Posted on 20/07/2010

I have just seen the news covering the proceedings in the Bihar Assembly this morning. They first shouted ,then threw mikes at the speaker. Not satisfied with that, they picked up a large table and smashed it. Those who are familiar with what happens in the Parliament are not surprised. Our elected leaders are willing to go any length to make their point. Spoken words are not their strong point. And, therefore, they resort to ‘other’ means. These days, I am doing a series on my days in the Academy. What follows is a reminiscence from an event which occurred in April or May 1959. There was a debate on a very topical issue.

 The National Defense Academy, Spring Term 1959 Debate . Topic was


I was in my III term, and heard the speakers with rapt attention. The cadets who were selected to take part in the debate were all from the senior courses, and they had prepared their speeches with the help of our instructors.

As a general rule, “the juniors were expected to be seen; and not heard”  and so I was a mute spectator. Be that as it may, we learnt a lot more about the forms of governance and the importance of ‘democracy’ than what I had imbibed in the class. We were told about monarchy, military rule, communism, socialism and of course, ‘anarchy’ A particular quip which was repeated by many speakers was a quote (I think) from Churchill who seems to have said,

“Democracy is the worst form of Government. Except when compared with all others!”

The debate went on and on. I think I was beginning to doze off when I was suddenly woken up by the loud laughter. I quickly got up and asked my buddy (the late Suresh Aneja) And from him, I learnt the cause of the laughter. A speaker had just said,

“Ladies and gentlemen, can some one tell me the difference between the King and a Prime Minister? ” He waited for a while, as if expecting an answer and then said, “The King is his father’s son. The Prime Minister is not!!!”

And before ending his speech, he said, as if ‘educating’ us,

“Permit me make an observation. ‘Maternity is a matter of  fact. Paternity is  merely the opinion of one person!”

We had one more opportunity for a loud applause. The debate was, like all debates, inconclusive. No one knew  for sure, whether democracy would survive in India or otherwise. And we are none the wiser , fifty-one years after that debate. If what happened in Patna today is any indication, any thing can happen.

It is unfortunate that I do not have a picture of that event. As I said, I was a junior cadet and had not yet joined the camera club. But let me conclude this piece with what happened AFTER the debate. When the officers had left, the Academy Cadet Adjutant, Sukhinder Singh  ( the eminent sprinter who joined the Sikh Regiment and was the winner of the Sword of Honor and  the Gold medal at the IMA in June 1960)came up on the stage. His first words were,

“XVI Course, carry on!” When his course mates had left, he started his speech, which many of us remember,

“If the current events are any indication, the discipline in the Academy is going to dogs. And as the ACA, I am not going to let that happen”

What happened there after was predictable. We did not go to the cadets’ mess through the normal route. And what we had to do increased our appetite enormously. Fortunately for us the dinner that night was as good as ever, with ‘tipsy pudding’ as an icing on the cake.

I would be delighted if some of my other contemporaries could join the dots and make this story more complete. and also tell us whether democracy has a future in India .

Now here is a link to the scene in the Lok Sabha,





    Yes, very much .Didn’t you ever go through the misfortune of confronting Sgt Maj Fox Sqn? I was 18th Fox. Trilochan, Kultar, Vijai Oberoi,

    DB Singh, MP Singh(The Eductionist) are my batch mates. If you remember, we also intracted in the Army HQ when I was DG Org & Personnel in 1995 and we used to meet in the then pay commision discussions. GSB.

  2. J Thomas says:

    Don’t remember the debate at all.

    Indian Army has been the strongest supporter of democracy in India.
    In 1975 when Indira Gandhi imposed emergency, many of the civil
    servants were happy ‘cos their powers were increased. When the 1977
    elections results were announced, I was doing the Staff course at
    Wellington. A cheer went up because it meant the restoration of


    Dear Surjit,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your piece on DEMOCRACY. Hats off to you for remembering all such events even after 51 years!

  4. Nirmal Mahajan says:

    i must compliment you on your excellent memory of nda days…i am passing on to my 27 nda course mates and other friends

    more power to your pen

  5. J Thomas says:

    What happened in the Bihar assembly is far better than what is
    happening in our neighbourhood — Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Nepal,
    Afghanistan, China.

    Indian democracy has come to stay because the people have tasted power
    and have learnt the power of the vote. It has also come to stay
    because no single group has a monopoly on power. The downside is
    that there are so many competing groups that the equilibrium is

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