July is associated with the successful termination of the brief but anomalous Kargil war of 1999 and the 26th of the month is marked as Kargil Diwas to recall the contribution of the Indian ‘fauj.’ More than 500 personnel were killed and almost 1400 grievously injured. For the families who have lost a loved one and for the battle casualties, Kargil and the war associated with it will remain a very painful memory.
Prime Minister Modi led the country in acknowledging the contribution of the Indian military and tweeted: “India will never forget the fearlessness with which our courageous soldiers gave a befitting & unforgettable reply to the intruders.” He further added: “On Kargil Vijay Diwas I bow to every valiant soldier who fought for India till the very last breath. Their heroic sacrifices inspire us.”
Democratic nations have short memories when it comes to war and sacrifice and the adage that God and the soldier are remembered only in times of distress remains valid. More than 17 years after Kargil a few issues specific to this war warrant objective review and where the state is unable to discharge its obligations – civil society and the veteran community could take the initiative to make partial redress.
The lack of an appropriate national war memorial for the wars fought by the Indian military post independence has been discussed at length – but in vain. Such a memorial is not likely to be realised in the near future. Thus, it was gratifying to note that Defence Colony in the capital has created its own monument – modest in scale – but no less significant for its symbolism to remember the martyr. Unveiled on July 29th, this curved granite wall has the names of 98 brave soldiers who laid down their lives. Some of the gallantry award winners include a young 24 year old Lt. Puneet Nath Dutt (11 GR) who was posthumously conferred with the Ashok Chakra for an LIC-IS operation in 1997.
This memorial is reported to be the brain-child of the local councillor Abhishek Dutt and he was enabled by Major Jasbir Singh – a 78 year old veteran and other local colleagues. Their effort is to be lauded and Defence Colony will hopefully encourage other communities across India to emulate this tribute to the fallen soldier in their own manner. A related strand that merits attention is a data-base of all the soldiers who lost their lives in wars and LIC-IS operations from October 1947,(and their next-of-kin)as also the casualties who are handicapped and whose health and physical/ mental fitness has been seriously impaired. For a country that could create an Aadhar card database, this exercise should be highly doable and where the state and its organs are unable to do so – that spectrum of civil society which is concerned about the ‘fauj’ and the veteran community which is now slowly getting organised under different banners might like to pick up this challenge.
The second issue related to the Kargil war which has a national relevance is the equivalent of lessons learnt from the surprise of May 1999 – when the contour of the Pakistani audacity under General Pervez Musharraf became more clear. This was the first war after India and Pakistan demonstrated their nuclear weapon capability in May 1998 and there were many lessons relevant to India’s higher defence management to be learnt from the limited war that was Kargil – and appropriate policy changes effected. Yes, there was a Kargil Committee report under the stewardship of the late K Subrahmanyam that was submitted in record time – but 16 years later the policy changes remain suspended in an institutional morass.
It is a matter of deep shame but little surprise that the Indian legislature has not found the time or the inclination to seriously debate and decide on how to redress the many institutional deficiencies that came to the fore post Kargil. Can the Modi-Parrikar combine be prevailed upon to make the critical difference so that July 2017 is punctuated more positively?
Commodore C Uday Bhaskar, is currently Director, Society for Policy Studies (SPS), New Delhi. He was previously Director, National Maritime Foundation (NMF) and prior to that he headed the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).