Birth of The Foundation - by Adm J.G. Nadkarni
The idea was Ram Tahiliani's. He had just returned from an official trip to the United States. Whilst there, he had been greatly impressed by the Veterans' organisation in that country. I was his Vice Chief. After returning he asked me if a similar organisation could be started for the Indian Navy in India. I was told to look into it and come up with a proposal.
We examined it from all angles. To be effective it would have to be a Naval Headquarters' baby. It would have to be fully supported by the Navy in all aspects. At the same time each Unit would have to be totally autonomous. Naval Ex-servicemen are notoriously touchy. Having been subjected to orders all their lives they are averse to be dictated again now that they have retired. Moreover some of the officers were very senior and had to be handled and treated with respect. Anyway, we decided to go ahead and institute an organisation for all Ex- servicemen under the patronage of Naval Headquarters.
We considered many options for a suitable name. It had to be unique and easily acceptable. Such names like "Navy League", "Navy Association" were considered and rejected for one reason or another. Finally, we hit upon the idea of "Navy Foundation", which was unanimously accepted.
Various models lay before us. The Indian Air Force has an "Air Force Association" which is open to all Air Force personnel. Somehow we felt that this would not be suitable for us. The class system is still prevalent in India and we had seen what happened in some of the Air Force-Navy housing schemes. We decided that the Navy Foundation should be only for the retired officers of the Indian Navy.
It is one thing to start a body and quite another to make it work. There were already in existence various well established organisations started by retired naval officers. There was the "Navy League" in New Delhi, another body called the "Anchor Hold" in Bombay. In Pune there was the "Retired Naval Officers' Association". These were thriving organisations, who met regularly, had activities, bank accounts, Presidents and Chairmen who were reluctant to give up their positions, dissolve the bodies and join the Navy Foundation.
During the next two months I visited various places, held meetings with their members and tried to convince them that joining the Navy Foundation would be beneficial. Most bodies were reluctant at first. Their biggest worry was that Naval Headquarters would start dictating terms and they would end up being one more directorate of NHQ. I convinced them that each body would be totally autonomous and except for one annual meeting there would not be any interference by the Navy in their day to day functioning. Moreover, NHQ would act as the go between with the Government for various problems faced by Ex-servicemen.
One by one the organisations started seeing reason and decided to merge themselves with the Navy Foundation. Some refused and exist even today as parallel organisations. In Pune Admiral Soman headed the Retired Naval Officers' Association. He readily agreed and was very enthusiastic. In Bombay the association was headed by Commodore Chatterji. He was reluctant at first and took a lot of persuasion but agreed eventually. I am really happy that the original assurance given by us has been meticulously observed by the Navy. There has been no interference, dictating or coercion on these groups.
The next phase was to start "Charters" in various areas where retired naval officers had settled in large numbers. Such Charters were started in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, Kochi and Calcutta. Later more Charters were added.
I realized that to really get the Charters going, some assistance from Naval Headquarters would be necessary. Commands were persuaded to make a room available as offices for each Charter. In November 1987, I took over as CNS. I decided that the funds raised in the Navy Ball of 1987 would be distributed to various Charters as seed money for initial financial assistance. We raised nearly Rs. 7 lakhs in that Navy Ball and this money was distributed. Rs 1.5 lakh each to big Charters and Rs. 1 lakh to small Charters.
In 1987, when I was the VCNS we started a magazine called "Quarterdeck" for Ex-servicemen. We roped in then Commander Uday Bhaskar, the Navy PRO and the late Tappi Koppikar to be the first joint editors. Its first issue was a roaring success. It won a prize for the best magazine in its category. On the establishment of the Navy Foundation it became official magazine. Successive editors have improved and embellished it. It is distributed far and wide and veterans look forward to each issue.
During my travels around the country and meetings with naval veterans, I had realized that all servicemen have problems about their welfare, pay, pensions etc. Many of these had landed on my desk when I was COP and a full time body was required to deal with these. When I decided to establish a full time directorate to deal with ex-servicemen's problems and feed them with current happenings in the Navy. Each year we held a get-together of ex-CNSs and other officers and gave them briefings on operations, personnel and other aspects of the Navy. Today the Directorate of Ex-servicemen's Affairs is doing excellent work and acts as a conduit between the veterans and NHQ.
The first annual meeting was held in NHQ under my chairmanship and a constitution was approved. We were able to clear many apprehensions and doubts about the Foundation.
Today, the Navy Foundation is a going body and Charters are well established.
Today, the Navy Foundation is a successful and dynamic organisation. Various Charters are doing excellent work in keeping alive the bonds and camaraderie established during our time in the Navy. There is a total absence of rank consciousness or hierarchy. They have regular get- togethers, illuminating lectures and picnics. Many establish bodies to help widows. The Mumbai Charter has even got a marriage bureau for children of Ex-servicemen!
Ram Tahiliani would be happy that his dream of 1987 has now become a reality!!