New Delhi, 01 August 2001  

IDC has great pleasure in being the first to inform all and sundry about the forthcoming change in the design of the Naval Ensign, on the strength of which a ship fights. The BATTLE ENSIGN is hoisted on the Masthead when a ship goes into battle but more than that, IDC sees that there is a wave in India amongst the three Services to be one up and show how dedicated they are by indulging in superficial acts. We hope this exercise by the Navy, to change the design of the Naval Ensign and other distinguishing naval flags, is not an exercise in that direction.

Going by the Kargil experience, the decision to use Air Power by the Chiefs (The Army Chief was away) took three weeks and the methodology still seems unclear, with the Air Force fighting for supremacy over Air Space and brooking no adjudicators.

The Defence Minister as EAM has his hands full with Pakistan and the next adjudicator the Defence Secretary is more powerful but junior to the three Chiefs, but practically they report to him. IDC thought it had won a brownie point when the CDS decision was announced but even that has been politicised and GOI said the opinion of the opposition needs to be taken. How many months does that take? Has any thing happened? We hear that the decision is waiting for Admiral Sushil Kumar and ACM A Y Tipnis to retire so that the post can be handed over to the Army Chief! It has therefore been personalized and lets not beat about the bush. We await your comments.

IDC learns that the rules of engagement even after Kargil are still unclear despite an NSC being in place. Warfare has changed and JOINTNESS amongst the services has become a Principle of War, but the INDIAN WAR BOOK is antiquated. The Services need consultants for unclassified work on such subjects and they are cheaper and have no hidden agendas. But then who can advise an IAS officer or a General in South Block? They are the ultimate know alls. They have not even been able to say that legal AGENTS for sale and purchase of defence wares, is a phenomenon of defence business the world over, in the bargain Air Vice Marshals and Generals (luckily no Admirals so far) get trapped.

It is the Services who are to blame for not advising the powers that be, what all Senior Officers know, that world wide Arms Agents are legal and hence transparency exists in defence purchases. Even Russia has its Agency. Mildly put there is little coordination and no one voice and the CDS fiasco is a prime example where the bureaucrats have won. It is a pity that no one has deemed it necessary to amend the Navy Act 1957, even after the abrupt sacking of CNS Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. The Navy Act empowers ONLY THE PRESIDENT of India to appoint or Court Martial the CNS. The Army and Air Chiefs are appointed and can be court martialed by the Government, a subtle but very grave difference.

The Soli Sorabjees of India are busy advising the Hindujas it seems, with no personal affront meant, because he gave the advice. IDC could go on and on. When officers join the Navy they can get up to 12 months seniority for promotion, based on their performance as Midshipman and Sub Lieutenant, which is not a practice prevalent in the Army or the Air Force. This creates confusion and disparities in seniority between course mates even before careers have begun.

Yet Crores are spent on parades, Vijay Divas, Fleet Reviews and we hear an Air Force Review to beat the IFR is in the offing. It has since been confirmed that as part of the Air Force Day celebrations this year, the Air Force will hold a massive Air Review at Chandigarh and invite firms for an air power exhibition on a commercial basis. This will culminate in an air power demonstration on 20 Oct 2001, in an attempt to outshine the International Fleet Review recently held by the Navy at Mumbai.

Considering that a massive DEFEXPO is already planned to be held in Feb 2002 under the ageis of the CII, the need for huge expenditure on an Air Force Review just before the DEFEXPO may raise eyebrows. After all the money has to come out of the same kitty!

IDC supports all this but offers the view that a CDS with authority would be able to attend to communalisation and harmonisation of basics between the three Services. The need for a CDS and Joint Intelligence, Plans, Procurement and Operations is therefore all the more relevant in today’s context, and postponing the decision for the sake of personalities, shows up the weaknesses of our system. The uniform Law Code for the three services collects dust and we hear even a Judge Advocate has gone to court to join India's greatest pastime GO TO COURT. The book ‘Indians –– Why We Are What We Are?’ needs rereading and our traits need correction. 

IDC has put up the new Naval ENSIGN and FLAGS for information. We also present a strong contrary view from a fine retired Sea Dog, and let viewers make their own judgment –– as we hear the die has been cast for the introduction of the new Flags on 15th August this year. 

The Navy has to be one up and some tinge of Swadeshi needs to be enacted to gain brownie points, so we do not grudge the Navy that, so long as it leads to the ADS and Gorshkov being sanctioned. That's the way it works Old Chap! One member of the Cabinet Committee on Security will be thrilled and can do a yatra on one of the Naval Ships, when he has solved the UTI bail out like he is solving the Madhavpura Bank scam.


by Vice Admiral Subimal Mukherjee (Retd)

 (As slightly edited by us as we feel our viewers should benefit from his research.)

First, the indegenisation of our Ensign is the brainchild of a retired Admiral (IDC learns it was Vice Admiral VEC Barboza –– but could stand corrected), passed on to Vishnu Bhagwat soon after the latter took over as CNS. Vishnu bought the idea enthusiastically and initiated in-house action in NHQ. Early this year, the retired Admiral was informed by his ex-Secretary that the change was imminent. The May-July, 2001 issue of Seagull magazine of the Indian Maritime Foundation -- Letters to the Editor Section is relevant.

According to informed sources, Vishnu's drive for change was put on the back burner. It was resurrected in 1999 after Sushil had taken over as CNS. Sushil was Vishnu's VCNS when suggestions for change were received in NHQ in 1998.

I am informed that our naval ensign is being indegenised from 15 August, 2001. Am surprised -- to put it mildly. National flags and naval ensigns change under special circumstances like changes in history of concerned nations. Milestones in Indian naval development since independence –– from 'Sloop' to current three dimensional naval forces, Goa liberation, frustrations of 1965, and agony (sinking of Khukri) and ecstasy (raids on Karachi) in 1971, have all taken place under the current Ensign. It has been a cementing symbol.

To dump it into the dustbin of naval history is, to my mind, a mistaken historical step. I am told that the aim is to wipe off "the last vestige of colonialism.” I am also informed that there was 'unambiguous unanimity' in the 'naval community' rank and file and a 'large number of retired senior naval officers in the National Capital Region’, regarding this 'long overdue change'.

I am surprised. The senior retired naval officers that I know in Bombay and Pune think otherwise. As second-in-command, commanding officer, DNP, ACNS(P&P), .FOCWF, DCNS. VCNS and FOCinC, I have had the privilege of serving with most of the retired senior naval officers now settled in Delhi region. But, I do not recall a single occasion –– except late Admiral Karmarkar's abortive attempt to change RAdm's distinguishing Flag when late Admiral Katari was to take over as FOFIF –– in the wardrooms, at CO's Staff and Quaterly meetings, Morale & Security, Staff Branch 1&2, PSO's or Senior Officers' Meetings, where removal of this 'colonial vestige' was even vaguely mentioned. Besides, when do we plan to indegenise our bugle calls, piping, hailing of boats, daily routines –– in fact our Administration and Discipline which are 'Chinese' copies of the R.N.

Secondly, according to informed sources, the rationale for change was to make our Ensign and Senior Officers' Distinguishing flags fall in line with existing practices in the sister services, and desire at grass roots level and Naval Community to do away with ‘the last vestige of colonialism enshrined in our Ensign and Flags’.

Thirdly, as is well known, the Army has no Ensign, not even an army-wide flag, unlike our Ensign. It has, instead, Formation flags at command/unit levels. These flags vary. The Army top brass display, similarly, disparate flags/swallow tails/pennants in residences and cars.

Fourthly, choice of 15 Aug 2001 as the effective date for change is intriguing and smacks of politics. As if the current government is completing one unfinished agenda of our Independence in 1947 –– an achievement of Indian National Congress.

Fifthly, linkage between St George's Cross and colonialism is jingoism. St George was born in Asia Minor and was a very revered martyr whom many countries and institutions adopted as their Patron Saint. Examples are Georgia (named after St George), Moscow, Syrian Orthodox Church, Catalonia, Portugal (until 18th century), Boy Scouts et al. England adopted him as Patron Saint in the 14th Century, during the Crusades. To any educated mind, to consider St. George's Cross as a symbol of British colonialism is unworthy of even rebuttal.


IDC feels that the Navy has the right to indegenise the Flags and we hope they have taken all the criteria prescribed by the World Institute of Flags into account on sizes etc. It is an art to design nautical Flags and there is a great deal of tradition behind it. Even Port and Nautical offices fly Flags and recently GUJRAT MARITIME BOARD commissioned Nansey Consultants to design the Flags with assitance from Indian Maritime Foundation.

In the Navy the more senior you became the less ‘red roundels’ you had on your Flag i.e. less Balls on your Flag! The Rear Admiral had two and the Admiral had none! It seems that that tradition is now to be broken. Instead of educating the country, the Navy has chosen Stars like the Army and Air Force, possibly because that is the easier mode, which our countrymen may understand better.

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