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Superseded navy officer suffers heart attack

New Delhi, April 29: Superseded Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, who was relieved of his duties as the chief of the western naval command last week, has been admitted to hospital after a heart attack.

Vice Admiral Sinha was the seniormost serving naval officer when the government appointed Vice Admiral Robin Dhowan, now admiral, as the chief of naval staff on April 17.

Dhowan is six months junior to Sinha. Sinha immediately sent a request for voluntary retirement because the idea of saluting an officer junior to him would be humiliating in the hierarchy-bound armed force. Sinha was scheduled to retire in August this year.

The office of the chief of naval staff fell vacant after Admiral Devendra Kumar Joshi resigned owning moral responsibility for an accident in a submarine in which two officers were killed earlier this year. A.K. Antony’s defence ministry mulled over the appointment, taking more than 50 days, before confirming Dhowan as the chief.

Sinha was apparently overlooked because the focus of attention on the navy had shifted to his area of responsibility since the sinking of the INS Sindhurakshak submarine in Mumbai’s naval dockyards on August 14 last year in which 18 crew were killed.

Sinha, 59, was admitted to a naval hospital yesterday. Defence minister Antony and Dhowan were monitoring his treatment, ministry sources said.

Few in the forces doubt that Sinha had been under pressure and his supercession was interpreted as a clear vote of no confidence in him from the government. He had pleaded that as the chief of the command he was doing what he could to check mishaps.

The Vice Admiral was decorated as the “Grey Eagle” in May — in recognition for being the seniormost naval aviator.

At a ceremony in Goa, shortly after the honour was given to him, he had said: “I am humbled and honoured to stand before you as the Grey Eagle of Indian Naval Aviation, a title not based purely on the colour of one’s hair, but on the trials and tribulation that one experiences during the eventful journey one spends in the most exciting office that God has created — “the cockpit of a naval aviator”.

He was in the navy for 40 years and last October had landed on the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov) in Russia before the vessel set sail for India.

He was decorated with a gallantry award for action against LTTE in Sri Lanka.

For all his experience, however, the Vice Admiral was pillored from within the defence establishment and also from the media for a perceived slackness in command and control.