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In the line of duty

Lt General Arjun Ray, PVSM (Retd), the architect of Operation Sadbhavana, was in the city recently. CHANDY JOHN, who met the General-turned-educationalist, found that the soldier has clear views on the role of the army in the 21st century.


TO UNDERSTAND why there is nothing quite the ordinary about retired Lt Gen Arjun Ray, one needs to spend just a minute in his company. It's not just the unconventional looks, great tie and impeccable speech, but also the illustrious 38-year army career and dazzling wit that is the stuff of legends.

This soldier turned educationalist is the architect of Operation Sadbhavana, a mass campaign by the army in Ladakh to win the hearts of the local populace by providing primary education, health care, community development and facilitating women's empowerment among other things. During Arjun Ray's tenure as the 14 Corps Commander in Ladakh, the army set up 13 state of the art schools, 11 women empowerment centres and 60 women adult educational centres which were so successful that these methods are proposed to be replicated elsewhere in Jammu and Kashmir and in the North East States.

He describes Operation Sadbhavana as a socio-political strategy for conflict prevention. "The vision of the operation was to win over the alienated communities to forestall insurgency from spilling over into Ladakh. We were very successful and were able to achieve results in 11 months. It was so quick and positive that psychiatrists attribute it to psychic phenomena," he explains.

But it was no easy march all the way for this General. He did face a lot of criticism during the operation from the administration and even within the army.

"Governance is not the exclusive right of the government; everybody is responsible for it in this globalised age. But vested groups, like the administration were upset when they saw patronage slipping from their hands. Criticism from minor functionaries doesn't matter; one must keep one's eyes on the bigger picture. It's more important to win the war than the tactical battles and we won the war by forestalling insurgency," he retorts.

Describing the role of the army in the new millennium he says, "I have redefined the role of the armed forces. In the 21st century, its role is no longer to win wars, but to prevent them. This is a paradigm shift. Human security is the central soul of national security. It should be the focus of governance. By the same hypothesis, the armed forces are an institution of nation building. Therefore, armed forces personnel are citizens first and soldiers second. If India can send peacekeeping missions to Cambodia and Lebanon, there is no reason why we can't do the same at home. Sadbhavana strengthened human power in the border areas, in an area the size of Kerala.'' Gen. Ray is the recipient of the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM), the highest award for distinguished service in the military. He is presently the CEO of the Indus International School, Bangalore.

On his decision to cut short his brilliant army career and take up the cause of education he elaborates, "I owe everything I am to the army... But I would have left the army even earlier had I got this opportunity. I think every person must understand that life has a higher purpose that goes beyond money, power or public office. After Sadbhavana I found no role to contribute to society in the remaining years in the army." He believes that Indians culturally lack a sense of history and strategy and therefore, despite a huge population the country is not able to produce any visionary leaders.

"Any change in the country is an uphill task with people in the country concurrently living in three stages - agricultural, industrial and informational. The task of any leader is very challenging, to have to reconcile all these stages," he opines.

He feels that the other major challenges facing the nation pertain to the education system, technology, quality and governance. He elaborates, "The education system is presently only skill-oriented and needs to undergo a complete renaissance. We should have a balance between skill and creativity. We are only producing good managers and not leaders. With regard to technology, it has to be introduced in a much bigger way in education, health care, management systems et al. Quality has taken a badgering in this country. We don't know how to spell quality."

This ex-serviceman has some very strong views on governance. "It has to improve," he says. "It's an idea and a notion that's bigger than government. We need to review the role of the government. In India there is both too much and too little governance; this is bad. All conflicts boil down to bad governance, whether it is in Kashmir or with Veerappan," he adds.

Gen Ray was in Kochi to promote the Indus International School in his capacity as the CEO of the school's trust.

He says that his state-of-the-art school believes in creating leaders and providing each and every student that passes out of its portals with a long-term goal.

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