Ameritorious officer from the Armed Forces, Maj. Gen. Indrabalan, (Ret.) has many feathers to his cap. Former Chief of Staff Dakshin Bharat Area, represented India as a military observer in United Nations Mission mandated to contain civil war in Sierra Leone, Africa in 2000. His charismatic personality and magnetic aura precedes his body of work. He was involved in the counter insurgency operations in J&K and the North Eastern Region, in addition to various other operations.

Maj. Gen. Indrabalan has been tirelessly working on repositioning National Cadet Corps to drive youth development and social change and has been a guiding force for the present generation of youth through the revamped NCC stables. He was instrumental in forming and mentoring NCC UDAAN, a nationwide initiative of Ex-NCC cadets. During the December 2023 floods in Tamil Nadu, Gen. Indrabalan provided the guidance and the vital operational connect to UDAAN volunteers.

An ardent sportsman and adventure lover, he was member of an around the world off shore Sailing expedition in 1989 and has earned laurels in national regatta in wind surfing and enterprise class sailing. Having a keen eye for fine arts, he curated a theater play on the Indo – Pak war of 1971 called “Operation Vijay 1971”.

What do you see when you reflect back on your journey?
The life of a soldier is very different from that of a common man. They have practically dedicated themselves to protecting the nation’s sovereignty and security. Therefore, their life is bound by certain expectations and responsibilities and also by certain restrictions. That notwithstanding, their life is also very exciting. When you start your journey as a young officer, life is full of adventure. And then as you grow in service your responsibilities goes up, your action time comes down and there are larger units to command and larger organisations to take care of. As you mature in service, you understand the national security scenario levels and your role in that arena. So retirement should not be a word that should be applicable to a military officer, because the army gives you so much that you can be very productive, immaterial whether you’re in uniform or not and that’s what I hope to be.

What as per you is the difference between India, Bharat and Hindustan?
The question can be seen in simplistic terms as different names of same country or as names that depict certain perceptions. Article 1 of our constitution which states thus “India, that is Bharat, shall be….” implying both names have the same significance and therefore can be used inter-changably. For instance Indian Army is known as Bhartiya Sena in Hindi. Hindūstān as a name was popular during Mughal Rule based on ‘Hindu’ the old Persian adaption of “Sindhu” (Indus river) and common amongst Urdu scholars. The name India first appeared in 12th century and was possibly used by Marco Polo to describe the subcontinent and has been more often used by westerners and embedded during British raj. Name Bhārata has descended from the name of the Vedic community Bharatas who are mentioned in the Rigveda as one of the original community of the Aryavrata, which is the most ancient historical documentation. Also, according to the Puranas, this country is known as Bhāratavarsan after Bharata the son of Rishabha. Hence, If we have to extricate our civilisation from the colonial mind set and that of repression by invaders, I strongly feel Bharat give us that identity of being a great civilisation which has withstood the test of times and has the all-encompassing feature.

Any message for the youth of India and how did the idea of NCC Udaan come about?
The youth of India are the best we have in the world. They have great potential and capability. But there is a much larger section of the youth that are unable to reach their potential, because they don’t have the right mentoring. It is with that aim that we have founded NCC Udaan. It is working on the motto of unity and discipline and also resolve and resilience. It inspires youth to contribute to the nation building and to go beyond yourself. That opportunity is what we are giving them through volunteering. We hope that they get enthused with this act of nation building and we can take things forward.

How did you play a major role in making NCC an elective course and what were the challenges?
Whenever you bring in some change, there will always be resistance. People generally like to be status quo. Fortunately, the good part was that I also got good support from the DG as also from the Chairman of UGC as he saw the value in that. NCC was an extracurricular activity earlier. Today in the New Education Policy 2020 under choice based credit system you have to study and be engaged in academics and assessments throughout the year. Doing all that and finding time for NCC was becoming difficult for the students and that is where we introduced NCC as a credit course elective subject itself, so that out of 140 credits, certain credits can be shared with NCC. That way both the students and nation gets benefitted. If we take this forward to many other colleges then the whole system can get benefitted.

What was your role in the Kargil War of 1999?
Kargil and Siachen are at heights at which the aircrafts fly and it’s bone chilling there. To barely survive there itself is a challenge. Now in that condition of survival you have to fight a battle, carry your own load, climb mountains, fire on the enemy and capture and defeat them. In Kargil war, my experience has been that the young soliders and officers have performed outstandingly well. It is their grit; physical fitness and determination that helped us defeat the Pakistani forces at such icy peaks, in adverse conditions of facing their bullets or climbing the peaks.

BSNL started work on installation of mobile towers in the Kargil region and the people can be close to their family once again. What do you have to say about it?
I will reply with a quote – It is the breath of the countrymen that gives wind to the lungs of the soldier. He lives with that. When a soldier is connected to his family and to his society it gives him far more greater courage. A feeling that somebody is there with us and is waiting for us. For example, I’m from Vellore and as a soldier I’m respected there and people look up to me. That feeling gives the soldiers huge motivation and they’re willing to sacrifice their lives. I want to quote what Paramvir Chakra Vikram Batra who went to the Kargil war said – “Come back I will, either I will hoist the national flag or I will come back wrapped in the National flag.” When my wife or family is worried for my safety, this is what I have to say. I’m here for the nation.

Do you fathom a situation where India and Pakistan become friends?
Indian army is the messiah of peace. India is not a war mongering country. We love peace and we want to have peaceful friendly neighbours. Friendship with Pakistan will bring in growth, development and peace to the both nations and the subcontinent. Just because we do not have the right relations, we are spending so much on developing our military, border infrastructure, etc. which could have been spent on developing the society. So that friendship is an ideal situation where everyone is happy, lives in peace and there is prosperity. Half the poverty of Pakistan can be taken care of by their country if they stop their military spend. Just because they have not maintained good relationship with India they are suffering. How was it before independence? We were one nation and everyone was happy. India is one of the largest military powers in the world. As Indians we have to be protective about our borders and our oceans. Any action that is taken by any competitive country in our neighbourhood will affect our security, peace and progress and hence it is important that we also take counter measures. Sometimes they will gain an upper hand and sometimes we will. The government of India is doing a fantastic job in making sure that these things don’t affect us and we are on strong footing.

There are a lot of films being made around the Indian army. Do you feel that they are a bit exaggerated when you watch these films?
That is natural. They have to dramatise films otherwise how will people get enthused. But I feel that over a period of time they’re getting more realistic. The recent one called Sam Bahadur is a good example. It’s a movie about India’s greatest iconic general Field Marshall Sam Bahadur Maneckshaw. In that movie, they have tried to bring in a lot of realism. As technology improves it always gets better but there’s always scope for dramatisation which is important. Dramatisation is acceptable as long as the right message is conveyed and it is not derogatory. I like the progress we have made in Indian cinema.

There was an article on Naseem Ahmad, a tea vendor recently who was serving tea to the soldiers during the entire Kargil war. Are normal people allowed to be there?
When there’s a war, the entire nation goes to war and not just a few individuals and that is why we say that a soldier is not a single entity. He is made of people who stand behind. During Kargil war also we found a lot of support. We had to stay an entire month with possibly one and a half meal a day as we were almost 15 kms inside the intruded territory. So it was impossible for food to reach there. In such situations, the local people come forward and support us. It is very heartening and gives you confidence that our people, the Ladakhis are with us firmly.

Captain Fatima Wasim created history by becoming the first woman medical officer to be deployed on an operational post at the challenging Siachen Glacier. What do you have to say about that?
When we say youth, it means both male and female. In India, women were not allowed in the armed forces for many reasons. And if they become a prisoner of war, how do you handle that situation. Over a period of time, our thinking has matured and we have started taking women in the army. Major Fatima was deployed in a Siachen post where there were very few people. If there was a bombardment or avalanche it would be very difficult to handle that situation. So in that case for a woman being all by herself for a period of minimum three months is a big challenge. We are happy that our nation’s daughter has made us proud but going in that extremely challenging post.

When there are natural disasters what is the plan of action and how hard is it? What was the role of Udaan?
We have a National Disaster Management authority and they do a great job. In addition you have the Indian army. There are a lot of youngsters who want to help and support but they don’t have proper guidance on how to help. They may not know the proper way of rowing or rescue or give first aid the right way. So this is what Udaan did. We had 10-12 youngsters who were trained to do all this and they provided emergency supplies, rescued people with water all around and addressed certain medical emergencies. We want to train lot of youth to become disaster warriors. I’m happy that our youth of Tamil Nadu have come up to do this work.

What is the process of joining as a volunteer for Udaan?
Just go to the website and register with your name and mention that you want to volunteer. Anyone who wants to become a volunteer warrior and has that spirit to serve the society can join and the rest we will take care.

If someone is a volunteer, will they get an ID card that states that they’re volunteers and can get access to certain areas where they can reach and help?
We are going to involve the National disaster management authority and the State authority on this. After someone is trained, we plan to give the person an ID card that says that he is a disaster management warrior so that wherever he wants to give his support he will be given access to go there. We are working on that plan.

What will be India’s stance in case there’s a World War III?
That is for the Prime Minister to decide. But if I really have to answer it, I would say that the best situation for India will be stay away from World War III and if we can pull that off then we can become the next superpower. All the nations that did not take part in World War II have great economies and are doing very well. If there is World War III, which is a hypothetical situation currently, India is in a good position not to get involved, from both strategy point of view, geopolitical point of view and international relations point of view. Then all the countries will come to us to support them and in the bargain our economy will grow. How did the Americans grow so much? During World War II they were not affected. They fought wars in different places, but they did not allow war to come to them so their country kept growing. That should be India’s strategy also. But if the war is imposed on us by virtue of World War III, if adversaries decide to launch an offensive and impact India’s interest then India will have to respond.

What is your message for today’s youth?
I’m very positive about youngsters today as they are more aware and better informed. It is unfortunate that some section of youth don’t have the right direction and get carried away by social media or get influenced by films as also inimical forces. For instance, if I were to give my example of my children who study in Isha Home School where they are not allowed mobile phones and are kept busy in such interesting activities throughout the day that they don’t feel the need to look for a mobile. Most schools and colleges don’t do that. Even the parents need to take that extra time to spend with their child and participate in activities they enjoy. My son has no time to do anything else as he is always busy with his tennis practice and my second child loves reading so much that he doesn’t have time to engage in mobiles. We need to give the youth a sense of pride, responsibility and commitment. The youth of India has great potential. Our youth will be our future. It’s for the elders to provide them right direction.

Tell us about your passion for sailing?
Sailing is an interesting sport. In 1989, India took out an expedition to go around the world. Trishna was the first expedition and after that the Indian Navy took out one. The worst part was that there was no engine and no GPS, we were going around with only sails and sextant. One of the best adventure sports we have. When you face all that in the middle of an ocean without getting the boat damaged when the wind wants to capsize the yatch, that moment to retain the situation is very challenging. It’s the survival at the sea. You don’t see any piece of land for almost 20 days. You sail off from one land into the next destination and your plan of 10 days could take 20 days depending on the weather. One of the best entry was the Taurus strait, without an engine. Our strength was when without an engine, using only sails we used our technique to manage through. It was a new experience how one can isolate from rest of the world and remain in such a small boat. We were six of us and become good friends. We tested our human capabilities and our endurance levels.

You are a soldier. How did you get your creative hat on to do a play on Operation Vijay?
I never thought I had creativity in me as I was a science student. India celebrated 50 years of the great war as and I call this a noble war as India went to defend people of East Pakistan who were being cruelly dealt with by its own countrymen that is West Pakistan. There was rape, murder, looting and people were suffering immensely. Under these conditions India went to war and in 13 days India made the Pakistan army surrender. 93,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered to the Indian army. We gave them a very honourable surrender and a safe repatriation back to their country, even though so many of our soldiers died. We created a new nation, a new democracy when Bangladesh was born. In modern history of warfare, where has war been shot with such clear objectives which led to peace? We did our job in 13 days and did not stay back there to colonise Bangladesh. We were fully in control of East Pakistan and could have stayed back and annexed the nation. But that was not our intent. This is the greatness of India. Out of all the things, we are not even talking enough about it. Especially in South India not many people are aware and have not seen the valour and the courage of our soldiers from that time. So, we thought of a play called Operation Vijay 1971. This play has been curated to inspire our youth, about our nobility and how great India is. The play captures the valour of Indian soldiers and the trauma of Lt Gen AAK Niazi, Commander of the Pakistan Eastern Command, who thought he was invincible. When Indian forces went in, within 13 days he was forced to surrender. The psychological and mental trauma of this surrender has been captured in the play through a dialogue between Lt Gen AAK Niazi and Maj General JFR Jacob. For an army general to accept surrender is the biggest dishonour and he cannot live peacefully thereafter. Through the painful voice of Niazi, we have tried to highlight how India has achieved this great victory. We have commissioned an English version of this play and there is also a Tamil and Malayalam version coming up in March this year in Chennai.