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Spare the soldier

punjab Updated: Sep 24, 2013 09:07 IST
Col Avnish Sharma (retd)

An elected representative of our country recently offered a cut-and-dried opinion that a soldier's only role in society is to lay down his life and attain martyrdom. I decided to view his remark in a positive light.

During the early '90s, I, as a young column commander, had the opportunity to come to the aid of the civil authorities in the face of unprecedented floods. It was conveyed by the district collector that the services of the army had been requisitioned as a stand-by measure. We were told that the mere presence of soldiers would suffice since the civil administration would manage the disaster with its resources and network of tried and tested functionaries.

The commanding officer, a seasoned soldier, however, made me move out of the unit lines only after my column was composed and kitted as per the standard laid down procedure for meeting a contingency. Till late into the night, he supervised mock training and familiarisation of our troops to battle the impending situation. We reached the nodal village and were taken aback by the extent of the catastrophe.

Amid wails of villagers, we were told about thousands of their marooned brethren stuck in the middle of nowhere. At the sarpanch's house, we met half a dozen civil functionaries from different walks, including doctors and engineers, enjoying chai-pakora, courtesy the langar (community kitchen) put up by the spirited villagers. They expressed their inability to deal with the situation due to lack of resources and wherewithal, even in its nascent stage. We thought it was in their charter to deal with the situation at least in the initial stages.

I wonder what opinion our minister holds on the role of the civil administration functionaries.

Politicians were nowhere in sight till well after the situation was brought under control by the army and only after a horde of photographers and news media were in place along with a public address system. What in the opinion of our neta is the role of a politician in this country? It's ambiguous, my countrymen.

Only a soldier has a charter to attain martyrdom. Well said, sir. It gives us pleasure to be labelled with this honourable role. After all who wants to die for his country these days? We share the sentiment. We want the enemy to die for his country. All our training is directed towards living to fight another day. But for what? An insensitive government that makes resonant statements pumping up security forces and then suddenly slipping into hibernation before the periodic pay commission announcements; posing hurdles in the way of the modernisation of our equipment to make the soldier self-reliant. All this for its vested interest.

The designated roles, our honourable minister should know, get diluted in all cases except that of a soldier. We are proud of this steadfast conviction reposed in us. Nevertheless, please spare the soldier of unwanted glorifications.