Should the military brass get so many awards?

This is an unusual blog entry for me. Instead of my usual musings, below is an exchange of emails between me and a retired senior army officer. Self-explanatory. Read on

Dear Nitin,

I write this email on an assumption that you will, like you have done during our earlier sporadic interactions when I was in service, keep my identity concealed for reasons that would become clearer as you scroll down this mail.

Like me, you have seen the list of awardees for gallantry as well as distinguished service in the Army released on the eve of Republic Day, 2014.

In fact, I read your blog which posted photographs and brief description of each of the recipients’ bravery that fetched them Kirti and Shaurya Chakra or other medals for gallantry. I was also following your tweets throughout 26th January. Sometimes I feel you are more fauji than the faujis themselves! The photographs you posted of the tri-colour flying at Dras and in Siachen brought a lump in my throat.

Then in the evening, I saw you and heard your brief intervention at the Flags of Honour Foundation function which had a theme: “Do we Care for your soldiers?”

If you had not introduced yourself to the audience, most would have mistaken you for a former military officer. So passionate and genuine was your view about the mistreatment meted out to the soldier by this country at large. You aptly described the fact that today the soldier has slipped to a lowly position in the social hierarchy in India for various reasons, not the least because senior military leaders, among others have also let the soldier down. Your remark, in the first instance, did hurt me. For I was, till the other day, a senior military leader. I meant to confront you at the end of the function but you left early. I had made up my mind to write a stern email to you especially negating your contention that senior military leaders often let the soldier down.

By the time I returned home and got onto my computer, you seem to have started a new thread of discussion on twitter. One of them read: “Something to ponder. 184 distinguished service awards in Army: Lt Gen-51, Maj Gen-37, Brigs-43, Col -45, Lt Col -5, Majs-3, Capt/Lt -nil.” Once again, my first thoughts were: “Why is this man grudging us the awards.” Even as I was collecting my thoughts, came an email from another retired fellow officer with this link to a blog:, which confirmed your statistics. For all I know, you may have taken the figures from there. But that is not my point at all. Clearly written by a current or former soldier, the blog pushed me to write this email to you. As I mentioned, I was to challenge your assumptions on the military leadership being weak

That this email has taken a completely different turn is thanks to the list ( of awardees for distinguished service I obtained from that blog.

Let’s take a closer look at that list. Among the awardees for PVSM are: the Vice Chief of Army Staff, both the Deputy Chiefs of Army Staff, the DGMO, a former DGMO (and GoC Bengal Area), two Army Commanders, DGMI, the MS, the AG, DGs of Mech Forces and Infantry, two AMC officers, GoC Delhi Area and a couple of others I can’t recognise. Those who got AVSM include: Two Army Commanders, DG Arty, DG MT, Commandant, OTA, among others. I can go on but the blog I mentioned earlier has expressed enough anguish about this ‘wholesale’ awards to senior most officers.

As a former senior officer, I too got one of these decorations and I writing to you not to complain that I got only one but to lament the fact that we have started devaluing them by handing them out by the shovel.

What extraordinarily distinguished service we senior officers do to deserve this? If these awards are for exceptional and well-coordinated operations then how is the former Central Army Commander Lt Gen Anil Chait missing from the list? After all, he coordinated the Uttarakhand relief operations, didn’t he? What about the hundreds of other officers and men who rendered selfless service during that tragedy? Pray, what work does the Vice Chief, Deputy Chiefs, PSOs and even Army Commanders do beyond their assigned responsibilities? Are they not are expected to lead the force and work for the welfare of their subordinates? What is so ‘distinguished’ about their day to day responsibility? Why can’t we have more younger officers being recognised for their courage and their commitment? For their hardships and their leadership in the face of adversity?

Nitin, you, as someone who writes and reports with rare empathy about the armed forces (you said during that brief intervention that you are a fauji kid. Are you?), must raise these question, howsoever uncomfortable they may be. Media today has the power and reach to alter many decisions. It hardly uses its influence to bring a positive change. Will you dare to buck the trend? I do not know you enough to say with certainty that you will but a man lives on hope. I will understand if you decide not to ‘rock the boat’ for I myself am guilty of not showing the moral courage to come out openly and criticise what is happening. Instead I am writing to a journalist–the last thing a fauji should do, serving or retired.

I wish you the very best in your profession and pray that the top brass of the Indian Army does some introspection for its own good and the benefit of the glorious institution that we all have either served or are serving!

Jai Hind!   

Yours truly



Dear xxx,

The first mail I read at 4 this morning was your anguished and angry missive. Let me first thank you for all the good words that you have for me. Yes, I am a fauji kid and proud of that. I have written elsewhere how grateful I am to my parents AND the fauji upbringing. But I digress.

How do I respond to your letter? To begin with, I am 100 per cent with you when you say more younger officers–and in my view even men–need to be recognised early in their career. Awards in the initial stages of their career will motivate them to further improve their work.

In fact, you perhaps missed my later tweet wherein I said: “One way to prevent mass distinguished awards to senior most military offrs is not to give them after 1star. Aren’t they already distinguished?”

In a way our thought process is similar. My argument is officers from Major General upwards should rarely be given these awards. After all, if they have reached two and three star ranks, they are distinguished enough; they have attained these ranks by being better than their peers. Also, I wonder if these awards mean anything outside the military world. Have you ever come across civilians giving you more respect just because you have a VSM and a PVSM? They don’t. May be we need to educate the civilians about military traditions, ethos and culture for them to understand the importance of awards. That’s a topic we can discuss separately perhaps. 

I also want to say this to you: these issues have been raised in the past, but fleetingly. The answer I have always got is that everyone needs awards and rewards from their peers. The distinguished awards are born out of that need. You can argue about it but there is certainly a major section within the military which does not see anything wrong in these awards being given only to senior most officers! I will also not get into a debate with you whether A deserved the award or B did not! 

You have asked me if I will dare to raise the points you have mentioned. Since I am not sure how much interest my organisation will have in this subject at a time when the looming elections in the country hog all the air time and print space, I am going to do the next best thing: Put this exchange up on my Blog (NewsWarrior: for whoever cares to read and react without revealing your identity. I am sure there would be varied–and angry–voices on both sides of the argument, although, admittedly, my blog is certainly not among the most widely read.

Thank you very much for your email. I hope to receive your response soon.

Warm Regards



  1. January 27, 2014 -

    I think a very legitimate point has been made by the gentleman concerned and Nitin. It is extremely funny that every CinC and Chief gets a distinguished service award and there are no cribs and murmurs since every senior officer knows that his turn will come! And MoD and hierarchy uses these to keep the tongues hanging out for those in the queue. The same thing applies for Senior guys taking diplomatic assignments after retirement-those are nothing but sinecures for questions not asked and for being compliant with various schemes of MoD! Navy seems to specialise in these.And the shame of it all is these gentlemen are most vocal in Services get together about bureaucrats cornering post retirement assignment without looking inward.I THINK THAT TIME HAS COME TO STOP THESE AWARDS TO THREE STARS AND ABOVE. THAT WILL ACT TO STOP THIS SHAM.

  2. January 27, 2014 -

    In the eyes of lower Ranks of Army, Navy & AF, the awards given to senior Offrs are #Rubbish. They have no true value in the eyes of general public at large. Armed Forces are losing the respect in civilian society very rapidly due to mistakes committed at the top hierarchy.

  3. January 27, 2014 -

    Dear Nitin,First let me complement you on picking up yet another cause that is inflicting heavy penalty on our defence forces. I am equally anguished at the trend that has crept into our Armed Forces, which seem to have been borrowed straight from our inept politicians. Though I tend to agree with the views of XXXX, a retired senior officer, but am little perplexed at his reasons to remain anonymous. The retired senior officer precisely reflects the problem of Indian Defence Forces.. While in service the senior officers never oppose, resist or give a counterview, but once out of the service they are the first one's to red flag all the ills. Why this malice is not seen or experienced by them while in service? The issue seem to be bigger. Maybe, the right potential based on merit is not being allowed to grow within the defence forces? The weakest link in the defence forces today is lack of right and competent generalship. If the leadership is strong/competent such incidents can never happen after all every senior officer was once the junior most also.

  4. January 27, 2014 -

    I personally feel distinguished awards need a major overhaul. I have seen two star Gens vying for commendation cards, forget about vsm series awards. And if that is not enough it is being given to one and two star dignitaries! Actually, I recommend the following:- a. GOC IN C CC to be given only uoto LtCols. b. Chiefs CC not beyond Cols. c. VSM n AVSM upto Brigs. d. PVSM not beyond Maj Gen. Also non of these shud be given to ppl posted in army hq and comd hqs.

  5. January 27, 2014 -

    Dear Nitin,A point to be highlighted here is that of the Five Soldiers who died in South SUdan in Ambush but were not awarded with anything at All…

  6. January 27, 2014 -

    Generalisations for awards to be based on ranks and postings are belittling to the concept of awards and reflect a poor understanding of the system. We need to acknowledge that award winning contributions can be made by anyone (senior officers included) and award winning work can also be done anywhere (behind desks inclusive). having been at both ends of the sword I would like to speak metaphorically … it is easy to forget the hilt that drives the blade in does as much work in making the kill , of course the bloodied sharp edge gets all the glory and the care. So lets say that everyone is equally deserving of awards….let us apply more exacting standards to what we consider achievements and yes there I will have to say that one must measure accomplishments in proportion to the power…But hey if we cannot even get awards then whats going to be the incentives for the poor sods who dont get periodic promotions or pay hikes and are still expected to give 200%. I have always believed that the best schemes can be sullied by bad intent so there is nothing wrong with the system of awards…let us get honest and professional and become true leaders where we give our team and subordinates more credit and take less ourselves….

  7. January 28, 2014 -

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. January 28, 2014 -

    Dear Nitin,Relax and do and say what you think is right. It is not for nothing that as a rule we are best described as the “Argumentative Indian”!! With warm regards, G Parthasarathy

  9. January 28, 2014 -

    Dear Nitin,Dear Nitin,Super piece and dialogue – it does seem so meaningless now! Don't they get retirement benefits because of some of these awards? Col (retd) Gopal Karunakaran

  10. January 28, 2014 -

    THIS IS FROM A SERVING YOUNGER OFFICER. SO NO NAMESMost of these awards(non-gallantry) are given to people who are quitesenior in service and have demonstrated extraordinary commitment.Compare the numbers with the total strength of personnel the Service-it may make more sense. These are unusual times for the Services,where expansion and modernisation plans are on the roll. Exceptionalwork requires recognition, to keep motivational culture intact. Unlikein the private sector, there are no bonuses , special increments orprize holiday packages that can be given in the Services. Awards arethe only carrots, which have substantial value in accordingrecognition for special contributions.Nevertheless, there is a danger in trivialising the innate value ofawards. Long back, in 2001-02, Adm Nadkarni had written a criticalarticle (Asian Age?)on what he perceived as the de-glamourisation ofgallantry awards, following Kargil and Op Parakram. It may be worth adig.

  11. January 28, 2014 -

    ANOTHER ONE FROM RECENTLY RETIRED TWO-STAR OFFICERIs Army being served by only senior officers, from air conditioned rooms or by all ranks of units deployed for various tasks. Names in the list of Honours and Awards every year, give a total different perspective on this issue. Are the senior officers awarding each other for covering each other or make internal environment to eliminate resistance?No doubt it is not so at the rank of Colonel and below. In fact very many deserving cases are left out at each level of command. Why PVSM, AVSM are only meant for General Officer's? Army needs to examine these issues and correct itself. But Will it do it?

  12. January 28, 2014 -

    Dear Nitin,My views on getting an award is slightly different — but more on that later.Yes, there is a quota system in place, and unfortunately, some do not put that to use with true selections. This raises the question – -should there be a quota system. Unfortunately, due the huge size of our forces, there has to be one, for the simple reason that even a guy doing a desk job is doing work – eg, someone in the procurement or plans branch – without him burning the midnight oil the people on the front line will not get equipment. Same goes of all such appointments. So people getting in peace postings is correct, AS LONG AS THE WORK IS GENUINE and DESERVING.Now comes the question of top brass – – yes, there is an issue that if I am a SASO or SOA or C-in-C am I doing anything extra ordinary by just administering my charge? If there is no war or a catastrophe that requires my extra attention, then why should I get one? And is there any harm that a C-in-C retires without an award against his name? Doesn't lower his standing. Actually, due our miss-managing the awards, he will be looked up to and the juniors will say that,” here is a genuine chap who went up without an award.”This brings me to my personal view on getting am award. When I was a youngster, someone told me that there was an AOC-in-C (a technical officer) who retired without an award against his name, and in the same breadth, the narrator said, ' what a great guy he was!' That stuck to me, and i wanted to retire without an award against my name. When a VM came my way and the Chief's letter came to my office, I was actually not happy and did not tell my wife and kids about it – – others rang up to tell them. But that's, my personal view. Did I not recommend my juniors for awards? I did, but I made sure that only genuine names went up – – you see, there are marks for awards in the promotion boards up to the Gp Capt level (I do not know abt other Services), and so good people must be acknowledged. But if the quota for say WAC is 10 and there are 11 guys who really deserve – one guy loses out. And if for SAC it is 5 but truly only 3 deserve it – 2 extra undeserving guys will still get it and the 11th WAC guy will still not.We HAVE diluted our awards – – there is no question about it. Otherwise you remember the PVC fiasco of Kargil, when the Army announced a posthumous PVC only to find him in a military hospital? That means it was done with no checking and possibly was not deserving — it could be to just to get a PVC for the paltan. But then it is a self-goal, as it becomes routine. In the US, if a service person is put up for a Medal of Honour, a special board is constituted to go into all aspects of the citation. They go and visit the scene of action and re-verify and cross check, and only if they are satisfied is the Medal of Honour given. What would they have done in our PVC case?AND YES, OUR MEN DESERVE TO BE MORE IN THE AWARDS LIST.With regards – -and it is good that you have got this debate going. If you want, you can put my comments on your blog.Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur VM (retd)Distinguished FellowCentre for Air Power StudiesSubroto Park, New Delhi 110010

  13. January 28, 2014 -

    Every Commander should ensure that his subordinate is rewarded for their exceptional work.That should be his ultimate award.

  14. January 28, 2014 -

    Dear Sir,Your point is well taken. However despite or perhaps due to the above Commendation Cards are often given more for psychophancy than any thing else. Lately an Army Commander has give a CC to a retired officer for conducting a fashion show! That too not for the benefit of troops but for the entertainment of officers and their wives. Is there a need for a review? Not to withdraw the award but to have a more balanced view on awards.While on the subject, the CC are represented by large shining badges on the uniform while mentioned in dispatches, often for gallantry, is depicted by a small black lotus leaf on the ribbon. Could we have a sense of proportion?

  15. January 31, 2014 -

    There are two issues here1. Awards being related to rank – Why should PBOR be limited to commendation cards and hony commissions. Also why should an act of exceptional service in peace time by say a Maj not be considered for an AVSM? The 3 examples quoted by Col Prakash are the exceptions rather than the rule. If wartime decorations are open to all ranks then shouldnt also peace time decorations ?2. If 63% of serving Lt Gens were awarded the PVSM/AVSM/UYSM, that means they delivered service of a “most exceptional/exceptional order”. Either the qualifying criteria for these awards is too low if over 60% were the exceptions (sic) or these awards are just being distributed as “retirement gongs” -the latter being the most likely. In fact today if by the time you retire as a Lt Gen and you don’t have a PVSM behind your name ,you in all probability would have rubbed up the COAS /Army Commander the wrong way somewhere down the line.We need a review of the whole system of peacetime decorations for all ranks.