Back to the Basics

In his first press meet, General M.M. Naravane touched upon issues that were far more important than the POK comment which grabbed headlines

Palak Gupta

For a chilly winter day, the morning of 11 January 2020 was full of hustle-and-bustle. A slew of vehicles and crowd of people lined up outside and inside the gates of the sprawling Manekshaw Centre in Delhi.

General M.M. Naravane

The place teemed with smartly-dressed senior officers of the Indian Army, invited guests and mediapersons, all of whom had gathered for a special occasion. Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane, who took over as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) on 31 December 2019, was about to hold his first press conference ahead of the 72nd Army Day on January 15.

We collected our collaterals (a notepad, a pen and a numbered tennis-racket shaped cardboard) and headed straight to the auditorium. Journalists were required to raise their numbered racket during the presser when they had a question for the COAS.

Scheduled to start at 11 am, the press conference, began only at 11.55am. General Naravane greeted the audience and began his address by swearing the allegiance of forces to the Indian Constitution, steering his institution away from allegations of politicisation and setting a tone different from his predecessor General Bipin Rawat, who is now India’s first Chief of Defence Staff.

So, when General Naravane was asked if he would also follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, he said, “Indian Army believes in doing its job and we are not seeking any publicity. We will continue in the same way of serving the nation to the best of our ability.”

His opening statement was crisp, and matter of fact. The COAS had eloquently defined the lines around which his 28-month long tenure will be centred — ‘ABC’. A stood for allegiance; B for belief; and C for consolidation.

“As the Indian Army, we swear allegiance to the Constitution of India. Be it officers or jawans, we have taken oath to protect the Constitution and that is what should guide us in all time and all our actions,” said the Army Chief.

“What it translates into is also the core values which are enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution which are justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. That is what we are fighting for,” he said.

“We respect the fundamental rights of the citizens. We are an army of the people and for the people, and whatever we do, will be for them,” he added.

During the entire press conference, the commander of the world’s second-largest army welcomed all types of questions, some of which were sensitive and some incredibly silly. He gave a patient ear to every question, did not attempt dodging any query and addressed all the concerns of the individuals present in the packed and quiet auditorium in a measured speech.

There were host of questions ranging from threats to the country, operational preparedness, Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and his Siachen visit, which he took on January 9 — two days prior to the annual press conference. General Naravane said that the threat of collusion is the ‘maximum’ in Siachen and Shaksgam valley.

“Siachen is strategically very important to us. That is one area which faces the western and the northern front. It is from here the collusion (between Pakistan and China) can happen. We need to hold on to it. This (collusion between Pakistan and China) can take place at any level, but Siachen and Sakshgam Valley are the places where the territory of these two countries meets,” said the Army Chief. The Siachen Glacier is a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. The Indian Army had gained control of it in 1984.

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