Allow access to war histories: NN Vohra

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 18

Former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir NN Vohra on Friday made a strong pitch to make public histories of the wars fought by the Indian armed forces, saying reading these would help the younger generation of soldiers.

Vohra, a former Punjab cadre IAS officer who was the Defence Secretary from March 1990 to April 1993, was speaking at the inaugural session of the 4th Military Literature Festival. The annual event was conducted virtually from Chandigarh this year.

Narrating an anecdote, Vohra said in the late 1980s when Lt General Harbaksh Singh, the former Western Army Commander, wrote a book on the 1965 war, the first instinct was how to stop his pension. “The opinion was — how dare he write on the war without prior permission!” said Vohra. Certain maps of the western border were used in the book, which meant he should have sought permission.

But things have changed, said Vohra as he went on to commend the plethora of writings in newspapers and journals, saying these showed commendable insight of officers of the services.

Vohra said, “We had unfortunately not allowed access to documents by being secretive and confidential.” He gave the example of his three-year tenure as Defence Secretary, saying, “We finalised the military histories of the wars fought in 1948, 1962, 1965 and 1971. But when we tried to get these published, there was enormous opposition and the plan had to be abandoned.”

The younger generation would not benefit if the experiences of war and combat were not recorded well in time and made available to the cadets in military academies or at places like the National Defence College.

The nation, he said, had been guilty of not allowing certain reports like the one by Henderson Brookes on the 1962 India-China war to be made available. These could at least be used in the military for learning. He suggested that after 30 years, a document could be made available in an archival repository and scholars be allowed to go and examine those with prior permission. This could be done in case the document could not be put in public domain.

Talking of the future, he said, “We need thinking generals, admirals and air chief marshals as the wars of tomorrow will be different from the wars of yesterday. We have reached a stage where senior military echelons need to understand the situation not just within the country, but across the world.”

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who was also present at the virtual session, commended the forces for the 1971 war victory, saying the country was celebrating its golden jubilee.

He lavished praise on the experience of the veterans, asking the young people to learn from retired soldiers instead of playing ‘war linked’ games on mobile phones. “The veterans are like living institutions,” he said.

Rajnath asked the organisers to devote the next year’s theme to cyber war and tackling misinformation campaigns. “The enemy can reach our people through mobile phones,” he said.

The Governor of Punjab and the Administrator of Chandigarh, VP Singh Badnore, said the festival was unique in its fabric. Chandigarh, he said, was the most appropriate venue to conduct the festival.

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