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In Conversation With Major General Sudhakar Jee

March 15, 2020

Major General Sudhakar Jee, Vishisht Seva Medal is an alumnus of Sainik School, Bhubaneshwar and National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla. He was commissioned into The Mahar Regiment of the Indian Army in June 1983 and has vast experience in operations across a wide spectrum of conflict and terrain profiles within India and abroad. The General Officer is presently holding the appointment of Deputy Commandant, Army War College, Mhow where the present and future leaders of the Indian Armed Forces and Friendly Foreign Countries are trained in Strategy and the Art of Warfare. He was elected as Colonel of the Mahar Regiment and has been holding the appointment since 01 Sep 2017.

Major General Sudhakar Jee gave an institute lecture on the 25th of February. Watch Out! decided to interview him to know more about his way of life and gain a better view of his opinions about the nation’s security and the role we’re supposed to play within it.

WO: When did you decide to join the army, how did you deal with the potential risks involving a career in the armed forces? What was your motivation behind this?

Maj. Gen. Sudhakar Jee: I was an alumni of Sainik school Bhuvaneshwar, which I joined in 1979. In those days, whoever entered this school did so with the primary objective of providing HR for training in the National Defense Academy. Having joined the school, I had no option. Joining the army was something that happened very naturally. I undertook a journey of many memorable experiences, of self discipline, of character building. Be it arriving on time, wearing the right dress, walking straight, marching straight, mannerisms, etiquettes, everything I learnt over there. What matters ultimately, is that success is in terms of growth, not progress. Success isn’t going ahead alone, it is taking everyone together with morals and ethics. That is what success actually is. This is why I joined the army. It happened naturally as I said, though in the heart of my hearts, I really wanted to become a doctor, which didn’t happen. I got through NDA in the first chance, and I joined and now have become a General in 36 years.

WO: Serving the Army for 36 years, you must’ve had many tough experiences. Can you tell us about some of them? How do you treat those situations?

Maj. Gen. Sudhakar Jee: Being a soldier, you have a singular aim. You’re given a task, and that task has to be completed. If it is not completed the way it is supposed to be, there are mechanisms of feedback. Once the task is assigned to someone, one has to complete it. If you’re asking me questions about my good times or bad times, well I do not see time as good or bad, I see time as a rare opportunity, one that everyone doesn’t get. Soldiering, as I see, is an experience of self sacrifice, dedication and selfless commitment to dedicate yourself to a higher purpose in life, the national security. I took it as a rare challenge. The family, friends, parents, kids everyone takes a backseat everytime. I have been faced with many challenges where I couldn’t be there for my family. When my father died, I wasn’t there for his last rites. I couldn’t care for my mother when she suffered from cancer. I missed out, you see. A soldier is neither here, nor there. He fights the battles for the goals and objectives of the nation.

WO: Tell us more about the ‘ power of Indian moustache’

Maj. Gen. Sudhakar Jee: laughs That was on the lighter side. You see, with China, we have gone for many agreements, involving many protocols. In the northern borders, at such high altitude, not a single shot has been fired since 1962, with such an established adversary, discounting Nathula as it was just a local skirmish. There’s no war taking place here. Having said that, the protocols and agreements that we’ve gone in for are basically to ensure peace and tranquility along the northern border, which is holding out very effectively. There’s a mutual trust prevailing among them and us, something not seen between many nations. So, to abide by protocols, and to keep the troops motivated, I was charged with the duty, as I had been previously posted in Eastern Ladakh and other northern borders. I brought in the Indian moustache as a tool to elevate your personality and self esteem, rather than firing rounds with guns. You will show yourself one foot taller than the adversary. The moustache does all of that effectively. Thus we adopted this moustache policy, which paid off. We never had anything untoward during my time.

WO: What was your toughest experience in your military service?

Maj. Gen. Sudhakar Jee: During Operation Vijay, I was posted in Siachen Glacier. On one occasion, the enemy had started shelling, and we had gone into an ice cave. We were still sweating. When we did a regular drill of headcounts, breathless, we were supposed to be 38, but the headcount came out to be 37. It took us some time to fathom out who that 38th person was. As the company commander, I asked a soldier to go and look out for that person. He couldn’t go out as the shelling was so intensive, it took place right at the mouth of the ice cave, even on the ice cave itself. In that critical phase, I decided to tackle the situation myself, instead of ordering someone around. I had promised my CO that I’m taking 64 people, and I’ll bring back 64 people. Nobody will die. So at a height of about 20000 feet, I went with a signal operator, himself a low medical category. Both of us corralled as we went to the Signal Hut. The shelling was intense, the enemy fired at us with all kinds of weapons. We crawled and ducked to reach the FGH, a fiberglass hut, a hut perched on an icicle. We checked it, on coming back however, we found that the washroom lock had been bolted from outside. A shell had bounced off the fiberglass hut, and landed on this small hut. There’s a rope hanging, which allows you to go from high ground to lower ground. I decided to go check for this person here. The problem is that only one person can go down at once. The rope hanging can support only one, the tethering mechanism can only handle one person. If there’s only a person inside, a second person going can create a high risk situation, thus it was a very difficult decision for me. I asked the signal operator to stay there, and took the risk, with the noble intention of saving a person. On going there, I found that my colleague was there, he couldn’t come out. The drill was that whenever shelling starts, which was ongoing at that time, wherever one was, we were supposed to leave everything and assemble. I unbolted the contraption, and prayed we wouldn’t fall. Had we gone down, we’d have gone into the enemy’s side. But, luck favoured us. We climbed out safely. Had I lost that officer, perhaps I wouldn’t have been able to pardon myself.

WO: In recent times, there has been much dispute with China over Doklam. Can you put more light on this issue?

Maj. Gen. Sudhakar Jee: Doklam, even now, is being discussed and deliberated with a high degree of confidentiality. This issue isn’t something which should be addressed in the open media. However, just to address the curiosity of the student population, it is sufficient to say that we have checkmated them, at a place beyond which it would have been detrimental to the national interest. This was identified as a redline much prior to the incident actually taking place. Had they not been held back at a point, they would’ve gone ahead into Bhutan territory, thus they had been stopped there itself.

WO: You talk about the media multiple times, how it does not play a proper part in our nation. How do you feel the media should work in our nation?

Maj. Gen. Sudhakar Jee: The fact that you have invited me to give a talk here, is a testament to the fact that public awareness is growing. You are a student media body in a technologically oriented institute. My son himself is a techie, a software developer at Apple. Still, in the Indian mindset, to become an engineer, you study. You don’t go for journalism or other things. Learning about this gave fire in my belly to be invited to an IIT, that too Roorkee, one of the oldest institutions in the country, requesting me to give a talk on the Regional Security perspective of India. Thus the media is becoming curious day by day. Issues one has never heard of earlier are being talked about. However, the culture of the media must undergo change. It has to be more civilised, responsible and accountable. Security is not just the citizen’s or the soldier’s responsibility. It is also the media’s responsibility. Coming to the question, let’s take the previous example of Doklam. Doklam is supposed to be highly classified. But the way the media has covered it, they had covered issues that even we were supposed not to talk about. We all are now well versed, well connected, there are many such issues which the media can take up. Take for example, the situation of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The media can inform people about what is happening at these places. This will also result in an opinion being mobilised, and will ensure that the people make their electoral representatives equally aware about such issues. There’s a need to involve ourselves with greater interest in the grave issue of national security.

WO: What challenges did you face when serving at harsh terrains like Ladakh?

Maj. Gen. Sudhakar Jee: In Ladakh, we have a reporting system, in the morning and evening. I was a commanding officer there, and was sitting at my office when a report came that a celestial object was spotted, which was coming down to a lower altitude, clicking a photo, and then going up. I realised that this was an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or a drone as it is popularly called. Our adversaries in the north have manufactured more than 170 varieties of drones. The conflict is taking place in many contours. It is manifesting not always as guns, but as psychological, or through cyber medium or the media. These are known as non kinetic warfare. There is also a recent terminology called gray-zone battles, where you don’t know about the enemy, and are vulnerable to their attacks. The information management and communication are posing a very potent and realistic threat even now. Last year, the website of an aircraft company was hacked. People were stranded there for 9 hours. The ticketing process, once automated, manual ticketing didn’t work. The northern grid became disabled for 26 hours. This celestial object we found, we took measures but couldn’t get it down. We could see that there were multitude of these objects at work surveying us. Then, with the measures we had taken with the northern countries, we couldn’t open fire on them, in our territory, however, we were allowed to knock it down. It wasn’t easy, we were unable to deal with it. Many such cases happened at different places in Ladakh. I am sharing this with you guys as you are the technologically oriented people of the country. If anything can be done to disable such UAVs and bring them down, then steps must be taken in that direction. The drones which are being made, none of them are supposed to operate in the harsh conditions of Ladakh, but such drones work. Why can’t we do it? Why don’t take it as a challenge? Many of you are working on such devices which are effective at high altitudes, but they are not working. They are sustained only to a limit, beyond which they don’t operate effectively.

WO: How do you feel we as citizens of the country contribute to its general safety?

Maj. Gen. Sudhakar Jee: For a good length of time, the constitution of India, had the rights of the people. In the 70’s an article outlining the duties of the citizens. I’m happy that they came up. Abraham Lincoln used to say that one shouldn’t ask what the nation can do for them, rather, they should ask what they can do for the nation. Similarly, I feel, there is a need for all of us to have a collective accountability and responsibility towards anything that happens in the nation, which is growing steadily among people. The unfortunate thing is that this is manifesting in a different way. In a democracy like ours, the major issues pertain to the system of governance. We have a multi-party system. Such a system makes the decision making process time consuming. If decisions are taken, implementations are much longer. It is different in other democracies even. Still, we have fared much better even than the developed countries in the past 72 years. Having said that, I will say that yes, there is a requirement to improve awareness, in the form of education. The central point of ensuring onground impact is education. In our syllabi, as much as the rights of the citizens, the duties of a citizen must be outlined.