Time to Resurrect “Jai Jawan”

Amar Jawan

State of the Union speech is delivered by the President of United States every year in January. This year Mr. Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union speech. The content of the speech would have held no importance to an Indian citizen if he was to watch it, but what would have impressed him, apart from Mr Obama’s style of delivery, would be the fact that the whole House stood and applauded and appreciated in unison, Republicans and Democrats putting their differences aside, when the President mentioned the services and sacrifices of the Armed Forces of the USA in his speech. This appreciation and respect for the Armed Forces is extended whenever and wherever soldiers are likely to be in attendance in an event, regardless in private or official capacity, throughout the USA. While flying between cities, the Captains of each flight proudly announce the presence of any soldier on-board, and even at the Sea World in Orlando, before Shamu goes on to display his skills, the host first extends his admiration and respect to the American soldiers present in the audience which is followed by huge round of applause by the audience.

And here, in my country, rarely has the Government or its politicians shown any appreciation or respect to our soldiers, except during wars. Our soldiers who have fought five wars since independence; who continue to fight insurgency on our borders; who live in the harshest of conditions to protect us from our adventurous neighbours; and, who are called in to help during floods, earthquakes and riots are treated with arrogance and disdain by our political and bureaucratic class, and with indifference by the society at large.

One Bihar politician had the audacity to say that soldiers join the army to die only when he was asked why no member of the ruling party in the state was present at the airport to receive the bodies of slain soldiers. And then you have a District Magistrate in Aligarh lashing out at the families of dead soldiers for asking for compensation. According to him it is only in India that families of soldiers demand compensation while families of American soldiers never do. Mr District Magistrate should understand that no citizen of India trusts the Indian government or the bureaucracy to give them what is due because there are many in the system willing to siphon off money to fill their own coffers than to pay the full amount, or not give at all, to the aggrieved families. While in the USA, the government is trusted that it will do its duty to take care, with full respect and honour, of its injured soldiers and the families of those dead.

Continued insurgency and border skirmishes, apart from the wars, in the last 65 years have taken a huge toll on the Armed Forces. Staying away from families and beloved ones for months on end; demoralised by the insensitive and careless government and administration, both central and state; despondency over nepotism and sycophancy, a fallout of a corrupt and inept governance, that ails the services has made many leave the services early, and frayed their nerves enough to turn the guns to target their own colleagues and seniors. Minister of Defence Mr A. K. Anthony had admitted in 2012 that military personnel who took pre-mature retirement numbered 11,760 in the preceding year, and in the current year, i.e. 2012, the data till December 1 showed that 10,822 had put in their papers.1 These figures are not enough to raise an alarm yet, but enough to give a wakeup call to our Government to take charge of the situation. The question is whether the Government will pay heed to the wakeup call before the alarm bells go off.

The Government has sat on files concerning the Armed Forces for years together-be it upgrade of weapons and equipment, salaries, housing etc.- case in point one-rank-one-pension demand by ex-servicemen. In the last many years not a single encouraging step has been taken to boost the morale of the Armed Services. The little that has been done seems to be done by a reluctant Government unwilling to treat these people fairly who have protected our borders with bravery and pride, but a Government willing to deride and disparage any genuine demand made by them. Ex-Chief of the Army, Gen. V.K. Singh when addressing a rally of ex-servicemen in September last year blamed the bureaucracy for holding up files even after the Minister of Defence had cleared many welfare schemes for the personnel.2 Do we infer that the bureaucracy is more powerful than the Minister? Is it not the responsibility of the Minister to ensure officers under him do their work?

After years of neglect from the Indian political class, and the consequential diminishing of respect and honour for the Jawan in the Indian society, the soldiers will eagerly support anyone willing to even establish a War Memorial to boost their morale and esteem in this thankless and neglectful society. Obviously, Mr. Narendra Modi, an astute politician that he is, has struck the right chord amongst the servicemen.

If only the series of Governments since our independence had paid wee bit interest in the welfare of our soldiers, spared some time to lift up their spirits and morale, risen above political, selfish and egotistical gains and honoured our men in uniform in every which way, or at least appreciated their sacrifice at every forum possible, directed and ensured the administration at the local level to take special care of the family of every soldier –in service or retired or dead- residing there. All these actions would have made a soldier proud and a citizen prouder of its Jawans and would have drawn many people to the Forces. But alas, the politicians and the people of this nation have failed and forgotten the Jawan. All that is left is mere tokenism.The lyrics of ay mere watan ke logon hold more importance now than ever before to bring back “Jai Jawan” to its rightful place.

In the year 2012 Mr A.K. Antony, the Defence Minister, in his reply to a question on shortage of manpower in the armed forces said that the Indian military faced a shortage of 66,699 personnel in the Army, Air force and the Navy combined.3 The Defence Minister gave reasons like difficult service conditions, perceived high risks, lucrative alternative career avenues etc for the shortage, but he forgot to mention how working in the armed forces is perceived so poorly in eyes of the society at large, and that it most probably is one of the main reasons for citizens not wanting to join the Forces. This perception is because we, as a nation, take the soldiers and their lives for granted and their welfare comes way below in the Government’s list of priorities, even below ordinances that protect criminal MPs and clearances of 300% hike in the salary and 100% increase in allowances to MPs.4

Patriotism intensifies with symbolism, and our armed forces are one of the central symbols after the national flag and the lion capital because they are living icons of bravery, discipline and, most importantly, secularism. The way we treat this brave mass of citizens will decide how patriotic our future generations will be and how much pride they will take in our nation.

The lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Charge of the Light Brigade sums up the unappreciated role of “mute” soldiers aptly, even though written in 1854 it still holds true in 21st century India.

Someone had blunder’d;

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.

 

 Source:

  1. News article – Indian Military facing Manpower Shortage, Deccan Herald, December 10, 2012. Viewed on 29 January 2014  (http://www.deccanherald.com/pages.php?id=297621)
  2. News article by Sat Singh– Parties urged to meet, one rank one pension demand, Hindustan Times website, September 1, 2013. Viewed on 30 January 2014 (http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/parties-urged-to-meet-one-rank-one-pension-demand/article1-1116048.aspx)
  3. News article – Indian Military facing Manpower Shortage, Deccan Herald, December 10, 2012. Viewed on 29 January 2014  (http://www.deccanherald.com/pages.php?id=297621)
  4. News article- 300% Salary Hike, but some MPs want more, NDTV website, August 20, 2010. Viewed on 29 January 2014 (http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/300-salary-hike-but-some-mps-want-more-45822)