The new Army Chief, Gen MM Naravane, having assumed the command of the formidable Indian Army on New Year’s Day, wowed the nation and the army in his first formal press conference, ahead of the Army Day on 15 Jan 2020. He covered a host of subjects relating to practically all aspects of the army, ranging from the strategic to joint on the one hand and operational to logistics to administrative on the other. However, he did not forget the ‘man behind the gun’, as he emphasized strongly that he/she were the most important components in the overall structure of a battle-winning machine like the army.

His vision is clear and he articulated it without recourse to jargon. At the end of his interaction, I came away with confidence and pride in our army and its leadership, which had been somewhat dented in recent years, although our rank and file, especially our young officers and units were as good as ever, if not better.

I was particularly happy to note that he clearly and unequivocally stated that the army and indeed the other two services too, serve the Constitution of our great country on which all ranks of the military take oath, yet emphasizing that the army will do its best to accomplish legitimate tasks assigned to it by the Government, meaning the political leadership of the nation. That is how it should be in a democracy. We must not stray from what we learnt in the training academies; in our units and formations; and through our mentors. It is only then that we would gain experience and expertise in the allocated tasks and in the overall scheme and ethos of the army.

Elaborating, he highlighted that the Constitution guides us in all our actions at all times; ‘the army fights for the values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity and respects the rights of the people’, he added. Indeed, these are the core values which are enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution. He also highlighted the importance of fundamental rights. Gen Naravane stated that ‘we are an army of the people, for the people and all we do is for them’. He adroitly stressed on a course correction to pull the army away from political controversies, back to the professional domain.

On the operational plane and threat scenarios, he unequivocally brought the existential threat from China to the fore, instead of pussyfooting about it, which had been the norm earlier. However he balanced his remarks by citing the current peace and tranquility that prevails on the northern borders, including the hot line now established between our DGMO and China’s Theatre Command responsible for the entire border with India.

There were some delicate and sensitive questions that were fielded, including on strategic and operational matters. Instead of evading them, or brushing them aside, or even giving vague answers, he dealt with them head-on, without any grand-standing. In fact he was candid and quite open about them.

He dealt with the question relating to retaking of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) with characteristic aplomb. It had been talked about by some political leaders in their bravado after the events of 05 Aug 2019 in J&K. Despite its sensitiveness, the Chief dealt with the question candidly and without any threats or machismo.

On the existential threat from two of our neighbours, he clearly stated our inter-se priority for dealing with them. For those advocating the need to tackle the two simultaneously, if the contingency comes up, his pragmatic answer was that only one would be tackled offensively, while we defend the other. He also mentioned a phrase ‘dual tasking’, which was music to my ears as I was the one who had coined it a long time back when I was in MO Directorate. Unfortunately, it seemed to have been forgotten as many in the past military hierarchies believed in Rambo-like utterances of fighting on two fronts and even two and a half fronts! These were bandied about ignoring numerous historical disasters of fighting on multi-fronts and ignoring deep analysis by many.

For his first inter-action with the media, he was comprehensive and open in dealing with issues that he would be confronted with in his tenure. I salute him for his candidness and cannot help adding ‘Hail the Chief’.

A few days earlier, the Chief had addressed a group of officers, in which many important points had been made. These included his emphasis on faith in command; following orders in letter and spirit; senior to guide and not to fix; cut unnecessary expenditure; probity; austerity; keep abreast with latest, especially in the military domain by extensive reading; and follow the law of the land. He had also emphasized the need to be physically fit, plus many more day-to-day actions

We should be getting positive news from time to time in the next approximately 28 months of his tenure, about how the famed Indian Army is returning to basics, while training and meeting present and future challenges. Back to basics does not mean regressing but to march ahead to the future with pride and élan, without forgetting its moorings and meeting the latest challenges, which are many. The Chief will undoubtedly get the full support of the rank and file, but equally important is the need to get support from other departments and agencies of the government, which are usually not forthcoming in totality and in time!

The Chief has brought in a breath of fresh air and independent thought in the stultifying and bureaucratic atmosphere that had lately polluted the air in the corridors of South Block, where cronyism and misplaced loyalty to individuals and not the organisation had prevailed. Pragmatism had unfortunately been sacrificed at the altar of gratuishes loyalty!

The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff and former Founder Director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS).