The Big Chief

The three incumbent armed force chiefs Admiral Sureesh Mehta, Air Chief Marshal Fali Major and General Deepak Kapoor will no longer need to indulge in that one exercise that every Chief probably spends sleepless nights wondering about -- that one deed, that one act that will assure them an enduring place in the narrative of military history.

For, no matter what else the three chiefs are judged on, the last two months will go down as a time when , under the uncannily bold leadership of the Chief of Naval Staff, held the interests of their men and women high, higher than anything else.

Call it circumstance. Call it the opportunity to shine. Call it anything you damn well like. The fact remains that this dark phase of hostility between the armed forces and the political bureaucracy was a time when these three chiefs held their own. And all three are being supremely self-effacing when they say that their actions cannot be described as defiant. Functioning within the system we know so well, one can only empathise with such a view. From the outside -- and indeed from the inside, by almost everyone who puts a uniform on every morning -- these three chiefs are heroes. Make no mistake about that.

Like everything that is great and honourable, there's a delectable irony to how the three chiefs have held up the interests of their ranks. Neither of the three chiefs is especially known for a tough-talking deportment or the sometimes unsettlingly candid manner of, say, a General Paddy or even a Krishnaswamy or Arun Prakash. The three chiefs have unanimously denied all suggestions that their actions were in any way "defiant" of government orders or policy. But even those who advise the Chiefs on every move concede that their deeds exemplify defiance of the most upright, dignified order. The three chiefs' reservations about defining their actions as "defiant" has more to do with a certain indispensable propriety -- obviously they cannot be seen to be basking in the adulation of a media that unanimously considers their act at once defiant, and deeply honourable. That's a dangerous game of perception they knew they couldn't afford to play.

But what the Chiefs say holds good as well. What were they expected to do when faced with an unjust and preposterously lopsided set of pay recommendations? Go ahead and implement them? What other choice did they have than hold out against the government? They made their reservations known to the Defence Minister -- and everything since has been widely and closely reported. But by doing so -- by doing the only thing they knew they could/should -- they also did the only thing that their ranks knew was right, just and honourable. And with that, they have assured themselves an enduring mention in the roll-call of India's military chiefs.

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