The despicable sight of two spiteful and rowdy young men desecrating with impunity the Amar Jawan Jyoti Memorial in Hutatma Chowk with sticks and kicks during the Azad Maidan riots on August 11 will fill the mind of any worthy Indian with intense moral rage. The irony of fate is that this monument was raised in the hallowed memory of two Indian soldiers, Sayyad Hussein and Mangal Gadia, who sacrificed their life at the altar of India’s First War of Independence of 1857. It is a divine hallmark of glittering secularism of India’s Armed Forces, both before and after Independence. However, the episode should not be consigned to oblivion after mere expression of repugnance. It is essential to discern the deeper malady and take serious note of the waning of esteem and veneration towards the Indian soldier. The whole country awakens when the sound of war drums resonate the air, the gratitude of masses towards the soldier brims over, notes of patriotic songs fill every nook and corner of the cities and villages, a fierce competition ensues among the social organisations and political outfits to dig out widows and children of martyrs of past wars from their oblivion and shower gifts on them.
Then the war terminates as suddenly as it started and the fever disappears. The Armed Forces are once again forgotten, ostensibly till the next dual. A veteran of British Army was once asked by a co-traveller the secret of a small country like England lording over more than half of the world. The answer was succinct. “The genesis of Britain’s success lies in its consistent public support to the soldier and a deep sense of veneration and respect towards him”, he said, “Soldiers’ loyalty to the nation and readiness for the supreme sacrifice are driven less by material considerations and more by an overwhelming urge to earn love and respect of their countrymen. A grateful nation’s recognition of their contribution to national security acts as the strongest motivator.” Britain never forgets its war heroes. Every major landmark in London is named after distinguished soldiers and not politicians. Before World War II, it was not uncommon to see placards hanging outside some restaurants in Paris which read “Dogs, lackeys and soldiers not allowed”. On the other hand, even pregnant women used to get up and offer seats to soldiers in London buses. When the war broke out, France capitulated in no time while Britain remained undefeated. Are the Indian Armed Forces shown this courtesy? After India became independent, the Indian Forces have fought five major wars in six decades.
With the exception of the war with China in 1962, they have come out with flying colours in the rest. They have ensured that the sovereignty and integrity of the Indian Nation remained unscathed. In 1984, in a swift operation they occupied commanding heights in Siachen Glacier Region, pre-empting Pakistani attempt to wrest this vital ground. They are guarding this highest battlefield in the World against all challenges by the hostile nature and evil enemy. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) sent to Sri Lanka to maintain peace between the Sri Lankan Forces and LTTE, to their misfortune, had to resort to war with the militant Tigers, a complex assignment which they successfully accomplished. However, the returning contingents were welcomed with black flags at Chennai. No worthwhile politician turned up to pay the last respects to Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, a soldiers’ general who was the architect of a decisive victory over Pakistan in 1971. There are magnificent memorials built by proud nations to commemorate the sacrifice of their soldiers. Unfortunately, India makes do with the pre-World War India Gate Memorial built by British. It is nobody’s case that cities and towns be littered with memorials and statues in every street corner.
But doesn’t the supreme sacrifice of 40,000 soldiers merit an inspiring post-independence memorial built on a prime plot of land on the Rajpath? Much in consonance of Francis Quales’ words, “After deliverance, both alike requited, Our Gods forgotten and our soldiers slighted,” the Indian Armed Forces are often rebuffed by uninformed political leaders. A spokesman of a prime political party then in the Opposition had the temerity to state that the victory of Kargil needs no commemoration since the war was caused due to the intelligence failure of the Government in power. When a letter written by the Chief of Army Staff to the Prime Minister briefing him on the state of the Army was leaked due to no fault of the Army, a senior politician demanded in the Parliament that the Chief be dismissed. Is this a sign of maturity of these career politicians? The Indian Armed Forces are a glowing symbol of vibrant national integration. There is no place for divides based on religion, caste, creed, province or ethnicity. Valiant soldier, matured leadership, high morale, secular attitude and non-regional composition are the five cornerstones of their institutional character. A reputed periodical had conducted a national survey about two decades ago of the relative professional values of five national pillars: Judiciary, politicians, police, bureaucracy and armed forces. They were gauged on four premises: Honesty, transparency, professional integrity and national sense. The Armed Forces and the Judiciary, in that order, were head and shoulders above the other two. With the overall deterioration of values in all fields, perhaps the position may be similar even today. However, it cannot be denied that, of late, the probity of the Armed Forces has come into question. During the past few years a number of cases of corruption in the Army have been unearthed. Without meaning to trivialise them, it must be said to the credit of the Indian Army, that there has been no attempt whatsoever to suppress the matter.
The Tehelka expose is a case in point. All officers involved in the case were severely dealt with while the politicians and bureaucrats went scot free. More and more avenues are found to point fingers at the services. In what can be termed uninformed sensational journalism, motives were attributed to certain innocuous training moves of the Army units suspecting anti-national intentions. In two recent incidents of ostensible disharmony between the leaders and the led, which is unfailingly viewed and dealt by the Army authorities with the gravity and seriousness it merits, a case was made of serious gulf developing in the Army. Nothing would be farther from the truth. It must be realised that such wild misrepresentation in respect of a disciplined and patriotic force has ominous portends and can greatly help our adversaries. The soldier is increasingly influenced by the economic liberalisation and consequent consumerism around him.
He is no more shielded from the environment outside the barbed wire fencing of his unit like his predecessor of yesteryears. This is taking a heavy toll on his professional values, which have to undergo a process of transmutation and redefining. Adding to his agony is the new phenomenon of his exposure to the media from which he was meticulously screened so far, making him an easy prey of the ‘Breaking News thirsty hawks’. The Armed Forces are presently passing through a fire test. There is not the slightest doubt that they will come out chaste and sanitised. Any incident of desecration of the honour and dignity of the Armed Forces is a national shame and fraught with grave consequences. They ought to be given the reverence and recognition that they deserve. Army marches on its stomach is an old adage, what needs to be well understood is that it wins wars on motivation, morale and public support.
— The author, originally a Sapper and later inducted into the General Cadre, was Col GS (Ops) of IPKF in Sri Lanka