Kargil makes me sad. I served in Ladakh long before Kargil happened and know that terrain very well.
A lot has been written about the conflict which includes the lessons that the Indian Army should learn and what we should do to avoid another Kargil. Therefore, I am not going to write about matters military, but matters that are more relevant for our countrymen, especially our leadership and people.
For any nation, the soldiers are its assets. You can replace a weapon or buy new weapon systems but it takes years to train a soldier and make him fight as part of a group that is willing to sacrifice its life for protecting the country.
It takes years to train a combat pilot or a sailor. Soldiers, sailors and airmen give ‘their today for your tomorrow,’ which I quote from the graves in Kohima, Nagaland, left behind by the British after World War II, but still taken good care of. They continue to pay their debt of gratitude to those who laid their lives in that war, fought so fiercely for a tennis court in Kohima.
The Americans too care for their armed forces personnel. Their leaders show genuine concern and match their promises with action. Their veterans are the blessed lot and, what they get for what they gave is something the veterans in India can only dream of.
America is a land of dreams but they convert their dreams into reality especially, when it comes to taking care of the men and women who fought to protect their freedom in all corners of the world. Love, affection, respect and genuine concern shown for the armed forces personnel in these countries and in many more countries in the world is what we need to study and more importantly, emulate.
In our country, soldiers are remembered only in times of need. When Kargil happened many in our country were unaware of what happened and many did not care since it did not affect their daily lives. Yes, there was some war happening in a far off land beyond Srinagar . In any case, the Valley has seen so much of action, it was assumed that it was one more of such action, may be slightly larger in scale like the Taj and Oberoi hotels in Mumbai that were attacked by terrorists last November.
The general reaction of the public is: Some soldiers died and in any case, soldiers are meant to die for the country. So what if a body of a soldier who belonged to your city or town is brought for cremation? It is just another dead body and don’t we see so many every day in our towns and cities?
So what if a soldier’s widow and children are struggling for their livelihood after he laid down his life for the country? After all, so many widows are languishing in our country and one more does not matter. The soldier’s widow cannot get a ration card. Many others also do not get one, it hardly matters…
That is the general apathy, even to the family of the soldiers who laid down their lives. If the soldier is disabled in war, people think it is nothing that affects them.
The enormity of the situation, the lessons learnt and the corrective action that were needed after Kargil were discussed and forgotten. Kargil is a blur in our memory, an event of history to be forgotten only to be remembered when reminded that we need to celebrate Kargil Diwas! Sadly, we have even stopped doing that!
It is not selective amnesia but permanent dementia. And as for the soldiers who were disabled or who lost their lives, less said the better.
India and Indians need to change their attitude towards its soldiers, both serving and retired. Indians need to remember the families of those who made their supreme sacrifice in conflicts like Kargil or anywhere while performing their duty. We need to pamper our armed forces personnel not because they wore that uniform for 30 years, suffered deprivation, found it difficult to make both ends meet while running two establishments when separated from family because of service conditions.
We need to because a nation which forgets its soldiers and which lets its bureaucracy dictate terms to the leadership to manage the armed forces in the manner that suits them or prove their supremacy, which ignores their genuine demands, is bound to suffer when the time of need comes again. History strangely repeats itself.
That is what is happening now. Why should the ex-servicemen (ESM) ever need to demand their legitimate rights? Why is the country’s leadership not doing its duty to meet their legitimate demands without them asking for it? Do they not have any duty to perform towards the soldiers and their families as the soldiers have performed in silence, asking for nothing in return? Are the words honour, loyalty, duty applicable only to men and women in uniform?
The current ESM agitation which was characterised by many of them undergoing fasts in many places or returning their medals, including the ones awarded posthumously to the gallant officers and soldiers who died fighting in Kargil does not happen any where but in India.
The ESM have been forced to come out in large numbers onto the streets, shouting slogans to attract attention. The country as a whole has forgotten them and it is a pity that the ESM need to remind our countrymen to remember them by adopting agitation as the means to achieve their end.
Sadly, what they are asking for is One Rank and One Pension — a small price for what they have given to our country for so long.
Why is it that our nation has pushed its veterans to this state of helplessness that today this apolitical force is taking sides with political parties to make their demand met? Does our country’s leadership realise that the armed forces which had remained apolitical so far are now becoming politicised? Surely this is not a healthy trend.
The answers to all the question is known to all of us. Yet we are mute spectators because it does not affect the civil population in any manner. If war is an instrument of State policy, the armed forces are the means to achieve that policy when the time comes. Kargil is one more event in our history. The soldiers in and out of uniform are not. They are the ones who make that history happen.
Can Kargil rekindle the hearts of every Indian to make a pledge to give our soldiers the dignity and respect and give their legitimate demand without them asking for it? Surely that is not asking for much, unless we are a thankless nation.
Wriiten by: Colonel A Sridharan VSM (retd)