It was heartening when legendary athlete Milkha Singh, who was the chief guest at the annual Hindustan Times Youth Forum in Chandigarh recently, remarked, “I am what I am because of the Indian Army.” Actor Jimmy Shergill, who was a panellist at the forum’s discussion on ‘Is it the best time to be young?’ was also forthright when he admitted his inability to join the defence services despite being passionate about it. BJP MP and BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur, who was a fellow panellist, declared with pride that he had qualified to join the Territorial Army in December. So far so good.
Then came the intriguing question from Jimmy directed at Kiran Bedi, the first woman Indian Police Service officer who is now a social activist. Jimmy asked her, “Why does a similar sense of passion not exist in the youth of today to don the military uniform?” Well, Bedi’s answer did not impress me. Blaming schools for not motivating and training young minds to take up the profession of the arms is not even a tip of the iceberg. Due to paucity of time, the audience question session was called off but I was eager for a discussion on the issue since, I presumed, I was a lone warrior from the military notwithstanding three young women officers who were being felicitated.
IMAGE TAKES BEATING
Jimmy’s concern is genuine. I don’t wish to bring about the umpteen reasons official surveys give for the crunch in the defence services such as less salary, tough conditions, pyramidal structure and lack of awareness. I believe there is only one reason that demotivates youth from taking up a military career. It is the eroding status of a soldier in our country. This incidentally, has taken a huge beating over the years and almost seems like a planned campaign.
While people are witness to the deeds of valour, sacrifice and patriotism of a soldier both during operations and natural calamities, the government machinery as a whole remains insensitive towards this fine institution. This mindset reminds me of an old saying: “A cavalryman’s horse should be smarter than he is. But the horse must never be allowed to know this.”
Add to this the cheeky statements by our politicians such as, “It is the job of the uniformed to die for the country” or a bureaucrat brandishing civil superiority over the army, “Even a brigadier of the army with 30 years of service does not have power to open fire in aid to civil authorities till cleared by a district magistrate with five years’ service.” The lathicharge on peaceful ex-servicemen demanding the implementation of the one rank one pension (OROP) at Jantar Mantar, incriminating statements by our defence minister suggesting inappropriate behaviour of soldiers asking for their rights or vague counter attacks by opposition political parties, all have lowered the image of the armed forces.
For the discerning youth, the downgrade of the precedence in protocol of defence officers over the years is an indication of decline in status. The impression that inadequate monetary remuneration coupled with tough working conditions and life-threatening curriculum is a demeaning bargain given the respect that the government accords to the services. This works against their making a choice for the profession. To put things in perspective for the benefit of the concerned, I reproduce a quote by a young martyr and Kirti Chakra awardee, Capt R Subramanium:
“You have never lived until
You have almost died,
And for those who choose to fight,
Life has a special flavour,
The protected will never know.”
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based retired armoured corps officer)