Admiral resigns as Navy’s image sinks
Something had to come unstuck, considering the circumstances of the Indian Navy now. Twelve incidents of major and minor mishaps, over a span of little more than a year, had put a huge blot on the navy’s own self-belief that it is growing into a world class service.
So when the report from Mumbai came that INS Sindhuratna has had a possible accident, which made smoke emit into the interiors suffocating seven sailors and two officers, many among the former navy officers had thought that the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral DK Joshi, will give in. Late in the afternoon, he put in his papers. The government quickly accepted his resignation and moved on. The Vice-Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral RK Dhowan, was asked to be the officiating chief.
While in the morning, the Western Naval Command had quickly sent a Sea King helicopter to evacuate the sailors, two officers remained untraceable. In a press release issued by the navy’s public relations office, the story given out was that Sindhuratna had been out on the sea after a six-month refit, with a team of naval inspectors on-board.
The service’s party-line that emerged late in the evening after Admiral Joshi’s resignation story spread was that he had chosen the honourable path upholding the naval tradition of the commanding officer going down with the sinking ship.
Retired Vice-Admiral, Pradeep Kaushiva, points at common malady that afflicts any Indian office-holder either in politics and bureaucracy. ‘They simply don’t take responsibility and give up their position.’ The contrast to be understood was here was a man in uniform who is showing what should be a norm. But questions remain. Since 2012, when Admiral Nirmal Verma retired from service and Admiral Joshi took over, the navy seemed star-crossed. Suddenly it appeared that the safety standards on board submarines and ships had disappeared, and nobody at the naval headquarters, which actually shares space with the beleaguered Indian army at Sena Bhavan, had a clue.
Yet, as the former Navy personnel point out that these kinds of things don’t happen in a hurry. The Kilo-class submarines, Sindhurakshak and Sindhuratna, though had been refitted and given ‘life extention,’ were actually much passed their sailing days. For long, the Navy had been pointing out that its submarine arm is in serious danger as no new inductions had taken place in more than a decade.
During the recently-concluded Defence exhibition Defexpo ’14, the defence minister, AK Antony, had actually defended the Navy saying it was a fast expanding force, which was integrating in a short time span many platforms and combat systems. ‘This pace is causing some problems,’ Antony had said, and added, ‘The Navy has told me that the standard operating procedures are in place.’
Obviously, they were not. And in the corridors of South Block, rumours were floating that all was not well between the minister and the Navy chief. Retired Vice-Admiral, Anup Singh said, ‘When the news came for yet another incident, I thought knowing Admiral Joshi that he will resign.’ Now that Joshi has given up, there were no buyers of the theory yet whether it would have been better if his ‘sure’ hand was at the helm for a little longer, whether he could actually have turned around the service. But then, tomorrow is another day.