Admiral Radhakrishna Hariram Tahiliani, a Sindhi hailing from a small village Thatt Bhojraj near Mithiani town of Naushehro Feroze district of Sindh, served as the 11th Chief of the Naval Staff of Indian Navy from December 01, 1984 to November 30, 1987.
Admiral Tahiliani, who was born in Karachi on 12 May 1930 and passed away on 14 October 2015, had also served as the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-IN-C) of the Western Naval Command, FOC-IN-C of the Southern Naval Command and Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet (FOCWF). A carrier-based aircraft pilot, he also served as the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant.
Childhood and Early Education
Although Admiral Tahliani was born in Karachi, his ancestral village was Thatt Bhojraj, located near Mithiani town of district Naushehro Feroze (formerly in Nawabshah district) Sindh. Admiral Tahliani’s grandfather lived in Karachi due to his job in postal department and father Hariram was studying in Karachi.
He got his primary education at his village school. Recalling his childhood days in an interview late Tahliani had said, “I and my cousins often visited our ancestral village. I spent many years at village Thatt Bhojraj and studied at local school where only one teacher used to teach the children. That teacher also served as postman of the village.”
“My father had also joined postal department after he completed his education, and was posted in Naushehro Feroze. We lived there for some time, but as my father’s first love was teaching, he quit postal department’s job and joined education department, where he was posted as principal of a school in Tando Allahyar.”
“Since my father had a big family and his salary was low, he also had to quit the teaching to shift to Baroda in Indian much before partition, and joined a business,” Admiral Tahliani told adding that at the time of shifting to Baroda, he was 13 years. He got rest of the education in Baroda, where he was admitted in a missionary school.
The partition didn’t affect his family as they had already shifted to Baroda and lived there in a rented flat. However, they lost their agricultural lands and other property due to partition.
Watch and Listen to Admiral Tahliani’s interview.
Tahiliani was commissioned into the Indian Navy on 1 September 1950, and was confirmed as a sub-lieutenant on 17 May 1952. He joined the Indian Naval Air Arm and qualified as a pilot for carrier-based aircraft. He is a graduate of the Naval War College, United States and the National Defence College, New Delhi. He also qualified as a test pilot. He was a distinguished graduate of the French Test Pilot School and an outstanding pilot.
Promoted lieutenant-commander on 16 July 1960, he was the first naval pilot to land an aircraft on the deck of INS Vikrant, when he landed his Hawker Sea Hawk fighter on 18 May 1961. He served as a carrier-based strike pilot on board INS Vikrant; following his promotion to captain on 31 December 1970, he commanded its carrier borne squadron during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. His exemplary vision, catapulted the Indian Naval Air Arm to where it is today. He was instrumental in the procurement of the second aircraft carrier INS Viraat along with its fighter complement of Sea Harrier aircraft.
Later, he served as the commanding officer of INS Trishul (1960) and INS Vikrant. Promoted to acting Rear Admiral on 30 December 1977, he was appointed Flag Officer, Goa Area, with promotion to substantive rear admiral on 1 February 1978. Later, he was appointed the Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet.
His next appointment was as Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff at Naval Headquarters. This was followed by appointment as the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff. He was promoted to Vice Admiral while in this office.
In February 1982, Tahiliani was appointed the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Southern Naval Command.
In March 1983, he was appointed the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Naval Command. In May 1984, he was appointed the Vice Chief of the Naval Staff.
On 1 December 1984, he took over as the Chief of the Naval Staff of the Indian Navy.
Tahiliani retired from the Indian Navy on 30 November 1987.
Admiral Tahiliani was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and the Param Vishisht Seva Medal for his distinguished service for 37 years.
After retirement, Admiral Tahliani didn’t sit idle and engaged himself in social work, for which he founded an organization named as “Servants of the People Society”. After a couple of years, then Prime Minister of India V. P. Singh offered him to be the Governor of Sikkim, which he accepted. Tahiliani served as the Governor of Sikkim from 8 February 1990 to 20 September 1994 when he tendered resignation.
After quitting the office of Governor, he again became active in Servants of People Society. During that time he helped launch the India chapter of Transparency International as a founder member in 1997. He served as the chairman of the India chapter practically from its founding until 2010 and was chairperson of Balvantray Mehta Vidya Bhawan Anguridevi Shersingh, a senior secondary school located in the South District of New Delhi, India.
Tahiliani was elected to the board of Transparency International in 2002.
He was very much outspoken on issue of corruption in India. When the Transparency International released a report about corruption in India, he had said, “This study is not at all surprising as some of the most significant legislations have not yet been passed. The Lok Pal Bill, declaration of assets by politicians, auditing of accounts of political parties, speedy trial of erring politicians, forfeiture of illegally acquired property and many other such legislations are in a limbo.”
Tahiliani was married to Jaswanti Tahiliani. His wife Ms. Jaswanti Tahliani was equally distinguished as the first female engineer in Mumbai. He is the father of noted Indian fashion designer, Tarun Tahiliani, and executive director of Ensemble India, Tina Tahiliani Parikh.
His son Tarun Tahlianimother, in an interview had jokingly said, “My father, one of the most wonderful men, has got the worst taste. Every time he bought something, even bed sheets, I got nightmares.”
But his mother, he admits, had a great aesthetic eye. “She loved beautiful things and was a model once.” It could be the Sindhi blood in his veins, too.
“Sindhis are generally very shaukeen (fond), you know,” he said.