The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Steady strides into sunset

New Delhi, Sept. 30: Under a gleaming sun this morning on Raisina Hill, a polished black Ambassador car with the three stars of a lieutenant general is escorted by outriders of the army and the navy till South Block.

Inside the car, the officer with the majestic handlebar moustache and smart Ray-Bans under the peaked cap tilts his waist to the left and the right before one leg and then the other touches ground and the officer steps out.

Years of walking on artificial limbs still reveal a level of discomfort to which the officer is by now habituated. But he takes the salute at the tri-service guard of honour, walking with deliberate strides on the red carpet and locking eyes with the soldiers.

Two years ago, he was the first lieutenant general to be given a guard of honour by contingents from the army, the navy and the air force, a departure from tradition since he is an army officer. Today, he is being given a farewell.

This is the story of another Joshi on the day a namesake in politics is hogging newstime. The status of this Joshi, who is in uniform, is not disputed either in courts of law or in minds of men. In a country desperately short of role models, here is one who keeps a low profile but deserves to be hoisted on a pedestal.

Lt General Pankaj Shivram Joshi of Maharashtra retired from service today after 41 years in the army, 36 of them as a double amputee.

Back in 1967, when he was 24 years old, Pankaj Joshi lost both legs in a blast while clearing mines in Sikkim in the aftermath of the war with China. One leg was blasted to smithereens, the other was amputated 10 days later at a military hospital in Pune.

When he was in hospital, his father, who, too, had served in the army and had lost a limb, came to visit him. “Baap sher,” old man Joshi exclaimed to his son lying on the bed “aur beta sau sher!” (The father’s a tiger and the son a hundred tigers!).

Such has been the Joshis’ outlook on life that absolutely nothing could stop the infantryman from the 1/8 Gorkhas from soldiering on. Pankaj Joshi took to artificial limbs after nine surgeries in eight months. He exercised for hours on end stretching the limits of endurance, argued his case with an army medical board to return to active service, converted with his battalion to mechanised infantry, rose to command squadrons of Russian-made Topos armoured personnel carriers (now phased out).

Lt General Joshi has since commanded an armoured division and the Desert Corps. He was army commander, central command. He walks 5 km a day, dances, swims, plays golf, cycles and enjoys his drink.

This was the man chosen to be the first Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), a still experimental institution at service headquarters, and a post that has not been without a fair share of controversy. It was thought of as an understudy to a proposed chief of defence staff, recommended by a group of ministers, but still not given cabinet approval. When Lt General Joshi took over on October 1, 2001, he was cold-shouldered. He was asked to take over even though the defence ministry did not officially announce his appointment.

“I cannot go into the politics of an institution,” he says today, over tea with fellow officers on the South Block lawns. His wife is by his side. The vice chief of army staff, Lt General Shantonu Choudhary, is there to shake hands.

“I am a simple man. I think the IDS is still being worked on. The integration has taken place at the level of service headquarters. I am not sure we need to follow the American or British models of jointness because they mostly fight expeditionary wars (wars fought not on own soil).”

Lt General Joshi will settle down in Mhow, the military town that nursed him back to physical and mental health and where he spent some of his best years, first as instructor and later as commandant in the College of Combat.

“Come over, it’ll be fun,” he says with a twinkle in the eye.

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