Jaswant Singh: "...the Army had better awaken to reality"

This is an excerpt from Jaswant Singh's book A Call to Honour - In service of emergent India by Jaswant Singh, Rupa & Co.:

On military training

Technically, there was little I found difficult in all this military training. It was all clearly so exaggerated, needlessly loud and overbearing, and especially concentrated too, so as to break us in quickly. And for most, that breaking-in was permanent. As I tried to cope with the daily assault on my sensibilities, and upon my incurably free spirit, this 'understanding' helped me arrive at just the appropriate response: 'I must preserve myself and not sink into the anonymity of totally submissive obedience. For this, technical excellence in the "externals" of what is being imparted is training, is all that is needed.' That brought me privacy, saved my self-respect and spirit, too. Was this not the aim of all this bullying and hectoring after all: to inculcate qualities of individuality, initiative, the ability to think and act on one's own? I doubt it. The system really works for developing conformity, not individuality, unthinking obedience, not questioning assent.

Military training gave me a very great deal, infinitely more than what it took. What I had to give was conformity and obedience, even a pretence sufficed. In return, I got self-control, a sense or regulating time, much greater self-discipline. Vigorous physical training, coming on top of an already led outdoors life and upbringing, became a kind of fixed deposit of value, of habit, of exercising the body daily. A certain military directness replaced the rounded courtesies of village dialect.

...The schedule and pace of military training was such as to leave hardly any free play in the mind. If you gave yourself up then it would suck you down, instantly.

On Commissioning

I already knew, had perhaps always known, that I was not going to be in the army for good.

On military service

My commissioned service in the Army of just about nine years, 15 December 1957 - 22 November 1966, has no place in this narrative. I joined in what I term as the 'golden age of cantonment soldiering' in India. We soldiered as we imagined fabled cavalry must have done at one time, therefore, we too must follow suit: 'Cavalry, Sir, is to lend colour to battle to add style to what is otherwise just an unseemly squabble', 'Officers, Sir, are to lead men into battle, not muck around all the time on piffle like inspections and parades and all that...' An officer at Jhansi railway station, aping the 'mythical' Brabazon to the flusterd and hapless station master, after being informed that the train to Delhi had gone: 'Gone?' the officer asked in a gimlet-soaked drawl, 'what do you mean gone? Get another, instantly, go and get another train, now.'

I realised soon enough that all this was empty posturing, this living as caricatures; that the Army had better awaken to reality. I sought a formal interview and asked for permission to resign. I had barely two years of service. 'Why?' a rather jovial, bon-vivantish colonel commandant asked. He was a great raconteur and he truly couldn't grasp what I meant when I said: 'To write Sir, I need leisure to do so, and I am losing time.' Astounded he asked: 'How old are you?' 'Twenty-one, Sir,' 'Twenty-one! You are mad! The maximum leisure is here in the Army, not outside. Look at me... I have all the time I want, so much that I don't know what to do with it.' I did not succeed then, but I was not deterred from my objective either.

As a reflex, I volunteered for all the impossible seeming missions, the many reconnaissance in the Himalayas that were then being ordered....

In 1966, I resigned. When asked to give reasons, I stated clearly: 'To join politics.' I had no pension, I did not want one, and, of course, no other 'terminal benefits' from the Army. My service with it was the great benefit, and what the Army gave me, taught me, left with me is my priceless pension.

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