Wednesday 13 November 2019, 02:26 AM
HAIL TO THE CHIEF
By PV Naik Former Air Chief Marshal | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 9/19/2019 4:08:47 PM
HAIL TO THE CHIEF

What is so special about September 2019? First the external environment. World economy is spiralling downwards. Trade war between USA & China is burgeoning. UK is in the throes of Brexit, while Russia is managing her diplomacy and foreign policy beautifully. The Middle East is in the usual turmoil while N Korea is busy test firing missile after missile, motivating, among others, Iran. Closer home, Imran Khan is sounding more n more like a cricket captain blustering against accusations of ball tampering, rather than a PM. Afghanistan is performing brilliantly in cricket, but , otherwise is in a bit of a spot.

In India, Kargil is history. Balakote is a far off memory. Article 370 is the flavour of the day since the removal of special provisions for J&K. The realignment of J&K into two UTs has not yet been digested by the majority.Indo-Pak acrimony continues across world fora. It is September in Kashmir. The passes close by October. Traditionally, Pak Army is busiest this month in trying to push maximum number of terrorists into India before the passes close.

All this is OK but what about the Chiefs? Gen Bajwa has granted himself a three year extension in Pakistan. We have a new Navy chief already in office. The Army Chief retires in Dec this year. What is of immediate concern to me is the retirement of the Air Chief byend  Sep. Normally the new Chief is announced well in advance. This time the suspense continues. There is tremendous expectation, anticipation and, of course, guesswork going on all over. I am sure some of our Bosses in & around Delhi would have, very subtly, forwarded their recommendations. The situation this time is more spicy because plans for appointing a CDS are afoot. I have the deepest sympathies for all the aspirants. The wait must be getting unbearable.

I took over as the Chief of the Air Staff(CAS) little more than a decade ago. There was really not much of a suspense. The contenders were few, I was already the Vice Chief and seniority, by and large, was given due weightage. Today I look back at that time and try to remember what my thoughts were, what my intentions, expectations, plans were and, above all what virtues and vices I thought would make me a good Chief.First of all, you need to get any monkey off your back. This means it is best that you owe no favours to higher ups. I was, perhaps, lucky I was never a Staff Offr(SO) to anyone high or low. So, no misplaced loyalty. This makes decision Making easier and uncomplicated.

You need to have a very good Secretariat.This starts with your Air Advisor(AA), through your SOs, PAs right down to the Orderly Room and other Staff.Basically their job is to make your working simpler. The AA is the linchpin. The Secretariat revolves around him. The job of SOs is to make your life easier. Sometimes they take their job so earnestly that they isolate the Boss and he gets to hear only what they want him to hear. Sometimes one odd fellow has his own axe to grind. Sometimes a SO might start wearing his Boss’s mantle. Such things are to be watched out for and nipped in the bud.I was singularly blessed in having a fantastic set of lads in my Secretariat. Mature, by and large, sincere and loyal.

The second part is to do with your wife. She is the head of AFWWA. They do an awful lot of good as well as handle a lot of complex issues. Issues that seldom claim your attention but have a lot of bearing on morale. Therefore her Staff also has to be properly selected. Then comes 23 Akbar Road the traditional residence of the CAS. Initially when I learnt about the support staff, vehicles, security, the numbers were astounding.As days went by I thanked my stars for resisting the temptation to slash the numbers.

I guess you need guts and gumption to become the Chief. At the core is a set of values, the courage of your convictions, integrity. The cornerstone methinks, is professional knowledge. Not the nuts and bolts variety alone, but tempered with a conceptual aptitude. Strategic understanding of the role of the IAF and where it stands in the country’s scheme of things. One needs to understand the System. Some have not only understood the system but exploited it  for short term gains. As a Chief, you must be tough enough to be able to take hard decisions. The overriding consideration has to be the good of the Service and the country. This, mind you, does not mean cold hearted. As a Chief you are the father figure for most youngsters and you should be able to fulfil this role without compromising the good of the service. Remember, compassion has to come from within.

When I was to take over as C-in-C, CAC, my then Chief called me and said,” Pradeep, please do not create work where it is not needed”. A golden rule. ‘He  works best who packs up last’ is not the dictum to be followed. As far as possible, I preferred to finish my work in office and rarely took files home. My wife Madhu is witness to this. During office time the most time consuming are the meetings. If within Air H  they can be controlled. It is the meetings with the bureaucracy and the ministers that eat up your working hours. Hence time management is of the essence. This is an occupational hazard, however, I have heard that under the present dispensation punctuality has become more of a virtue.

Turnout, bearing, leadership are a must. Interpersonal relationships play a very important role, especially in Delhi. A lot of things get done on a personal net. The thing to watch out for is what is expected in return. A bit of give n take is acceptable, in fact, the done thing. There should be no compromise on major principles. Many temptations come your way both professionally and socially. This is where your innate sense of values and judgement come into play. As the cliché goes, discretion being the better part of valour.

Media handling skills and public speaking are vital  for success. Negotiating skill, tact and a sense of humour go a long way towards easing working relationships. Balance in the face of adversity, a sense of justice and fair play are good habits to cultivate but remember, Life is, more-often-than-not, unfair. Whenever I had a bad day, maybe a proposal being rejected, or a fatal accident or a suicide, or all three together, I used to think of the PM and the myriad problems he handled on a daily basis. That helped. Know your people, especially the Commanders. Remember, Cs-in-C except for the poor WAC fellow, are fairly independent in their respective areas. Delegation to them is high. All the more reason for you to know them well.

As a Chief, you must lead by personal example. Your courage, your fearlessness, your integrity needs to shine through for youngsters to emulate. You should develop the ability to get down to the junior most level to encourage them to express freely their beliefs and opinions. It is, indeed, gratifying when a youngster opens up and speaks freely to the CAS. Your own behaviour will determine how far sycophancy goes in service.

The pinnacle of any service career is, no doubt, the Chief. Nobody, neither a Vice Chief, nor a C-in-C knows what it is to be Chief. The most visible are the perks, the privileges and the deference. The pulls, the pressures, the sorrow at even a single loss are, largely, unseen. You develop such a sense of family, almost a sense of ownership that every success, every failure appears personal. You celebrate with units their victories and you mourn with families their losses. Through all this there are a couple of things to remember. The foremost is to enjoy the moment. You are at the top of the heap and nothing feels better than that.

The attention, the accolades, the deference, all are yours. Enjoy them thoroughly. You have deserved them. I had made a list of what to achieve and what to do on taking over as CAS. I ticked off the last one,’ A vote of thanx to my staff’ on the last day, just before handing over.But at the back of your mind should always be the thought that all this is temporary and stops when you remit office. What lasts is how true you were to your task, the sense of satisfaction of a job well done and the friendships that continue to bloom even after you have retired. You identify with the new Chief, his successes, his trials and tribulations and wait for the first opportunity to meet him and say, ”Hail to the Chief”

PV Naik Former Air Chief Marshal

 

Tags:

USA,China,India,Kargil,CAS,Chief,Kashmir,Balakote,provisions,Indian Air Force,acrimony,Afghanistan

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