Every year, for the past five years at least one soldier of the Indian Army—either an officer or a jawan—has own the Nation’s highest peace time gallantry award, the Ashok Chakra.
This year a young boy—Lt. Navdeep Singh—barely 24 and just six months into the Army, has received it posthumously for exceptional bravery in eliminating four of the 12 terrorists that his commando platoon killed in the Gurez sector of J&K in August last year.
His proud father—himself a retired Junior Commissioned Officer—received the award from the President at the Republic Day parade even as his mother wiped a quiet tear, sitting in the stands.
On the eve of the Republic Day and on 26th January, Lt. Navdeep’s heroics have been much in the news.
His father was interviewed; Navdeep’s photographs were flashed all over the newspapers and on the internet.
Come next year, there will inevitably be yet another winner of Ashok Chakra (equivalent incidentally to the Param Vir Chakra—the nation’s highest gallantry award in war).
By that time Lt. Navdeep would have vanished from our collective memory!
As has Major Laishram Jyotin Singh, the genial doctor from Manipur who jostled a heavily armed suicide bomber in a Kabul hotel and saved hundreds of lives, including that of his fellow officers by getting killed along with the bomber.
Just to jog our collective memory: He was the winner of the Ashok Chakra (posthumous) on Republic Day, 2011.
Or Major Mohit Sharma, Hav. Rajesh Kumar of 1 Para battalion and Maj. Sreeram Kumar.
All three were Ashok Chakra winners in 2010.
We are nation that remembers God and the soldier only when in distress. Otherwise we specialise in paying lip service.
So politicians, sundry social leaders, even we in the media will occasionally talk about our brave hearts in glowing terms but none of us will strive hard to push for a National War Memorial or a National Martyrs Memorial.
Sixty two years after India became a Republic, we are still paying homage at India Gate.
Built by the British for the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the Imperial power in World War I!
For God and country’s sake, wake up. Don’t make empty noises about our soldiers and their sacrifices.
At least treat them with dignity and respect in our day-to-day interaction.
Let them know we care for them through the year and not just on two or three ritualistic occasions.
Otherwise, India will be like Japan or Germany, post-WW II—big economies without adequate military muscle.
It’s important to recall what Kautilya (not Sun Tzu as many of us are fond of quoting) said ages ago about the duty of the King (in this case the Government) towards the soldier: “A country makes a sacred contract with its soldiers. A country that refuses to respect this contract with its armed forces will eventually end up getting forces that will not respect the nation (government).”
Kautilya, better known as Chanakya, also reminded King Chandragupta Maurya: “The day the soldier has to demand his dues, will be a sad day.”
Unfortunately, in today’s India, that day is not far away.