New Delhi (India), January 27: Colonel Prem Nath Khera, VSM, Army veteran who was best known for 17 years as PRO Army and then Director PR Army, Navy, and Air Force, passed away on January 25 of congestive heart failure at the age of 85. He is considered to be a legend in the services and was a pioneer in Psychological Operations (PSYOPs). He won awards for defence documentaries and was often sought out by newspapers and magazines for his defence analysis expertise.
Col Khera served the army for 30 years, 17 of them in the Directorate Of Public Relations. He began service as an Army Education Corps (AEC) officer and served as a frontline soldier in the 1965 and 1971 wars. In 1976, he was hand-picked for the civilian post at Indian Information Services (IIS), as Public Relations Officer, Indian Army when he was a Major. During this tenure, he served under a battery of Chiefs of Army Staff including Gen O.P. Malhotra, General Krishna Rao, General A.S. Vaidya, General K. Sundarji, General V.N. Sharma and General S.F. Rodrigues. In 1982, he received the Vishisht Seva Medal for distinguished service and the army chief’s commendation card from the then President, Giani Zail Singh. He was an M.Sc. from Punjab University, Chandigarh and a Post Graduate in Mass Communications from the Indian Institute of Mass Communications (IIMC) Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU).
Initially posted as PRO Army, he later rose to be joint director (public relations) with the Directorate of Public Relations, Ministry of Defence. He was responsible for the correct projection of the Armed Forces, and launched multi-media campaigns to counter hostile propaganda by adversaries, and devised information campaigns to insulate soldiers from the disinformation onslaught from across the borders. In 1992, he took voluntary retirement after which he served as Chief Executive of PTI-TV, before starting his own production house and defence news agency in 1997. He produced three serials – Journey to Success (10 episodes), Asia Defence (six episodes) and Tainaat (17 episodes) dealing with various aspects of the armed forces and national security, that were telecast on Doordarshan. His defence news agency, Asia Defence News International (ADNI) became Asia’s largest defence news agency with over 130 newspapers and magazines in India, and internationally, that subscribed to ADNI’s defence news feeds.
ADNI also published a monthly magazine called Asia Defence which had features and interviews of senior defence forces personnel, and analysis pieces of India’s defence readiness. His documentaries on the same issues include Whose Army is it Anyway?, Are Human Rights for Terrorists Only, Kashmir Today, A New Dawn, The Indomitable and Pillars of Peace.
Alongside running his news agency, Col Khera wrote incisive defence analysis editorials for well-known newspapers like Hindustan Times, The Pioneer, Indian Express, Times of India, Jagran, Punjab Kesari, Veer Arjun etc. He was regularly interviewed by magazine and newspaper journalists for his assessment of the defence situation in light of international strife. One of his most famous quotes during the highly confidential and sensitive report prepared by the US’ Pacific Command that put in critical perspective the ‘abilities’ of the Indian army, was: “The Indian army serves at temperatures of 50 plus in Rajasthan and minus 50 in Siachen. It serves in the marshes and mountains in the Northeast. Its officer casualty rate is the highest in the world. It is apolitical and disciplined. It has a history of exemplary service in UN missions and the several Victoria and King Crosses will vouch for it. As for being too protocol conscious, there is no harm in it as Indians are not stooges and will stand their ground on an equal footing.”
Col Khera ran ADNI until the age of 77, after which he enjoyed travelling. After the death of his wife in November 2020 during the pandemic, his health began to fluctuate. However, he continued an active life until Monday, January 22, 2024 where he was suddenly admitted to the Army Research And Referral Hospital, New Delhi, for congestive heart failure. On January 25 at 3:30 AM, he passed away in his sleep. He is fondly remembered as the “moochhonwala Khera” by senior defence folks.
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