by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th April 2008
The National Defence Academy (NDA) at Kadakwasla, near Pune, is internationally admired as the world’s only military academy that trains cadets for all three services --- army, navy and air force --- all together. With different operational roles, traditions, and serving in separate bases, the three services remain linked by a common ethos, instilled over the last 60 years in tens of thousands of officers during their three years at the NDA.
But now, the Indian Navy has struck at the very idea of a common foundation. The Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, who is also the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), has passed orders to NDA that from July 2009, the navy’s cadets will follow their own syllabus, and that they will stay at the academy for just two years. The army and the air force cadets will continue with the old three-year course.
Behind this order, which has created dismay in the army and air force leadership, is the navy’s decision to provide every naval officer with a Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) degree before they are commissioned. Now naval cadets at the NDA will study technical subjects instead of a common NDA academic syllabus. After two years at NDA, they will transfer to the Naval Academy at Ezhimala, in Kerala, where they will study another two years to get their B.Tech degrees.
NDA has been given no choice but to fall in line. If the academy is unable, or unwilling, to implement the new syllabus, said Admiral Mehta, the navy would no longer send its cadets to Khadakwasla. Instead naval cadets would go to the Naval Academy, Ezhimala, for their entire four years of training.
This move has created chaos at the NDA, which is now struggling to rework a training syllabus that was fine-tuned over decades. First, there is the need to compress three years of basic military training into just two years. Senior officers at the NDA believe that the basic training laid down in the charter of NDA --- instilling leadership qualities, an honour code, character-building, and an appreciation of the inter-service aspect of the armed forces --- simply cannot be imparted in a truncated time frame.
The navy insists that it can. In a statement, the Indian Navy told Business Standard that, “The only option is to undertake two years of joint training at NDA followed by technology upgrades for two years at NAVAC (Naval Academy, Ezhimala). This would provide us the opportunity to inculcate the spirit of jointness over the two years of training at NDA, and yet meet the Navy’s requirement of B. Tech education.”
And so NDA is putting together a B.Tech syllabus and hiring academic staff to impart it. The beleaguered academic department in Khadakwasla is already functioning without a principal, a vice principal or a registrar. Instead of the 120 lecturers authorised, NDA has just 57. Outdated and inadequate pay scales are making it difficult to retain even the existing academic staff.
Senior officers, steeped in the fierce loyalties that the NDA arouses, condemn the move bluntly. General VP Malik, the army chief at the time of the Kargil conflict, points out that the navy has long demanded a B.Tech for all its officers, but suggests implementing it without undermining the tri-services ethos of NDA. Gen Malik says, “I think it’s a bad move to shift out naval cadets after two years. Whatever camaraderie and joint services spirit exists in the military today can be traced directly to the time spent together at NDA.”
Former naval chief, Admiral Sushil Kumar, justifies the need to provide a technical degree to naval officers, but says, “as an NDA man, I’ve always had an uneasy feeling about disconnecting naval cadets (from the academy) after two years. During the Kargil war, I shared the closest of relationships with the army chief, General VP Malik. That was because both of us have known each other since our time together as NDA cadets.”
The NDA is already facing a shortfall of cadets. In the latest course to join the academy, there were just 191 cadets against the normal intake of 300. Since then, 9 more have withdrawn from the academy.