, he expressed his desire to bring yoga to the jawans of the army, especially those in high altitude areas and in desert areas. In high altitude areas army personnel suffer from isolation and lack of communication with their families and head office. If you are on duty at 21000 feet on Siachen glacier for days and days, you see nothing except snow, no other soul. Such conditions create a lot of psychological problems due to isolation and deprivation of communications. Our swamis went to the base camps to experience what the men at arms were undergoing. They went to camps in the Bikaner area to experience what the soldiers feel when they are on duty inside a tank, when they are on exercises in simulated conditions. In this way it was possible to devise a yoga program to manage the mental states of anxiety and frustration experienced by the soldiers.”
One of the main thrusts of General Joshi was on the human aspects of Army life. His main concentration was in the fields of education, housing for officers and jawans, improvement of working conditions particularly for the infantrymen and greening of Army lands in order to maintain the ecological and environmental balance. All this was aimed at improving ‘the quality of life’. However, he was aware that quality did not just mean a higher pay packet and better amenities. He knew that this was a double edged sword and if the tendency to consumerism was not kept under control, it would lead to excess greed and materialism. So he stressed at the same time an inner contentment which comes only when one is in contact with the deeper spiritual layers of one’s being. He thus tried to strike a balance between the reasonable needs of the soldier and officer and the deeper inner contact.
It was the same approach that he wanted to bring in the field of education. No doubt, he wanted the Army Schools to become centres of excellence which could compete with international standards; at the same time he sought to bring in a deep spiritual content in the education system.
Although he was from the Armoured Corps, he had great respect for the infantryman. He was well aware that it was the infantryman who bore the brunt of the work. He tried his best to do something for them.
He was very proud of the Indian Army. For him the self-respect of the officer and jawan was paramount. On one occasion as Western Army Commander, an officer of the Indian Army was humiliated by a drunken policeman. He put his foot down and took strong exception. He was even prepared to resign and as he wrote to me, ‘I am prepared to put my career on line’.
There were many steps which he wanted to implement or at least to initiate. One of the things that he initiated was the colleges for the children of the Armed Forces after they finished their schooling. That work is now well under way and is proving to be a great boon for the young students.
There were many other areas where he wanted to take the initiative. In the field of ecology he took steps and organised programmes for environmental degradation. In this context, Eustace D’Souza, a retired major-general of the Indian Army writes: “Army headquarters, under the direction of General B.C. Joshi, has organized an 18-month programme in the Greater Himalayas which will end in October 1995. It is a multidimensional, multinational programme which encompasses adventure and ecology through such sports as hang-gliding, white-water rafting, and hot-air ballooning and trekking on foot and with animal transport. Participants in every event are required to report on the status of endangered species, deforestation, pollution and environmental degradation. The response has been enthusiastic.”
After the experience of militancy in Punjab as the Western Army Commander, General Joshi proposed raising of the Rashtriya Rifles to tackle militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. Here is an extract from an article:
The Rashtriya Rifles was raised by Chief of Army staff General B C Joshi in 1990 for the exclusive role of fighting insurgency in Kashmir. In 1993, the Indian army expanded its role in the Kashmir Valley when it deployed the Rashtriya Rifles. The 36-battalion formation, a light elite counterinsurgency force, was formed specifically to compensate for weak and untrustworthy local police and increasingly well-armed insurgents in Kashmir. The reputation of Rashtriya Rifles as a specialised anti-terrorist force has a tremendous impact on the militant’s psyche who avoid any kind of direct confrontation with RR troops. Secondly, due to the proactive nature of operations conducted by well-trained and well-equipped troops, militants lost a number of their cadres, arms and equipment which was a grave setback to them. Such pressures against the militants have been continuously maintained by RR troops in a relentless manner. The motivation of all ranks to perform better has it roots in various factors such as a sense of pride to get selected in a special force with a separate identity, dress and organisation. Each individual is given here the opportunity to prove his mettle in operational field.
At the same time he was aware that it was not enough to raise the RR; what was needed was that the menace of terrorism from across the border had to be hit at the very roots. Major General Ashok K Mehta (retd) writes in an article on ending the menace of terrorism:
“Around mid-1994, then army Chief General B C Joshi had strongly advocated hot pursuit and targeting the source of insurgency. But the idea was dropped even though Pakistan did not then possess a nuclear shield. Renewed counterinsurgency operations and political dialogue with Pakistan were able to contain militancy. By 1998, after a peaceful election, Srinagar was restored as a tourist destination and economic activity revived. Jammu and Kashmir had attained normalcy. But then Kargil happened and shattered the peace.”
Today despite all appearances the situations is still fluid and tenuous.
The country is now facing a very great crisis of character and morality. The fall from dharma is so great that questions are being raised about the future direction that the Indian nation is taking. Despite the economic growth, there are many divisive and demeaning factors in public life which are hampering the fulfilment of its higher destiny. It is evident that General Joshi had diagnosed the problem correctly; this clearly reveals the depth of his insight. What we need today is the courage and conviction of men like General Joshi. To disregard the call of dharma will be at our peril. It is time we woke up. It was the dream of General Joshi that at least the Armed Forces kept flying the flag of dharma amid the chaos of the national life.
To close, it may be said that the greatest contribution of General Joshi to the Armed Forces and indeed to the Indian nation was his call to awaken to the need of dharma and spirituality in public life. There are hundreds and thousands of Indians who even today follow the path of dharma and spirituality in their personal life. But the need of the hour is to make dharma and spirituality the central motive force of our public life. We cannot but be grateful to General Joshi for giving this clarion call to the Army. It is now for the Army and the nation to follow it.