Millennium Post

Jawans, our forgotten heroes

The Berlin airlift was the biggest airlift the Allies had done post-second world war to support a beleaguered city for a year. The Garhwal helilift is no comparison but will go down in the annals of airforce history as the most committed helilift where a group of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots and some civilians put service before self. Under the most adverse conditions and flying in a mountainous terrain where mother nature is in her element, they did a record-breaking total of 1,841 sorties, ferried 270 tons of loads and lifted 15,461 stranded pilgrims till 28 June 2013.

This reminds one of what Winston Churchill remarked during the Battle of Britain, ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’. The Army too lived up to its time tested ethos and assisted in the evacuation and holding of 1,05,000 stranded pilgrims. It also brings to mind the case of Dunkirk where the biggest evacuation in the second world war was done by the British in 1940 after the fall of Paris, though this was a short journey of a disciplined force and not a difficult operation over treacherous terrain and truant weather. All this sends a clear strategic message to critics that the Indian soldier with his dedication, will power, ethos and ability to improvise can combat mother nature. The ethos of the forces is not understood by the nation and the forces too maintain a stoic silence, as that is their ethos – service before self. The forces will merely treat this as a part of duty while the collective history of this great achievement will be written piece meal in various regimental war dairies. Whereas this act finding its place due to the sheer audacity of the nature of relief will go unrecorded, such is our ethos. It is time that the Dehradoon sub area records this collectively for posterity and not lessons learnt alone. The forces need to present their case before the nation, only then will it inspire young men to join the forces.

Another aspect of the forces is the commitment to the task at hand. It is the fierce single-minded obsession to accomplish the mission even at mortal peril, thus the saying, ‘the rotors will not stop till the last man is got out’. Each and every soldier cherishes participating in missions without shying away like his civilian counterpart into obscurity. This was highlighted in the present case when civil administrators initially went missing and those who were present, shied away from responsibility.

The forces also have the ethos of being accountable. Right from the first day, a man is told to be accountable for his comrades and thus they feel they are accountable to each and every citizen. Commitment and accountability in any organisation go hand in glove. The forces were also briefed that because of treacherous conditions they would be at risk but commitment and mission accomplishment inspite of the fatigue kept them going. Also the Indo Tibetian Border Police (ITBP) has proved itself as an organisation worth to be admired.

The Indian nation mishandles both terror and natural disasters, putting its citizens’ lives in peril. Even though it reacts to both issues it does not have a pro active approach to them. Both the National Security Guards (Black Cat commandos) and the troops of the National Disaster Response force are sent to affected areas after the problem escalates. The ethos of the Army on the other hand is that ‘bigger the challenge, the higher the bar is raised’. Every soldier imbibes a nearly 300 old tradition of responding to extraordinary situation. It is times likes’ this when the ethos of the Army needs to be understood and the role of the soldier in Uttarakhand is a sample test case. The ethos of a soldier is time tested and their manner of functioning is somewhat different from others. Thus over a period of time with the Army living in cantonments has led to isolation. This alongwith reasons of perception, failure of civilian military relationship, and a number of emerging scandals have somewhat tarnished the image of the Army. The forces must remember that they need to support the government for the shortest time and not a prolonged deployment. Familiarity breeds contempt and odd incidents need to be guarded by commanders on the ground. An event going wrong is different from ethos, that is what the nation needs to understand.

Command and control during such times should rest solely with the forces. When ever there is a calamity, the need for the forces comes in when the civil administration is not able to cope up to the situation. At such a time a single person who can influence the chain of events needs to be responsible. Currently V K Duggal, an IAS officer located at Delhi is the chief coordinator. The state government is helpless and the forces have four flag star officers at the scene, a two star officer monitoring, a three star officer in front and an Army commander walking with the rescued pilgrims in short the whole chain of command supporting them.

This includes the Army, Air Force, ITBP and the National Disaster Management Authority troops. Yet Duggal, the former Union home secretary, was appointed by the Union government of India on 21 June 2013, as the chief coordinator. The guiding principle should involve asking whether decision makers should comprise of people sitting in air conditioned offices or at the site of action where key issues of inaccessibility and remoteness come to light. So why does a soldier face an unresponsive civil administration which lacks leadership and accountability on his part? It seems the old saying is true- ‘God and soldiers are forgotten in peace and tranquility’. To sum up, it requires political will to understand the ethos of the forces. Is that asking for too much?
The author is a retired brigadier
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