It is an irony. When one is young, thought of old age, despite elders around does cross mind but withers off in a jiffy. It is true for all walks of life and is so for the armed forces too. There is, though, a difference with the latter. It is the tag of a “soldier veteran”. He has spent his life with a motto of service before self. Recounting of hardships experienced by him and his family does not require reiteration. Unfortunately, whereas the nation at large recognises it, the birds of the same feather, that are the serving soldiers, do not. Take the case of OROP, which figured prominently in recent times, was literally in a cold store. Efforts to revive and bring it to forefront was a singular effort of veterans. Not one serving chief of any service took a stand in favour unless he was staring at “around the corner” retirement. Post-retirement job opportunities to soldiers who hang up their uniforms in their prime due to service conditions have received lip service by service HQs. The credit of existing avenues is due to the perseverance of veteran organisations and our nation.
As if all this was not enough, there is another nail in the coffin. The military powers that be, have dumped the age old tradition of inviting veterans to the annual Corps Day functions. The matter came to light when I overheard some veterans of the illustrious Corps of Ordnance discussing the issue in whispers. Whispers, because the pride in one’s corps is immense, and a public sharing of negative sentiments is generally avoided. Well , it is now in the open. Western Command Headquarters have taken this supercilious initiative to ban invitations to veterans on Corps of Ordnance Day.
Army Ordnance Corps(AOC) is 242year-old primary component of the Indian Army. It has on its inventory over 1.5 million items of arms, ammunition and all war-like stores. “Tuskers” as they are called with a credo “strength through arms”, is truly an elephant among the forces. Provisioning, storing, accounting and disbursement of combat equipment puts them on the pedestal of “remaining at war even during peace”.
Corps Day functions celebrated annually for all corps of the army is a forum for interaction between the serving and retired to reminisce matters corps. These events are amaranthine traditions of our armed forces and give a fillip to camaraderie and brotherhood which is the bed rock of profession of arms around the world. Western Command Headquarters have been following the traditions religiously hither to fore. The vicissitude this time around is a shocker. Is it the beginning of erosion of the values and ethos of our forces? Or is it a step-motherly treatment to AOC. Frankly, having served the Armoured Corps for 27 years, I often felt that my tank would be a cropper without the great tuskers.
In a visibly choked narrative by an AOC veteran Col Mohan Singh Ghuman, “One has seen the army change since I retired during 1993, but never have I witnessed any one tinker with the age-old traditions like this one. We have taken up the matter with the chief of the army staff, since we demand an answer to such dilutions before they become a custom with the army.
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based retired armoured corps officer. Views expressed are personal)