Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Prez who wanted to be a billionaire

THE National Defence College (NDC) course is a defining experience for those who participate in this 11-month programme in Delhi. What makes it  unique is the conducive environment, varied exposure and enormous peer group learning. Over half course members are Brigadiers and equivalents, drawn from the three services, nominated through a tough selection process. Joint Secretary-level officers from the civil services constitute around 15 per cent of the course strength, with military officers from friendly foreign countries making up the rest. Around 80 of us attended the NDC 43 in 2003.As the course draws to an end, there are number of courtesy calls and ‘at homes’. The most significant of these is the call on the President at Rashtrapati Bhavan. There was added excitement, given the extraordinary credentials of then President APJ Abdul Kalam — a visionary, eminent scientist and scholar; above all, an epitome of humanity. A detailed briefing was organised by the Secretary NDC, covering the minutest protocol details, especially the lineup for the group photograph. One foreign officer who was insistent on taking both his wives for the function was firmly directed to drop one, keeping in view the propriety of the occasion. He was also politely apprised about the marital status of the Supreme Commander. We arrived at Rashtrapati Bhavan and waited to be ushered in. The group photograph was the first event. We took our places. The President made a ceremonial entry and posed for the photograph. After introduction to the faculty members, informal interaction followed. The President was soon surrounded by the course members and their spouses. Some of us stood in a corner, awaiting our turn. Suddenly we saw him peeling away and heading towards us. Moving closer, he queried inquisitively: “Are you all single like me?” He appeared amused at our spontaneous response; all claiming to be happily married. Stepping towards me, he asked: “What is the role of a soldier?” Momentarily, I felt stumped. Seeing me perplexed, he repeated the question. This gave me the time to respond. I replied: “Sir, a soldier’s prime duty is to defend the motherland at all cost and be a role model for society.”  From the President’s smiling nod, it was obvious that I had got it right. He explained that while every military safeguards its nation, how many can claim to be model citizens! The President went on to amplify: “It is here that an Indian soldier can be immensely proud. India as a nation reveres its soldiers, looks upon them as role models, persons of unblemished character and custodians of the highest values. Our nation goes into shock when there is abrasion on the part of a soldier. All military persons, whether in or out of uniform, must live up to this trust. They should be stakeholders in building a strong nation, so that all Indians can realise their aspirations.”The President was gracious to overshoot the stipulated 60-minute interaction. Just as he was departing, out of sheer magnanimity, he asked if anyone had a question. A lady jumped the protocol: “President Sir, what is your dream?” He paused and with a broad smile responded: “To be a billionaire.” There was silence, which soon turned into a thunderous applause when he whispered, “by making each one of my billion countrymen smile.”


Published in The Tribune on 3 Aug 2015

For whom the bell tolls

IT was past midnight. Feeling restless, I came out of the operations room. What could be happening hundred-odd km away made me perspire.

The moment of reckoning was nearing. It was the culmination of 16 months of a relentless offensive to clear South Manipur of insurgents.

After four days, all the teams closed in on to the designated areas. The main blow was to be delivered by the teams of Dogra led by Lt-Col Rajiv Bakshi, the Officiating Commanding Officer. In fact, success of the operation was largely dependent upon this column.

For past 24 hours, there was not contact with Rajiv’s column as they were to cut through thick jungle. At last, the radioset came alive. Rajiv told me that he was in close proximity of the target and going to strike at first light.

Stretched out on the sofa in the operation room I awaited the dawn to set in. I was shaken out of slumber by the Duty Officer. He apprised me of the fierce encounter that was on in the Parbung area, and added that Rajiv had been critically wounded. A helicopter was on the way to evacuate him.

Within minutes, I was able to get through to Lieutenant Pant who was now leading the operations.

He told me that Church Hill had been effectively surrounded and an intense encounter was on.

I sat back, leaving it to the staff to monitor progress of other teams. The brief lull was broken when Military Hospital at Masimpur communicated the news of Rajiv’s demise.

Was the worst unfolding? As I was wondering over the option of moving in some reinforcements, some good news started pouring in. Pant’s team had stormed Church Hill and took a heavy toll of the militants, eliminating half a dozen, including the area commander.

Simultaneously, all the other teams stuck at their respective targets and by mid-day over a dozen militants had been eliminated. What seemed to be a fiasco in the morning, turned out to be one of the most successful counter-insurgency operations conducted in the area.

In the evening, with a heavy heart and deep sense of loss, I spoke to Colonel JML Bakshi, Rajiv’s father, to personally share the grief as also to narrate the heroic performances. In a composed tone, after listening to me Colonel Bakshi responded: “General Dwivedi – I am proud of Rajiv on two counts, firstly as a father, for he has done the family proud and secondly as ex-commanding officer, because Rajiv has maintained the legacy of the battalion”.

All I could manage to say was that the “sacrifice made by Rajiv will not go in vain”. “God bless you all,” said Colonel Bakshi and hung up.

Next day when I landed at Parbung, it was a bright morning. The residents had turned up in large numbers to share their sentiments and express gratitude for the supreme sacrifice made by Rajiv and the contribution of his valiant team for ushering in a new era for the community. The militants had been meted natural justice as they had run their writ for almost 10 years.

To immortalise Rajiv and as mark of gratitude to the Army a memorial has been constructed on Church Hill which will always remind the posterity of the historic event. On January 20 every year, special service is solemnised by the locals. On this day, when sound of gong echoes in the Parbung valley, thousands of miles away, some of us would stand in silence, reckoning “for whom the bell tolls”. 


Published in The Tribune  by by Maj-Gen G.G.( Retd. )  Dwivedi



Nothing is ever lasting

Neymar of BrazilI perched myself tactically on a vacant bench so that I could have a bird’s eye view of the Harvard Square, as I waited for my wife to shop for souvenirs. She was to join me after a hectic day at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she was attending the Senior Educator’s Programme. Enjoying the sunny June afternoon, I sat watching hordes of starry-eyed freshers on an orientation tour, all set to make their entry into the elite university; reminiscing my own experience as an ‘exec-edu’ participant at Kennedy School.

Suddenly, I was jolted from the semi-slumber state, when I saw a well-built elderly gentleman standing in front of me and gesturing for help to sit down. Promptly, I got up and lent my shoulder so that he could slip on to the bench. Moaning with grief, he cursed his knees, the most precious part of the body in younger days when he was a renowned footballer. Today, these very knees had become a handicap and source of unbearable pain. I empathised by complimenting him for taking life in his stride in the twilight years.

Soon, he seemed to have disengaged from me as I found him making efforts to strike a conversation with passersby. A bit intrigued, I tried to ignore him by digging into the book “48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene that I was carrying. Through the corner of the eye, I observed that barely one in ten people he accosted cared to reciprocate.

Abruptly, he inched towards me and smilingly gestured, “You are apparently reading a book on power! Everyone wants it. Once I too possessed it, as a celebrity. It’s a very heady stuff”. Clenching my right arm tightly, he grinned and quizzed me: “If you are following the 2014 World Cup, then tell me ‘who is Neymar?”

“Brazilian star striker — and who doesn’t know him?” I replied with an air of confidence. Promptly, he shot back his next question, “What tattoo does he support on his neck?” I was now stumped.

Loosening the grip on my wrist, he whispered the words “tudo passa” as if sharing a secret. Painstakingly, he explained to me that pair of Latin words meant that “nothing is ever lasting”, particularly position and fame. Elaborating further, he went on to define how power corrupts by isolating individuals from the ground reality, forcing them to live virtual lives and missing out on basic human relationships. Making a case in point, he mumbled, “Just saw, how hardly anyone cared to respond to my innocent gestures a little while ago! All these people are in trance, intoxicated with power”.

Sensing a captive audience in me, he paused for a while. Then taking a deep breath, in a heavy emotional tone, teeth clenched and tears dripping down his bearded cheeks, he sighed: “Ironically, the very assets which catapult one to fame, later undergo mutation and manifest as the Achilles’ heel. Look at my knees!”

With a little support from me, he stretched out on the bench with eyes closed. As I got up to leave, he forced a smile, reminding me that the ordinary people are blessed, as they have a heart, both for nature and humanity. They never suffer the pangs of loss of power. I was soon hot footing to catch up with my wife to share the joy of being just an ordinary mortal — but the blessed one!


Published in Tribune on 15 July 2014 by Maj. Gen ( Retd.) G. G. Dwivedi

Spice of life: Twin trains, non-identical tracks

These days, I am a regular commuter aboard the Shatabdi Express, as I travel frequently from Delhi to Jalandhar or Chandigarh. For the twin destinations, it is the evening Shatabdis that suit me. Both trains start from Platform 1 of New Delhi railway station. As I plan my travel well in advance, I manage generally to get a seat in the executive class.

The Jalandhar-bound Shatabdi departs at 4.30 pm. By four, the platform is humming with activity. Most of the passengers in the train’s executive class are either NRIs or holidaymakers, besides a handful of devotees headed for Amritsar or Beas. As the train lines up on the platform, there is a sudden clamour for the compartment, everyone vying for prime space on the overhead luggage racks. There is hectic activity to swap seats, as families and friends want to sit together. Travelling by myself mostly, it is I who get displaced from my designated seat invariably at least once, sometimes even twice.

By the time the train starts, everyone is settled and refreshments have arrived. Children convert the passage into a mini amusement park quickly and make merry to the delight of their parents. Mobilephone ringtones and conversations add to the vibrant atmosphere. Usually, my co-passenger is an NRI. We break the ice over a cup of tea. By soup time, we are on the first-name basis. Being footloose and now professor of international relations, I can have interesting chat with anyone even from Dakar or Reykjavik. Punjabi hospitality is at its best by the time dinner is served, and I have a standing invite from my co-passenger to his “Newfoundland”.

As Jalandhar approaches, come loud goodbyes and bear hugs. The platform wears a festive look, as restless crowds armed with bouquets are eager to welcome their near and dear ones from distant lands.

The Chandigarh Shatabdi departs at 5.15pm. To board it, I avoid the ordeal of entering from Paharganj, instead going via the always-open VIP gate. The platform where the executive coaches are parked appears barren, as if the train has been cancelled. The VIPs escorted by their entourage appear barely a few minutes before the departure time.

Everyone makes to the designated seat without any commotion. Their security personnel, after ushering the dignitary, hang around the alley to keep a tight vigil. The atmosphere in the coach is rather officious. The service staff makes a welcome gesture by handing each passenger a rose bud. Most of the top officials enjoy the luxury of having an unoccupied adjacent seat. My co-passenger generally is a mid-rung official. Benign gestures draw a cold response. Sensing impersonal body language, I open my laptop to punch in an article. Many of the mid-section pieces are courtesy the Kalka Shatabdi.

As the train chugs into the outskirts of Chandigarh, the personal staffs of the VIPs go hyperactive to lead their bosses out. On the platform, a large entourage is waiting to receive the dignitaries. Outside, in the VIP car park, there are fleets of red- and blue-beacon vehicles with loud sirens. The scene resembles a disaster-relief operation.

I make my way out slowly, a little amused, pondering why totally different experiences aboard the two trains with a common name?


Published in Hindustan Times on  9 july 2015

A piece of good earth

My earliest childhood memories of our ancestral village, located in the Doaba region, date back to the mid-50s. Even today, I can distinctly recall images of endless lush green fields crisscrossed by cart tracks bearing hoof marks; thick foliage covering vast patches and mud-plastered habitats lining the narrow lanes. The village was a self-sustaining entity; farming being the core activity. Persian-wheel cranked wells, owned by the elite, personified the gentle pace of harmonious life and its cyclic nature. It was the era of animal power, which was the key mode of transportation, prime source of dairy, cooking fuel and natural manure for the fields. Ours was a double-storeyed house, one of the handful bricklined dwellings with the luxury of an in-house well. At the crack of dawn, the folks from the neighbourhood would line up with their earthen pots to draw water. By late morning, a sizeable number of patients waited in the courtyard for treatment as my grandfather, an eminent physician, ran a charitable clinic post retirement. Then there were visitors to meet dad, an INA veteran and a social activist, to address community issues. It was also a venue for weddings, and in the wake of natural calamities, doubled as a shelter for the distressed.One evening, a group of people trooped in, agitated about a government proposal to construct a canal. Given its alignment, a large portion of the village land would be lost. A pall of gloom descended over the village: land was the only possession, a symbol of self-esteem and the sole means of subsistence.At night, dad typed out a petition on his portable Remington. Next morning, along with a few prominent residents, he left to take up the case with state officials. The issue moved back and forth, shuttling through bureaucratic loops. After months of hectic efforts, the project was shelved. There was jubilation, with drummer Aziz Mohamed and the local band enlivening the air. Prayer meetings were held, crackers were burst and a lavish feast was organised. Today, the village is well-connected with metalled roads. The streets are paved and there is proper drainage. Every house is a concrete structure, with a power connection and access to clean water supply. Many households have TV sets, refrigerators and cooking gas. Most possess two-wheelers and mobile handsets; few even have cars and computers. Land is still the most valued possession. Though no more a prime source of livelihood, it defines one’s status.During a recent meeting on the land acquisition Bill, sentiments to protect the land at all cost, echoed rather loud. Minority voices seeking to draw attention to the sinking water table, loss of productivity and urgency for crop diversification were lost in the din. Apparently, no one is cognisant that if these measures are not put in place soon, this blessed ‘piece of earth’ could turn barren in the coming times; belying the faith reposed in us by our forefathers!


Published in The Tribune on  Jul 24 2015