“Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do and die”.
This stirring quote by Tennyson was the favorite of a friend of mine, who had achieved his lifelong ambition of joining the Indian Military Academy. For me, the quote was merely a set of beautiful words. For him, it was the grim reality of a life he had chosen for himself. Like my friend, every man who joins our armed forces knows that he might be called upon to sacrifice his life in the line of duty. Similarly, every parent, every wife, and every child of a serving soldier lives with the knowledge that their loved one may not return home one day.
As a soldier sets out to do his duty, he hopes that the people for whom he fights, will respect and value the enormity of his sacrifice. He believes that his compatriots will look after the family he may leave behind. He expects that his nation will strive to get him justice and requital. Alas, the nation does not seem to give a damn for him!
Admittedly there are some civilians who care. And there are many more who at least find the time and conscience to protest about sporadic events. However, when it comes to the political class, the response is often inhuman. Many leaders seem to believe that the soldier is an expendable entity meant to serve their needs. Thus his safety is of little concern, and his death is a mere inconvenience, or a matter for political opportunism. Such is the sense of entitlement that often even the pretense of caring is discarded. Let me illustrate my point with just a few examples.
In January this year, a Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army crossed the Line of Control, and attacked an Indian Army patrol. Two of our soldiers were killed and beheaded. The citizens were furious. Much was written and debated in the media. The government made rudimentary noises about “grave provocation”, promised a “proportionate response“, and then forgot the matter once the furore subsided.
In March, five CRPF soldiers were killed in a terror attack in Bemina, Jammu and Kashmir. Four of them were unarmed, as per state orders. A social media commentator summed up the travesty with his incisive tweet-“Indian politicians use brutal force on peaceful protesters when there’s corruption at stake, but ask jawans to fight terrorist weaponless”.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah could not find the time to honor the slain jawans at their wreath laying ceremony. However, he had all the time to shed public tears in parliament, when a stone pelting youth was killed in Baramulla. Not surprisingly, the CRPF personnel were very upset and demoralized.
This week, the Pakistani Army violated the LOC and killed five Indian soldiers. In return, India’s Defence Minister A.K Antony, virtually exonerated the Pakistan Army by stating that the attack was carried out by “persons dressed in Pakistani Army uniforms“. He also forced our army to dilute their original statement. It took a public outcry, two days, and three amendments, for him to finally pin the blame on Pakistan. In the meanwhile, instead of standing up to the aggressors, Salman Khurshid, our Minister of External Affairs, chose to valiantly defend A.K Antony’s mishandling. Our Prime Minster of course responded with his customary muteness, as he prepared to go ahead with his scheduled talks with Nawaz Sharif.
The Centre’s apparent callousness contagion even spread to Bihar. When JDU minister Bhim Singh was asked why no minister was present to receive the bodies of the four martyrs from the state, he lost his temper and said “The jawans are there to be martyred….when people join the army or the police, they go there knowing fully well they may attain martyrdom.”
After this kind of shocking attitude, having state funerals, or giving half-hearted monetary compensations to the shattered families is an insult, not a balm. In contrast to the shameful conduct of the rulers, the work of the armed forces seems even more commendable. They continue to serve diligently despite the ingratitude and nasty political games.
Perhaps the inability to appreciate the soldier lies in a fundamental difference in values. The soldier works and sacrifices for ideals like loyalty, duty, honor and valour. The ruling elite simply cannot understand the value of these nebulous ideas, for they cannot be measured in terms of power or be bought with money. Maybe the only way to reinstate the sense of value is to remove the security cover of every VIP for just one day. Better still, mandate that the son of each Member of Parliament should serve the army for at least a year. If that were to happen, I’m certain that the words “Jai Jawan” would cease be an empty slogan, and emerge straight from the heart