The new Army Chief, the third to be associated with the Gorkha Regiments, is a man of many parts
General Dalbir Singh PVSM UYSM AVSM VSM ADC took over as the 26th Chief of Army Staff in New Delhi on July 31, 2014).
inspiring saga of a young village boy’s aspirations who wanted to be an Army officer one day. By sheer hard work, resolve and dedication he not only succeeded in becoming an Army officer, but also its topmost General, this day.
For the records, Gen Dalbir Singh is the third Army Chief after Gen S.H.F.J. Manekshaw (later conferred the Field Marshal’s rank) and Gen G.G. Bewoor, who were either commissioned into or were associated with the Brigade of Gorkhas.
Gen Dalbir Singh was commissioned on June 1974 into 4/5 GR (FF), more easily understood as the 4th Battalion of the 5th Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) for those not too familiar with such military nomenclatures.
“It was a conscious choice I made as I wanted to join only the infantry,” says Gen Dalbir about his choice to seek out the Gorkha Regiment, whose soldiers are inarguably among the finest in the world, also much-feared and renowned for their bravery.
With a lean and muscular frame at sixfeet, the new Army Chief literally and figuratively stands tall not just in the Army but also is the revered patriarch for the Gorkha troops as their senior-most serving General. By virtue of the same, he holds the twin ceremonial appointments of ‘Colonel of the Regiment’ 5 GR (FF) since April 19, 2011, and as ‘President Gorkha Brigade’ since January 1, 2014.
However, traditionally an Army Chief also becomes ‘Honorary Colonel’ of several other ‘Arms’ and ‘Regiments’ of the Indian Army by age-old customs.
BORN TO BE A WARRIOR
General Dalbir Singh was born in Bishan village in Haryana’s Jhajjar district on December 28, 1954. His father and uncles followed their father and uncles into joining the Army, mostly serving in cavalry and infantry units. Joining the Army only seemed a natural choice for young Dalbir.
Suhag, incidentally is indeed his surname and although not averse to being addressed as such, it may only be prudent to address the General by his duly listed name — Dalbir Singh — to rule out any speculation on the correctness or lack of it, in so far as addressing him on record is concerned.
In 1961, the Government of India set out to establish Sainik Schools, residential public school for boys in several states that would serve as feeder schools to various officers training establishments such as the National Defence Academy (NDA) among others.
Sainik School, Chittorgarh (SSC) in Rajasthan, was also among them. Gen Singh’s grand uncle was an equestrian instructor in the school, who suggested that the boy study there. Thus began a journey of a life in uniform for Cadet Dalbir Singh on January 15, 1965, now almost half a century.
The flight from his village Bishan to his eventual alma mater at Chittorgarh would greatly shape his future to be an officer in the Army. The process of transforming him with all-round abilities, conviction, courage and a steely resolve would be set forth here under the tutelage of some of the finest teachers of those times.
Mr H.S. Rathi, a national-award winning teacher who retired in 1996, describes Cadet Dalbir as a “very sincere, hard-working and obedient student,” and also makes a special mention of his sporting excellence. “He was also very good in sports and was a gifted basketball player,” he recalls.
Of his academic performance, Gen Dalbir’s former English teacher, Mr J.N. Bhargava, says: “He managed his studies very well,” alluding to his excellent allround attributes. “He was humility personified, a man of determination, of speed and tenacity of purpose and would do any job assigned to him most obediently,” outlining his personality that set him apart from the others at school.
LEADERSHIP SKILLS CAME NATURALLY
By the time he was in class IX, Gen Dalbir was nearly as tall as he is today. He would also pick up riding early in school that would put him in good stead later in life. Much of his leadership traits began to surface as a House Captain of Kumbha House, one of the nine houses named after valiant Rajput warrior-princes of the region.
In the school journal report of 1971- 72, Kumbha House Captain, Suresh Kumar Inani, who took charge after Gen Dalbir left for NDA, wrote: “Having won the highest points ever received by any Champion House in the history of this Sainik School, the Kumbhaites are justly proud of this collective achievement,” summing up the stellar leadership of Dalbir that helped Kumbha House practically sweep all competitive trophies that year.
NDA, IMA – A BIGGER CANVAS
The ‘Honour Roll’ at the cadets’ mess of the school lists Cadet Dalbir Singh (Roll No-382) as the 82nd overall, and among the 12 cadets who joined 44th NDA course on July 20, 1970.
NDA only proved to be an extension of the school-like canvas, albeit at a wider and a more competitive level. Taking off from where he left at school in outdoor and other activities, he would go on to be a champion athlete and a sportsman par excellence. His riding skills would eventually lead him to be the President, Riding and Polo Club in NDA.
In June 1974, 2/Lt Dalbir Singh would finally realise his dreams to be an officer, a feat his veteran father, grandfather, uncles and granduncles and other family members would be proud of. As mentioned earlier, he was granted one of his choices of an infantry regiment and commissioned into 4/5 GR (FF), which was then the youngest battalion of 5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) having been raised on January 1, 1963.
LIFE IN THE ARMY
To be commissioned in an outfit that had proven their mettle in the eastern theatre during the Indo-Pak War of 1971 was both a matter of honour and challenge. The unit had earned two coveted Maha Vir Chakras (MVC) and a few other medals for gallantry. It was never going to be easy measuring up to the reputation of the battalion and its valiant soldiers.
As a Major, he was an instructor at IMA when his battalion had moved to Sri Lanka for ‘Op Pawan’. In a major operation at Jaffna, only two days after the unit had landed there, Commanding Officer (CO) Lt Col Inder Bal Singh Bawa and several others, including officers and soldiers, were killed in action. He recalls the onerous task of conveying the sad news to the parents of Col Bawa, who lived near Dehradun.
Upon learning of the tragic news that had befallen his unit, Gen Dalbir wasted no time in asking Army HQ to revert him back to his battalion, which was granted. Within 24 hours, he was back in his unit and assumed charge as a Company Commander. He remained with the unit till they were finally withdrawn after two years. His arrival would immensely boost the morale of his troops that had earlier suffered several casualties.
As time went by, Gen Dalbir rose in rank and also distinguished himself. Besides undergoing various careerdefining service courses, he added a few ‘Masters’ degrees to his qualifications, including one for ‘Management Studies’ from Osmania University, and another on ‘Strategic Studies’ from Chennai University.
Among the prominent service courses he attended in India, include: ‘Long Defence Management Course’ at College of Defence Management, Secunderabad (1997-98), and the ‘National Defence College’ Course at New Delhi (2006), which incidentally, is also an M.Phil (Strategic Studies).
The courses attended abroad include an ‘Executive Course’ at APCSS (Asia- Pacific Center for Security Studies), Hawaii (USA) in 2005, and ‘Senior Mission Leaders Course’ held by UN Peace Keeping Centre, Nairobi (Kenya) and also participated in an UN Exercise in Accra (Ghana) in May 2007, and PAM seminar in Jakarta in 2008.
As he grew in the Army’s chain of command in a distinguished career spanning four decades, he also held several critical ‘Command’ and ‘Staff’ appointments. All this while, he would also serve in active counter-insurgency (CI) and proxy war environments, both in the North-East and Jammu & Kashmir as well.
Gen Dalbir raised and commanded a ‘Rashtriya Rifles Battalion’ in Nagaland, and later an ‘Infantry Brigade’ deeply committed in intense CI-operations in the Kashmir valley, for which he was awarded a Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM) for distinguished service of a high order.
He would also go on to command with great distinction a ‘Mountain Division’ in the Kargil-Drass sector, deployed on the ‘Line of Control’ in a high altitude area that earned him an Ati Vishist Seva Medal (AVSM) for distinguished service of a very high order.
Gen Dalbir also served under the Cabinet Secretariat as an Inspector General, Special Frontier Force. On promotion, he was appointed General Officer Commanding (GOC) of a Corps, looking after the dual responsibility of CI operations in the North-Eastern States in addition to the conventional operational role along the Indo-China border. He would then be conferred an Uttam Yudh Seva Medal (UYSM).
Subsequently, he was appointed Eastern Army Commander from June 16, 2012 to December 31, 2013, and later to the post of Vice Chief of the Army Staff (VCOAS) on January 1, 2014.
The General Officer was also honoured with the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM), the highest military decoration for services of exceptionally high order to the nation.
Having served in Army HQ in two prior assignments as a Director, and later as a Deputy Director General in the ‘General Service and Staff Duties’ (GS&SD) Directorate, Gen Dalbir was well acquainted with the working environs in the highest echelons of the Services HQ.
With seven months tenure as VCOAS behind him, he is aware of everything that he needs to know, which augurs well
for the Army in every respect.
A FAMILY MAN TO THE CORE, AND WHEN THEY MET
Singh was a strapping, young handsome Captain posted as an instructor at the Army School of Mechanical Transport, Bangalore. He was also a bachelor and had come to Delhi on leave during the 1982 Asian Games. A friend of his suggested he consider a suitable proposal, the daughter of a retired Naval officer who were a well-established family in the Capital. He agreed and having met briefly his bride-to-be, asked his parents to go ahead with the customary formalities. They were married traditionally in New Delhi on February 7, 1984.
Decades on, an interesting anecdote still evokes much laughter in the household that took place in the bride’s place. The girls in the house had mistakenly assumed that the senior friend of then Capt Dalbir who had come home to broach the subject of marriage, to be the suitor himself.
Much to their disenchantment, the visitor looked much older with grey hairburns et al. Needless to say, the erudite Namita, a Political Science graduate from Delhi University, for whom the proposal was being considered was in tears. It was only when the tall, handsome officer dropped by eventually, his mannerisms and gentlemanly bearing would altogether leave her gushing and blushing, and her siblings impressed.
The couple raised a family with daughters Pallavi, Priya and son, Sahil. With son-in-law Nishant now married to their eldest daughter Pallavi, the family picture is indeed a happy frame.
Yet, it was not her immediate family alone that she would have to take care of. The families of soldiers living separated, remained her concern too. “They are my family members too. I would visit them as often as I could and resolve some of their problems in whatever way possible,” says Mrs Suhag, in keeping with one of the finest welfare traditions of our Army, where officers and their families invariably adopt the culture, language and customs of their troops. In a way, it is not too difficult to see the attachment of the Army’s ‘First Family’ with the armed forces. It is a well known fact that Gen Dalbir’s family has past ties with the Army, which includes a younger brother who is a serving Colonel with the Gorkha Regiment. Besides, his two sisters are also married to Army officers.
In the case of Mrs Suhag whose father once served in the Navy, all her three brothers also served as officers in the armed forces. Her eldest brother has since retired from the Army. Of the two others who chose to join the Indian Navy, one has since retired while the other is still serving. Her sister is also married to an Army officer, son of retired Col Hoshiar Singh, a Param Vir Chakra awardee.
THE ONE WHO IS ALLOWED TO DISOBEY
Surrounded by faithful guards and soldiers, it is unfathomable even to assume that anyone can ever disobey a General. In the Suhag household, however, there is someone who is allowed to have his way. Not just by the General’s volition but in his own right and playful way. ‘Juno’ is his name and he is a four-year old Golden Retriever brought home as a gift to the family by daughter, Pallavi.
Clearly, Juno goes about his ways around the house with abandon until he sees his ‘Master’ come home, which is when he gets excited. At other times, he would quietly sit near his Master, gently seeking his attention and affection. “He helps me unwind completely,” says Gen Dalbir as he fondly pats Juno, who is forever ready to obey his commands.
The General recalls an offer by a specialist dog-trainer who once told him that he would train Juno to obey orders without blinking. The affable General declined his offer politely, saying, “I would much rather have him disobey me when everyone else around only obey my orders.”
The author is Chief PRO (Defence), Kolkata