Paranoid Nationalism Doesn’t Make Us Secure: Admiral Ramdas on JNU Crackdown

Admiral L. Ramdas

Former Chief of Naval Staff, INDIA.

I have been a proud member of the uniformed fraternity for nearly forty five years before retiring as Head of the Indian Navy in 1993. The present turbulence in our top academic institutions together with continuing manifestations of mob violence, totalitarian behaviour and intolerance, impel me once again, to speak up and share my concerns through this open letter. My two recent letters to the President and Prime Minister have not elicited more than a routine bureaucratic response. I am well aware that I may be one of the few from the fraternity of retired military veterans who continue to take public positions which might not always be in support of government policy. However, I see this is both a right and a duty of a former serviceman and a citizen like myself. I am well aware that serving members in uniform cannot express themselves as per the service conduct rules . However, we veterans out of uniform certainly can and must. If people like myself are quiet today, my grandchildren will ask me “If not you then who”, “if not now, then when”, Thatha?

I refer to the train of events that began with the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) in December 2015, and continues till today with the unresolved JNU saga. The unprecedented entry of police into the Campus, the ensuing high decibel, high voltage “trial by media”, and subsequent student arrests under serious charges ranging from sedition, anti nationalism and terrorism, has hit headlines across the country. This has created an avoidable polarisation of views thanks to the entire episode having been handled with a lack of sensitivity and blown into a full scale crisis where students are being demonised and conspiracy theories abounding. Thousands of students and civil society groups as well as journalists have been out on the streets of Delhi taking out some of the biggest, peaceful rallies seen in recent times.

Looking Back

Let me briefly rewind to my personal profile so as to better understand where I am coming from.

I joined the fledgling Indian Navy in January 1949 – barely 16 months after we gained our independence. It was a time of great expectations, big dreams and opportunities. The selection for entry into the Armed Forces of a resurgent India at the end of the sustained struggle against British colonial rule, was heady indeed for a young fifteen year old. Those 45 years in the Navy provided me a panoramic view of events that have unfolded across the world stage. And certainly I had a ring side view of events in an India that had been traumatised by the unprecedented brutality and slaughter of partition – the scars of which linger on in my personal and our collective consciousness on both sides of our borders.

Brick by brick, step by painful step, leaders and citizens together created and built a vision of a new and a free India. This vision, the product of long and tough debates within the Constituent Assembly, sought to encompass the huge and often conflicting diversities that had to be accommodated within the framework of a path breaking Constitutional document. Incorporating the often divergent views of an impressive range of thinkers and visionaries, the Indian Constitution firmly rejected a narrow, exclusionary monoculture in favour of a revolutionary definition of nationhood that was inclusive, confident and transformative under the guiding hand of Baba Saheb Ambedkar.

Armed Forces and the Nation

The Armed Forces of this newly independent nation were an equal part of this combined effort of nation building in a variety of ways -trained as we were to conduct ourselves with discipline and professionalism combined with compassion and a sense of our common humanity and purpose.

The unspoken and sacred credo has been that those in the armed forces will remain a-political. Indeed we forgo many of the normal rights as a citizen, enshrined in the Constitution when we join the Armed Forces. The accepted practice of honouring the principle of political control over the armed forces has been followed without exception ever since independence. However, the quid pro quo of this arrangement, unwritten as it is, implies that the government of the day will discharge its responsibilities towards the people [including the military] with honour and integrity.

After retirement each of us uniformed persons reverts to being a citizen of India, with all the implications of rights, duties and responsibilities that citizenship implies. The Regulations Navy/Army/Airforce are no longer in force. Whether in or out of uniform – we veterans have valued our right to vote – the hall mark of our democratic polity. Exercising our vote does mean that each of us would also choose a particular political position or perspective. The four decades of service in a maturing yet turbulent democracy most certainly impacted my political thinking post retirement.

Man of War to Man of Peace

After my retirement in September 1993, I moved to a village in Alibag, Maharashtra, where I practice organic farming and continue to live till today. Living in rural India has been a total re-education and one which has given me profound insights . I have shared the ups and downs of the life of an ordinary farmer – influenced by the vagaries of weather and pollution, local politics, threats of being evicted for so called development under SEZ, and much more. My years in uniform and first hand experience of two wars, together with a closer understanding of the imminent agrarian crisis which affects some 70% of our population, has directly influenced my belief that true liberation or “azadi” from poverty and hunger, will only come when and if the elites of this land demonstrate greater integrity and less greed. Recent disclosures by the RBI in response to an RTI question by the Indian Express revealed that an amount of 2.11 lakh crores of loans are still owing to the public sector banks by Industry. It has been reported that nearly half of this amount has been written off between 2013 and 2015 by the Govt as bad loans. Surprisingly neither this information nor its impact on the economy has yet been divulged by the Finance Ministry. And yet we have heard strong criticism about the petty amounts granted for education of scholars from weaker sections , in JNU and other universities, as examples of tax payers money being ill spent! We seldom question the fact that loans too come from tax payers money.

To achieve a more just society based on sustainable development, we must build peace through better neighbourhood management. This means finding political solutions to existing problems. Then alone can we reduce our spending on armaments, regulate consumption, balance energy demands, and provide citizens with food , shelter, education, health and employment. I have led and been part of a sustained movement against SEZs in Raigad, and continue to push initiatives for renewable energy. Concerns over safety, cost and waste disposal, have contributed to my active engagement with the movement for Nuclear Disarmament and to end nuclear power by finding carbon free and nuclear free solutions. Efforts to strengthen the peace dividend have led me to take on leadership of organisations like the PIPFPD [Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy]and IPSI [India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative for Peace] . Both PIPFPD and IPSI have promoted people to people contact and better relations with Pakistan. I am also totally opposed to Capital Punishment and the Death Penalty, as also the continued imposition of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act [AFSPA ] – about which I have written and spoken publicly in several fora.

In my view each of the above, constitute areas of engagement which we as citizens not only have a right but a duty to address, even if it is against the policy of any particular government of the day. Does any of the above make me or anyone else anti national? Or less patriotic ? or a Desh Drohi?

I believe not.

My stand on this derives from the principle that political parties and governments alike are bound by the Constitution of the land. Every citizen has the right and the freedom to think and express views without fear of reprisal. The obsolete colonial law of sedition has no place in a modern democracy.

Therefore the question arises : why are we arraigning a Rohith Vemula, a Kanhaiya Kumar and an Umed Khalid under charges of being anti-national, seditious or terrorist activities? From available material it appears that these three young men were only acting to further the objectives outlined in our constitution and not indulging in any anti-national activity.

Nationalism And Who Defines It

In some ways it is a good thing that the death of Vemula, the arrest of Kanhaiya and the witch hunt against Umed Khalid, have actually led to a public debate about the definition of national and anti national, as also of the deeper and more intractable issues around caste, religion and discrimination in our society. The linked question regarding who, if anyone, has the right to decide on my nationalism or lack of it, is equally vexed and needs a longer, more mature discussion. To the best of my knowledge this has not been done since Independence. The existing laws and practice on this are largely inherited from the colonial period and were never addressed in a contemporary framework. This is critical for a mature democracy. Jingoism, waving the national flag, and shouting slogans , are not equivalent to a certification of patriotism. Upping the ante and making allegations of seditious behaviour and terrorist ties – may not pass judicial scrutiny. Many have publicly disagreed with the sloganeering and forms of protest, but none of this is new or radical . Certainly it is ludicrous to think that a few students can threaten the unity of the country, as is sought to be established by some media houses and their invisible paymasters.

If anything has been a matter of deep concern to someone like me, it is the spectacle of alleged members of the legal profession being allowed to run amok in the courtroom and to both threaten and actually assault scribes, students, teachers and Kanhaiya Kumar. All this, while the large numbers of police present apparently stood by and did nothing from all accounts. This is unacceptable from a uniformed, and a so called disciplined police force.

I have been through the wide range of written reports, and audio-visual material available in the public domain on the JNU and HCU imbroglio. The real tragedy to me lies in the fact that this entire exercise of raising the alarm on foreign funded, possibly terrorist and seditious activies, has been orchestrated in order to demand the shutting down and ‘sanitising‘ such a prestigious institution. One is forced to conclude that this smacks of a ‘false flag exercise’. And this is serious. By all means investigate the matter; allow the university officials to handle the students with appropriate disciplinary action. But great discretion and caution must be exercised before calling in the police; and worse , to make serious charges of sedition.

Way Ahead

Those who are leading the clamour for shutting down and/or “sanitisation” of JNU seem to have no idea of what this implies, and are exhibiting a frightening tendency to follow the mob blindly.

This might be a good moment to remind ourselves that in addition to being held in high esteem internationally, JNU is also among the few universities in India which recognises the courses run by Military Institutions like the NDA, NDC, the Naval Academy and others. Ties between service institutions and university departments have been carefully forged in order that our military personnel continue to benefit from these interactions and remain at the cutting edge of the latest strategic thinking. There are several service personnel who have had the benefit of attending academic courses at JNU and indeed are among the Alumnii. There are also civil servants and police officers who are in a similar category. I have intentionally mentioned this so that my band of brothers and sisters amongst ex-service veterans will carefully weigh the consequences of any hasty actions such as returning degrees and awards.

I have outlined at some length the many reasons for why I write this note today. It is imperative that senior public figures like myself and others speak out, to raise an alarm, before it is too late. Recent history has shown us that totalitarian regimes have come to power because good people chose to keep silent. Above all else it is imperative that we must preserve our democratic spaces and the freedom, indeed the right, to question, to dissent and to debate – especially in our institutions of higher learning. JNU has been a frontrunner in producing thinkers and professionals who are not scared to speak out. Frankly, after listening carefully to the speech of the young union leader – Kanhaiya – it left me with a reassuring feeling that all must be well in this complex and disparity riddled country if a young man in his twenties can speak with such compassion, intellect and passion about the real challenges and dangers we face in this land.

Far more than saluting a flag [which of course I continue to do with honour and respect] – it is the thoughts articulated by young idealists like a Rohit Vemula, a Kanhaiya Kumar, a Shehla Rashid and yes a Umar Khaled all of whom together with the many unnamed and unsung women and men across this country, embody the true spirit of nationalism and patriotism. We must collectively ensure that we not only protect those who have not yet been pushed to take the extreme steps like Rohith Vemula, but ensure that justice is promised and done to those presently in custody or forced into hiding, for fear of their lives.

In the ultimate analysis , human security is the best guarantee for National Security.

Article Courtesy: The Citizen



  1. Sir, what are your thoughts on the Thorium reactor? If it becomes commercially viable, then the fear of melt down, the burden of toxic waste and weapons grade fissile material fears will all be dis-spelled. India has the largest store of naturally occurring Thorium.
    Secondly do you imply that you , support the slogans of break up India, India ki barbadi etc? No where in your write up did you deal with the actual slogans and their implications.

  2. Professor Ravi Ranjan

    Dear Sir.With due respect to a person of your stature please allow me to submit that you appear to be unaware of the present day social reality,particularly the mindset of some so called learned persons who enjoy creating controversy and trouble on campuses on non issues for their vested interest. In my opinion Government of India may consider to appoint distinguished persons from your background as the vice-chancellors of some institutions in turmoil.With warm regards.

  3. Dear Sir, with all respect to you and your valuable service you have rendered to our county, I have few points to make, Firstly, the atmosphere is so vicious that each political party wants to maximize to its favor and are fanning this, which can be solved very much across the table amicably. The gainers are political parties and losers are the students. This country is great and every one is subsided at various points of time/amount in their life but very few are thinking of our nation, even though we were independent could not make the progress as was done by similar states around us which got independence at similar time. we are interested only in personal gains more and view each action through political prism only. This country had ample of resources and opportunities, but we are meagerly using them to our benefit and development.

  4. Ramdas
    is married to Lalita Ramdas, who has served as the chair of Greenpeace
    International.[5] Their daughter, Kavita Ramdas is the country
    representative of the Ford Foundation in India. Moreover, He served as Aam Aadmi Party’s internal lokpal. Ref: Wikipedia

    Greenpeace and Ford are among the major breaking India forces..
    Modi’s action against NGOs is manifested as all such comments

    • You fool, don’t go around making statements like ‘Greenpeace and Ford’ are major breaking India forces without a shred of evidence. Don’t you have a shred of respect for the sacrifices made by soldiers like Admiral Ramdas, who served from the time of our Independence? By insinuating that he has a hand in ‘breaking India’ just because his wife served as the chair of Greenpeace, you show how little respect you have towards a Hero like him. Shame!

      • Those are the same forces which are converting my fellow Indians into Chirstians and funding the Maoists and other breaking forces. You morons do not know how these organizations are breaking our India and have been involved in different retarding forces in India..Please read the book : Introducing World Christianity.. you may know what they are doing behind the scene.. you guys seems illeterate towards this aspect..

        • Yes, please give me one single legitimate piece of evidence that shows that Greenpeace is ‘converting’ people into Christians (Which, by the way, my bigoted friend, does not make them ‘nation-breaking forces’). Greenpeace is not a Christian organisation, nor have any of their activities in India even remotely linked back to it. I have several friends working in Greenpeace and none of them have ever been exposed to this ‘Christian’ side of it. Also, please explain to me how converting to Christianity is a nation-breaking activity?
          The truth is, the politician-businessman nexus in India is using religion and the media to brainwash people like you into supporting stupid ideas like these, and then voting for and keeping them in power out of misplaced paranoia.

          • Seems I missed this part in your comment:
            Greenpeace: why does this only make noise against China and India. . why they do not make noise against US ?? any reason for that.. ?? these are the organizations which do not want India or China to grow..

          • Excuse me, do you have any idea about the amount of noise Greenpeace makes against the US and the EU? Just because your sources of news are restricted to some right wing newspaper, doesn’t mean that things don’t happen outside the Indian subcontinent. Greenpeace led a massive ‘Funeral of the Earth’ rally after the failure of the Copenhagen summit, and that was against world powers, mainly the US and the EU, for failing to reach an agreement on climate change. Please do some basic research before typing something so stupid.

          • Thanks for coming down from “Ford + Greenpeace” to just “Greenpeace”.. 🙂 I will not consider Greenpeace to be good for India given its history for attacking on thermal power, nuclear power plants etc.. which are essential for growth of any country.. creating social activists which hinder the progress of India at every step does not show any healthy effect on my country.. I wish you good luck if you could get any success against those developed nation..

          • Thank you for conveniently ignoring my question about how converting to Christianity is ‘nation-breaking’.
            Buddy, i’m open to any legitimate evidence you present against the Ford foundation too. Please tell me how they are converting people into Christianity or how they are ruining the nation.
            Look at Fukishima in Japan. They are far more advanced than India and they still had a major nuclear disaster. The reactors that India has purchased from France are so redundant that France itself has taken them off production. So you have no idea how India is digging it’s own grave when it comes to nuclear energy. And that is even without counting the tribals who are getting forcibly displaced with not enough compensation for their land. You were never in their place so you don’t understand their frustration. And then you talk about the growth of the country like you understand even a little bit about this.

          • why do you think it is not?? we are loosing our Indian culture.. I consider that as a greatest threat to my country.. Evangelists use all sorts of things to get their dream fulfilled which includes breaking the society, breaking the country or may be they are also wishing natural disaster like that happened in Nepal.. several examples from history and present. better you read more to enrich your knowledge..

          • We treat patient with Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy so that they can live a better life little long.. but the side effect of such treatment is huge. however, we don’t stop the treatment.. Disaster may happen.. no one has control on that.. the power plants would at least give a graceful life to the people.. better you stop US arms manufacturing, US-Arab collaboration those things may save lot of life immediately.. ask pope not to control Indian or Sri Lankan politics.. focus on their own people who are leaving their religion.. you may be able to save many valuable organic cultures on earth which itself is a superset of those Greenpeace organizations..

          • Atul Kumar, brother please be cautious when you generalise certain community. Just because some evangelists whom you have seen misrepresented christianity does not mean that the whole christianity is like that. For that matter these people who misrepresent the faith is there in every community. There are priests of temple, pastors of church and imams of mosques who misrepresented their faith. Following your formula, you should throw stones at Hinduism and Islam alongside christianity. Please don’t try to judge a faith at its abuse my dear brother. I am a Christian by faith and I totally belong to my country India and abide by Indian constitution. Bible or Christianity never tells any one to change the culture. Infact Bible says to obey the rulers and pray for them. And I fully follow it. Please don’t get carried away by the misrepresentation of any faith. God bless.

        • The_Thinking_Individual

          Hate to break it to you, but Christians are a part of our country. ‘Converting my fellow Indians to Christians’- wow, you really gave the game away with that one. A Christian in India is an Indian. Please understand this basic concept before you shoot your mouth off. India is not a Hindu State. It’s not. Unity in diversity, remember?

          I’m not entering the Ford/Greenpeace debate here as without actual evidence it’s all talk–and it’s not within my capacity to pass judgement without being in a legal position to do so. But you totally showed your biased, fanatical side in the small comment that slipped away from you. You, sir, should know that all religions have a place in India. And the day we stop thinking this is the day we truly destroy this nation.

          • one is free to practice any religion in India.. but I consider propagation of any religion by wrong means such as allurement, miracles, money,force etc. should be illegal… converting Hindu to any other religion is like genocide of Hindu.. people call it cultural genocide too.. unfortunately, Hindu cultural genocide has been happening before and after independence of India.. I consider Christians in India whose ancestors were Hindu are victim of such cultural genocide.. and it is still going on…

      • you moron don’t even have knowledge of those organizations as well as don’t know how to talk to people..

        • Atul Bro, U r spot on. That is why it is hurting these Missionaries/converts. unfortunately for them, u have been right all along. Greenpeace is not the only one. Joshua Project is the other one. ..and plenty more. They specialise in diverting funds in to political arena and for conversion activities. u have spoken the truth and that hurts these people.Woh bole toh FoE, hum Bole toh RW.

    • Quite a rubbish argument @ Atul Kumar.Greenpeace is in 40 countries across the World and has the same focus in each of these countries.Truth is their pro-environment activism that Corporate India is worried about, and what worries Corporate India &Big Business worries the BJP Govt.Ford Foundation grants support projects that focus on reducing poverty and injustice; promoting democratic values; and advancing human knowledge, creativity and achievement.The claim these two can break India by their work, seems a complete irrational position.

      • Ford foundation has been involved in converting people to Chirstian.. that is well known.. Introducing World Christianity and perhaps many other books.. Greenpeace whiy does this only make noise against China and India. . why they do not make noise against US?? any reason for that.. ?? these are the organizations which do not want India or China to grow..

    • With morons like you in India, who needs enemies? You are the people who are going to destroy India with your hatred, greed and closed minds.

      • you moron don’t even have knowledge of those organizations as well as don’t know how to talk to people.. You don’t even seem to be having knowledge to argue..

    • Absolutely correct. Admiral is an AAP member & was quite active in blowing the “Intolerance” trumpet.One of the three Ms.

    • Ford Foundation is the NGO which has been violating Indian laws since 1947. They have been questioned on several issues by the current Govt and so are feeling the heat. they are no angels and are experts in playing the victim card. And Bro Atul, u have been right all along. just do a bit more research and u will know the kind of garbage these NGOs indulge in. Chek out Rajeev Malhotra and his views on NGOs in India on youtube.

  5. Your collegues armyman are dying by Pakistan terrrorists and you are writing demomaralizing posts against the India Army.

    • Not one thing in his post is against the Indian Army. His post was about the politicians and elite people in India who are destroying this country’s unity. You clearly did not even read the article properly. Don’t accuse a brave former soldier who sacrificed so much to keep you safe of ‘demoralizing the army’.

    • I honestly am scared for India when I see people like you who write and think like this.

    • Spot on ,Bro. Admiral is on a political bandwagon.

    • The_Thinking_Individual

      First of all, it’s ‘demoralizing’. Secondly, if you call yourself a true Indian and stand with our soldiers dying in the borders, then try and protect what they’re dying for. They’re dying for this DEMOCRACY. And a Democracy hears all sides of an argument, it has the guts to, it considers that it’s duty. That is what the Indian Army is supposed to stand for. When you call any opinion ‘demoralizing’ or any such childish black and white word, you’re the one who’s writing ‘against the Indian Army’.

  6. He forgot his Defence Forces loyalties long back when he joined AAP & was actively supporting the “Intolerance” rant.No Admiral in his right mind would state that AFSPA be withdrawn or be against the major projects vital to the country. Lastly, is he making the case that FoE is absolute & that one has the right to promote Division of India or support terrorists? Was Vemula the first suicide to happen in UoH? The Admiral conveniently forgets the previous eight Dalit suicides which occurred in the past 10 years during UPA rule.

  7. Nandakumar Unnikrishnan Narath

    Great article by Admiral Ramdas All should read.

  8. Being an Ex-serviceman and ex Naval Chief, your words have also the sense of biasness. While one support the people and students (who are spending their life as “student” in the campus at the cost of we tax payers) who are inciting people of India with anti-national programme and try to divide we poor and foolish Indians (because Intellectuals are very much know that this government is a fake government and every body should work against them to remove them, to eradicate them) on the line of religion (hindu-mosalman) saying that “Khalid is a Muslim,that is why he was targeted” and on the line of caste-ism “, shouting with hue and cry that “Rohit” a Dalit student. Don’t you think that these talks will affect the Indians to much . who are very much sensitive and sentimental barring the so-called pseudo secular intellectuals , who want to write the fate of India with their own hand in connivance with corrupt congress. Have you ever thought of about the after math of withdrawl of AFSPA. Just go inside story of Ford Foundation, being a true Indian , your blood will start to boil. This is one of the gateways of sending black money and hence looting India with both hands. What is wrong , if an elected government seeks the details of foreign funds from NGOs in India . Anyways, try to hear the speech of Smriti Irani’s yesterday in Loksabha and watch how an NGO activitist has written a book duly supported by Mafia Congress Leaders ,which sends bad vives to Indian children of lower standards. So anything biasness is really not expected from a person of high quality and repute.

  9. Ford Foundation and Muslim son in law. We could have given importance to your uniform if you really represented uniform after all this.