The appointment of Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa as the Punjab Congress chief has been welcomed by ex-servicemen and serving soldiers alike because of his consistent championing of their cause. He has been known for his strong support for the demand for "One Rank, One Pension" which led to the government's partial acceptance of the long-pending demand and paving the way for its eventual full implementation in the future.
Serving soldiers have been gratified at his taking up their grievances and demands and articulating their interests in Parliament, including extension of the branded atta scheme to other stations, speedier construction of married accommodation, enhanced quota of reservations in long distance trains and many others.
Bajwa's concern for soldiers comes from a long family tradition. His father late S Satnam Singh Bajwa, former minister, was well known for visiting the troops with gifts and amenities in the forward areas after the 1962, 1965 and 1971 conflicts.
Brigadier Mohinder Partap Singh Bajwa, his elder brother, served with 14 Punjab (Nabha Akaal) and later commanded the 27th Battalion of that regiment. He was instrumental in capturing Tiger Hill and breaking the back of Pakistani resistance during the Kargil War as the Commander, 192 Brigade. He was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal for his gallant leadership.
There are a number of serving and retired soldiers in his family to provide feedback on the problems faced by them, including my father Major General KS Bajwa, Wing Commander HPS Khera and Lieutenant General Harinder Singh who retired from the Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME).
An analysis of Bajwa's questions in Parliament reveals a keen interest in defence and strategic matters with matters like the state of infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control with China and outsourcing of defence training being raised by him.
Always a guardsman
Motorists generally make a beeline for Pathania Service Station at Sector 34 in Chandigarh because of its high quality and superior service. And why not? After all it is owned by a disabled veteran, a brave hero in the fight against terrorism, who carries with him into business the same values of decency, honesty and selfless service which he imbibed as a soldier.
Surinder Singh Pathania from Salahon, Bilaspur district, the home of soldiers, was imbued with the desire to serve the nation from an early age. His dream came true via the Officers Training School (now Academy) of the Army in September 1970. He served with 1st Guards as a platoon commander in Bangladesh becoming its Commanding Officer in 1990. On January 16, 1993, he led a column of the battalion in action against terrorists during Operation Rakshak. Leading from the front he closed in with the terrorists who were hiding in a farmhouse.
Three of them were eliminated by the Guardsmen with one remaining.
Colonel Pathania intervened to save a policeman who was caught in the crossfire. The surviving terrorist pumped in a burst of automatic fire which hit the brave CO in the back, injuring his spine and rendering him disabled. His leadership, courage and coolness under fire were acknowledged with the Sena Medal (Gallantry).
Undaunted by his disability, Pathania plunged into a second career with the help of a petrol pump allotted by the government. One often finds other veterans visiting him in his office to reminiscence about the old days when they risked life and limb to combat the nation's enemies. A salute to all such selfless sentinels of freedom!
Problems of gallantry awardees from J&K
The State of Jammu and Kashmir is nowhere behind its neighbours in the north in producing valiant soldiers and gallantry awardees. However, the latter face their own peculiar set of problems owing to the remote nature of their territory.
Gallantry awardees of J&K find it extremely difficult to make complimentary card passes for the railways since there is no facility for the same in Jammu or Srinagar. They are forced to travel to the offices of the divisional railways managers at Ferozepur or Ambala where facilities for making these cards exist. In these modern times of high technology and with the Indian Railways' thrust towards modernisation it shouldn't be such a problem to create such resources within the state. Why force the gallantry awardees to travel such long distances?
The Italian Marines issue
One cannot help feeling a grudging sense of admiration for the way the Italian people have stood by their Marines to the extent of endangering their relations with India and jeopardising their country's economic interests. One the other hand not many public figures or those among the general public in our country care to attend the funerals of our soldiers and paramilitary jawans killed in the line of duty.
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