Cynics have suggested that relations between him and the Defence Ministry had plummeted to a new low as he was seen to be underplaying the bunch of accidents much to the annoyance of the ministry mandarins and therefore Adm Joshi had no choice to quit.Although, as many would point out the fault should lie with the commanders on ground, the Flag-Officers Commanding-in-Chief, the navy's two operational commands on the western and eastern seaboards. Like a true leader, Adm Joshi however took the blame upon himself.
Wednesday morning's accident on the submarine INS Sindhuratna off the coast of Mumbai in which two officers are listed as 'unaccounted' for till the time of writing this one hour short of midnight on Wednesday, came as a last straw and Adm Joshi decided to take the moral responsibility as any military leader worth his salt would do!
What came as a surprise however was the immediate acceptance of the resignation by Defence Minister AK Antony. It was as if the Defence Minister was more than happy that someone was stepping up and taking it on the chin so that he would be spared of any blame coming right to the top in the defence ministry! Many questions need to be asked of the minister and the civil servants working under him for not holding the hand of the armed forces and meeting their requirements in time.
It is no secret that India's submarine arm has seen its strength getting depleted rapidly but despite a comprehensive and viable submarine accretion plan being presented to the government in 1999--15 years ago--no new acquisition or accretion has happened thanks to government apathy and disinterest. Yes, the navy has made mistakes. Yes, maintenance has been a bit of problem. Yes, young officers have made errors of judgement. But for all their sins of commission and omission, each and everyone in the uniform has paid the price by either getting sacked or removed and barred from any further promotion.
In contrast, has anything happened to the DPSUs and their non-performing assets? Has any Joint Secretary (Navy) been taken to task for not speeding up acquisitions or meeting deadlines for timely delivery of platforms? Has a defence secretary ever come under scrutiny for delays and dilatory tactics? Has Mr Antony, who only wants to preserve his 'lily white reputation' of probity and integrity, ever admitted that his risk-aversion has led to India's defence modernisation being at least a decade behind schedule?
No Sir, the babus may be the ultimate decision makers on what to acquire or not (remember according to allocation of Business Rules and transaction, it is the defence secretary, and not the three service chiefs who are responsible for the defence of India!), but the fall guy in case of delays and errors has to be someone from the forces!
As the story of Adm Joshi's resignation came in, I made some half a dozen random calls to serving and retired officers to gauge their reactions; I also received a dozen odd calls from serving officers in different ranks, mostly from the navy--understandably so--angrily seeking answers to the sudden development. To most it was a bolt from blue; some were cynical but across the board everyone was angry with the unfairness of it all."The Chief has done the honourable thing a military leader is expected to do and we are happy about it. but what about others up the chain?"They were dismayed that there would be no accountability sought from the political executive and the bureaucracy for a sustained neglect of India's armed forces.
As I stood in front of the camera tonight on prime time, all these thoughts swirled in my mind. Given the limited time available on TV, I tried to articulate as many as possible but as tomorrow comes, many more questions will be and should be raised. For tonight it is sufficient to say:
Salute Adm Joshi!