EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS with the head of the world’s third-largest army are uncommon. Not surprising at all, considering the demands on the Chief of the Army Staff’s time, and the challenges thrown up by the vast landmass under his care. Hence, my sincere thanks to General Manoj Pande for speaking to THE WEEK’s readers through our Senior Special Correspondent Sanjib Kr Baruah.
General Pande has spoken at length about all topical issues concerning the Army, ranging from theatre commands to border deployments to the promotion of women officers. In the accompanying article, Sanjib writes about how the armed forces are aiming to alter their operational, tactical and strategic posture. Together, dear reader, we bring you a comprehensive cover story on the current developments in our armed forces.
No, it is not all Army cover-to-cover. Deputy Chief of Bureau Namrata Biji Ahuja has presented a bouquet of stories on the proposed overhaul of the criminal justice system. Former Supreme Court Justice Madan B. Lokur has weighed in through a guest column on another matter relating to the judiciary.
Another column that might interest you is by Joint Secretary Puneet Kundal of the ministry of external affairs, on India opening its first IIT campus abroad. He deftly weaves in Freddie Mercury and the 50 Gujarati families settled on the island. The column took me to our former Special Designer Ajay Pingle and Chief Layout Artist Jayant Pithadia. Both stayed with us from the magazine’s diaper days until they retired. Jayant had links to Zanzibar, maybe one of the families that Kundal mentions!
Interestingly, Mercury’s estate is going under the hammer at Sotheby’s on September 6. It is quite the eclectic collection, from a bejewelled Fabergé desk clock to a green garden door covered with graffiti by fans mourning the singer.
Coming back to the cover story, THE WEEK might have a record of sorts, I think—as the newsmagazine to have had a retired Army officer as a regular columnist for the longest time. Lt Col Jose Vallikappan, a retired armoured corps officer and a dear friend, wrote The Nonsense File in your favourite newsweekly for 15 years—from July 28, 1996, to January 30, 2011. Jose served from 1962 to 1985, and saw action in 1965 and 1971. His columns drew on his experience in uniform, and were peppered with his own brand of wry fauji humour.
Speaking of Jose, I am reminded of the time I had the rare honour of hosting three serving chiefs at my home in Kochi in March 1995: General Shankar Roychowdhury, Admiral Vijai Singh Shekhawat and Air Chief Marshal Swaroop Krishna Kaul. My mother played hostess.
While one of the chiefs said that all three of them being present at a private function was quite rare, another quipped that they would be in a jam if a defence emergency were to arise.
Before General Roychowdhury was to arrive, Jose told me that he had served with the chief. I ribbed him saying the chief would have forgotten him. Jose shot back, “He is an excellent officer and he will remember!”
The staff car pulled up. The general stepped out, took one look at Jose, and called, “Hey, Joe!” A crushing bear hug followed. Jose had won that round, and in style!