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What lies at the heart of the NDA? excellent buildings, outstanding resurces, lavish countryside, huge training grounds but what is it that makes the difference?

          Way back in 1952-53 a group of 50 odd youngsters from the Gujarat youth congress, set out on a national tour; to see the temples of modern India… Bhakra Nangal… Bhilahi steel… NDA…. Those were heady days indeed; a new found freedom, Pandit Nehru at the helm, and the toddling nation was looking into the horizon; a period when things were still driven by the idealism of the freedom struggle. And there he was, Mr. Gajendra Joshi Rajkot, a young lad of 15 then, stars in his eyes, visiting a monument in the making; which was to groom leaders for the defense of the motherland. 

Fifty five years had passed by, and having retired from an active career of an entrepreneur he now had the opportunity to visit the academy yet again. It was a company of four, the two of us and his two charming daughters, moving around on two bikes, taking a look at the great sights the academy has to offer. In the 8000+ acres of land and by the 72 odd Kms of road within the estate there is a lot to see indeed. As we went around the academy, I showed them the imposing buildings, the cadets’ mess where more than 2000 people can be served a synchronized ‘n’ course meal, the huge machines in the kitchen where everything is cooked with electricity, the Super Demona motorized gliders in which the cadets get their training, the commandants barge, the huge amount of equipment in the peacock bay, 165 odd horses in the stables, the two Olympic class swimming pools, the stadium where Tiger Pataudi and his team practiced, the museum and a few of the 32 odd football fields. It took some time and I showed them my home too – quiet extravagant by city standards…

And as we went around doing all this I kept observing what he was looking at, the photos being clicked, the questions he was asking, his reactions when I called their attention to certain things… He gave the impression of a person who had planted a sapling a long time back and had come around to look at this huge tree, wondering how it all turned out.

This got me thinking too…  Indeed, if we take stock of the last 59 years where do we stand? The buildings are impressive and the scale is huge but that is just the shell of it… what about its substance? Does the NDA meet the requirements of its mission? Is it producing the leaders which the nation requires?

These are not the best of times for the forces; huge American salaries are there for the taking outside, while perks and privileges in the government are still ‘Indian’; the result is that best of talents don’t seem to be really keen on joining vocations like the armed forces. It is rumored that even officers’ children do not want to join the forces. In all this the question asked is: ‘are the young would-be-officers, passing out of the academy, really of that standard and quality that is required to deliver for the nation?’

Youngsters that they are you come across all kinds of mischief that is characteristic of youth of their age. A bunch of talented and smart youngsters they can take you for a ride if you are not too careful. Tired from all the training they would have all the excuses they need to justify why they want to sleep in class. You get the entire spectrum of them, some interested in what you are teaching them others totally convinced that all this academics is of no use… At the Habibullah hall you find quiet a few of them trying to catch that wink of sleep; the moment the lights in the audience goes off there is a synchronized creaking of chairs signifying that they are adjusting themselves snug into the comfort of their chairs. I can assure you that they can drive people to their wits end if they want. And yet you see what stuff they are made up of only when you deal with that which is close to their hearts.

When the ‘Academy Honour Code’ was being implemented for the first time, it was difficult to understand. There was no dearth of comments poking fun at it. When, however in a general assembly address it was explained how all warriors from time immemorial had codes which drove them; from the times of the Mahabharat to the modern times… How Salaria and Kethrapal two of the highly decorated alumni, who once sat in the very same seats they were occupying, had codes too and how were they were in no way different in bravery from Abhimanyu of the Mahabharata fame… It went down well with them; the joking stopped… 

In a hall where 2000 persons are assembled at a time, one can take it for granted that there will always be some noise… but whenever the topic of discussion is a war hero… an eerie silence descends on that audience… Everyone listens with rapt attention.   It is as if entire audience was frozen and you could literally hear a pin drop. Take up a similar topic in a class room, and a sleepy class can suddenly come out alive…

The academy does not manufacture brave men… but it does collect and nurture them. Most of those that join carry a passion for bravery and have an innate ability to deliver. One can easily see amongst them zest for life, passion to fulfill and determination to excel in what is dear to them. I am sure that the NDA is there where it wants to be… in the heart of heroism, playing in the gaze of immortals… The young broods that have passed out of this academy have fed themselves on the passions of the brave…And they have great achievements to show… I have no doubt that those passing out now are no different…

As we went about our visit to the academy I kept wondering, ‘what is there about this place that I can show to them, which I can really stand up for with unblemished pride…?’ At the central lobby of the famous ‘Sudan Block’, on stone panels, in golden letters, are painted the names of those who have done the nation proud; the alumni whom the nation has honored as the bravest among the brave. This list of decorated soldiers includes many who have laid down their lives for the cause of the nation. Even as I explained to the guests why those names were there I could feel a mixed sense of awe and pride. And it also gave me a feeling of immense satisfaction; I could stand tall and say, with all my heart, that indeed the academy has shouldered the legacy that was thrust upon it all those years back. 

There is a ‘Hut of Remembrance’ in the academy built by the cadets, a memorial dedicated to alumni – heroes who have laid down their lives for the nation. The cadets who pass out pray at this memorial that ‘when the call comes they may have the strength to rise above their personal weaknesses and emulate the brave whom they honor’ there… Its environ feels like a temple and there are genuine prayers made here. It is the academy itself (temple), the association of the brave with the NDA has hallowed the portals. This indeed is a cradle of military leadership.

I did not ask Mr. Gajendra Joshi how he felt having visited this place… but he did express delight and gratitude. He later presented me with a small wall piece which tribals from the Rann of Kutch had made under his daughter’s guidance; “it is part of a process of trying to empower them” he said. And his other daughter, I found, had a picture of the Sudan Block as the wall paper on her computer.