Raja Bhattacharjee’s anecdote has reminded me of a similar experience which I had when I was a Major in a Base Workshop, and was appointed a Group Officer, many years ago.

The Commandant gave me a rather stiff target, and when I failed to achieve it, he called for my explanation. I told him about the shortage of trained manpower, lack of test equipment and inadequacy of spares. He gave me a standard lecture on how to manage my technicians and told me about how to improvise test equipment. As for spares he told me to identify substitutes and liaise with the Ordnance and the suppliers. A few weeks later, his boss from Delhi came to inspect our Base Workshop. When confronted with a similar question, the Commandant spoke my language and rued about the shortages which I had been grumbling about. He received a similar ‘Moral Lecture’

Those days I had befriended a senior officer, and I asked him why Senior Officers have double standards; one for their seniors and the other for their juniors. His answer was poignant. He said,

“Who says that Senior Officers have merely ‘double’ standards? Double means two, and for a senior officer to survive he needs many more standards: one for each situation!”

In my later years, I saw people in high places, in the military as well as the industry. And I saw how they change their stance, using cleverly crafted words, which have ambiguous meanings. When they speak, they keep enough room to manoeuvre, and change their stance, if the tide turns against them. The politicians do, indeed, take the cake. I recall a very specific instance.

Mr Vajpayee had been on the opposition benches for many years, before his party came to power in 1977. He was appointed the Minister for External Affairs in Mroarji Desai’s government. In his very first conference, he said, “Please do not quote what I may have said on a given subject when I was in the other side of the House. Those were the views of the opposition. Now I represent the government!!!”

In real life, it is not possible to strictly follow a set of rules. I think ‘flexibility’ is one of the fundamental principles of war. I once had a GOC who had put the following one-liner in his office for his staff to see.

“In the affairs of men, there is just one situation when RIGIDITY is an asset!”

I am impelled to conclude this little piece with an Urdu couplet which I got from Dr Harcharan:

Dushmani jam kar karo; magar yeh gunjaish rahe, ki
Phir kabhi, agar dost ban jaayeN to sharminda na HoN  (Note : N is silent, but adds a nasal sound)

(The word, ‘gunjaish’ in this couplet means ‘space’ )

  1. Lt Col Venkata Appa Rao Dontharaju (Retd) says:

    Dear Gen,
    How you play with words Koi Aap se seekhe. Hats off

  2. Rakesh Sachdeva says:

    Very nice piece Sir.
    Many thanks for the gems you keep sending our way.
    May God be with you Always!

  3. Raja Bhattacharjee says:

    And if I may be permitted to carry the thread forward..

    This is a second hand anecdote. The setting and background does not
    matter, because it could happen anywhere.

    But the dialogue is crucial.

    A Staff Officer was summoned for a Court case to depose. When he went
    to his old office, he saw that his old notings, where he had objected
    to certain matters, had been destroyed, and he had the unenviable task
    now to defend the indefensible, as his entire chain on top of him had
    committed to the wrong line.

    The Staff Officer confronted his ex Boss about the situation, before
    he went to the grilling.

    The Boss blithely said , ” Haven’t you lied in your career, to reach
    where you have?”

    What followed is inconsequential.

    I will let you mull over the apocryphal sentence in all its true
    splendour, import and implication, for you to make your own

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