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Why another war memorial?

The news that a 'world-class war memorial and museum' is being built at Amritsar and that Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal will lay the foundation stone on February 12 has come as a shock to the veterans and caused widespread dismay. Lt-Gen Harwant Singh (retd) writes

chandigarh Updated: Jan 29, 2014 13:15 IST
Lt-Gen Harwant Singh (retd)

The news that a 'world-class war memorial and museum' is being built at Amritsar and that Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal will lay the foundation stone on February 12 has come as a shock to the veterans and caused widespread dismay. The chief minister may not be aware that there is a state war memorial at Jalandhar and state war museum at Ludhiana. In addition to these, there is Anglo-Sikh War Memorial at Ferozeshah near Ferozepur and Saraghari War Memorial at Ferozepur, and a Gurdwara at Amritsar in memory of those who laid down their lives at Saraghari. Some of these war memorials are in a poor state of maintenance and upkeep. One does wonder if the chief minister and any of the other ministers have ever had the time or inclination to visit any of the existing memorials and museum!

Fewer recruitments
The only purpose these monuments seem to serve is to remind us that, 'once upon a time,' the people of Punjab had war-like spirit and abundantly contributed to the defence of the country. During those periods, young men from Punjab joined the defence services in large numbers and in percentage terms it used to be over 20%. That figure has come down to 2% in the case of officers and just over 2% for soldiers. Entry into the officer cadre has dropped because of poor performance in written examinations, where very few are able to pass the initial written test and the few that do manage to get past the initial hurdle, do not fare well in the interview etc, partly perhaps due to poor skills at speaking English, confidence and physical fitness.

In the case of soldiers, there is a double whammy at play. One, inability to get past physical fitness tests and two, extremely limited vacancies. Use of drugs at a large scale has destroyed the physical fitness of Punjabi youth. Recruitment in the military was a major avenue of employment, but some time ago, a new policy was introduced which in simple terms means that the percentage of vacancies in the army from Punjab would be in percentage terms same, as its overall percentage of males of recruitable age, in the country. This formula places the Punjabi youth at a great disadvantage because government job opportunities, as such, within the country are not related to any such proportionate basis. So how can such a formula be applied only in relation to entry into defence services, which otherwise was a major avenue for employment of youth from Punjab.

Great disadvantage
On the other hand, Punjab was put at a great disadvantage when industrial policy for the country was worked out in the 1950s. A group of bureaucrats drew a line across the map of the country, west of which no heavy industry was to be located, due to proximity of border with Pakistan. Therefore, no heavy industry was set up in the province, with the result no ancillary industries came up and that impacted industrialisation of the province. That limited job opportunities. More recently, the industrial policy of the country has worked against Punjab and in favour of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. This has resulted in a large number of industrial units shifting out of Punjab, further cutting into availability of jobs.

Therefore, the Punjab government would be well advised to resolve these issues with the central government and demand rightful share of job opportunities for its youth. Since setting up industries etc is time consuming and gets related to many other issues, the immediate remedy lies in increasing the recruitment quota in the army to at least 15%. In addition, the Punjab government should work towards improving quality of education and deploy available financial resources in providing the essential facilities in terms of infrastructure and equipment in government schools and colleges, rather than on, yet another war memorial and war museum. Limited funds available to the Punjab government need to be put to more productive use.

Equally, a concerted effort must be made to deal with the drug menace and the guilty brought to book without fear or favour. The nexus between the police and politicians in the drug trade ought to be broken. Drugs alone have done the greatest damage to the youth of the state. There is also the compelling need to encourage youth to work towards physical fitness. The government needs to get its priorities right.

The Punjab government should work towards improving quality of education and deploy available financial resources in providing essential facilities in terms of infrastructure and equipment in government schools and colleges, rather than on, yet another war memorial and war museum

(The writer, a former deputy chief of army staff, is a commentator on security and current affairs)