An askew nationalism
Nationalism transcends politics. And in determining the market value of selective nationalism, the enduring legacy of our soldiers gets obscured.
Last week, the senior-most surviving (and serving) soldier of the Indian defense forces, Marshal of Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, hung up his boots and took off for his heavenly abode. Among all his accomplishments as a pilot and as commander, his most distinguished tour de force was saving the day during the India-Pakistan war of 1965 when Indian and Pakistani Air Forces conducted thousands of sorties in a single month, engaging in large-scale aerial combat against each other for the first time since the Partition of India in 1947. He led the air attack on Pakistan's forward forces, effectively changing the course of the war. This was accomplished in spite of Pakistan having qualitative superiority over the IAF because most of the jets in IAF's fleet were obsolete of World War II-vintage. The following year, Arjan Singh became the first Air Force officer to be promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal.
A colleague who served under Marshal Arjan Singh, Air Marshal Denzil Keelor, speaking to The Quint, made an unfortunate point when he expressed his shock at the younger generation's lack of knowledge about Arjan Singh. It is not uncommon for most young people to be oblivious of recent national history. The ignorance of youth, however, cannot be blamed on them. There has been little effort to systemically imbibe and inculcate a sense of holistic and healthy national pride among young students. Keelor correctly urged for Arjan Singh's name to be included in history textbooks, saying that "People died and we lost thousands of people in the war. We must be sensitive to this."
A five-star rank is accorded to the most senior operational military commanders. India has had three such officers so far; Marshal Arjan Singh was the only one from the Air Force to have been accorded this status. The five-star Generals were Field Marshal K. M. Cariappa and Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. Field Marshal Kodandera 'Kipper' Madappa Cariappa was the first Indian commander-in-chief of the Indian Army (appointed in 1949). He led the Indian forces on the Western Front during the India-Pakistan War of 1947. This war broke out over the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir when Pakistan launched their tribal militia from Waziristan shortly after Independence in an effort to secure Kashmir for themselves. The status of the region, to this date, is close to inconclusive and the territory remains the driving force and pivot of geopolitics for both countries.
Sam Manekshaw, was the Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army during the India-Pakistan War of 1971, and was subsequently the first Indian Army officer to be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal. His illustrious military career spanned four decades and five wars, beginning with service in the British Indian Army in World War II. Known for his quick wit and humorous nature, the spectacular thing about Sam 'Bahadur' was how he led the liberation of Bangladesh by a plan of action suited to the military and not to the political helmsmen above him, and accomplishing the mission at a time, manner, and strategy of his own choosing. Prior to this, following the Partition in 1947, Pakistani forces had infiltrated Kashmir. As per the pact (the Indian government's condition for helping the Maharaja out of the military crisis), the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession. Thereupon, Manekshaw suggested immediate deployments of troops to save Kashmir from being captured. Srinagar was saved just in time.
There are numerous stories of valour and integrity of war veterans. There are many more stories from away from the battlefield. Apart from the ardent admirers of the Indian defense forces, many young people do not seem to understand much the institution beyond the symbolic Uniform donned by the veterans and servicemen. Who is to blame for this? The most well-known war heroes are those who laid down their lives in the Kargil war and in the battle of Longewala. By far, they got their fame (posthumously, in most cases) by means of JP Dutta's films LoC Kargil and Border. This indicates one very obvious thing: unless there is any concentrated effort to make people know about our soldiers, they will not know about them.
There is, unfortunately, a shadow cast on those who have served through this great institution and its cause. The lack of pay-pension equity has escalated the basic concerns about justice, equity, and honour. The One Rank One Pension (OROP) row has no resolution in sight. The eruption of this discontent fundamentally stems from a previous Congress government's decision which intended to ensure 'equivalence' of Armed Forces pensions with civilians. This is inherently a flawed and unwarrantable notion. Serving defense personnel have their personal and professional lives very distinct from those of civilians. The criteria for deciding pension is not simply retirement and years of service. To say the least, this is also largely a military matter and a civilian government had best not meddle with it. Regarding the concern of funds allocation essential to this, it should be a matter of budget pertaining to defense affairs and ought to be sorted out suitably.
Despite myriad cultures and traditions that lend India its heterogeneity, the unique, cosmopolitan 'fauji' culture exists in significant magnitude, goes beyond the serving personnel, and yet does not assert its obvious exclusivity. While the military does its job relentlessly, some regrettable trends have blemished domestic (mal)functioning. Allowing a climate of maniacal mob rule to flourish, proclaiming an exclusive culture with utmost disregard for everything else other than that, brutally silencing any voice of dissent, grit, and critical progressiveness are some major ills of national concern. Governments change. Political parties rise and decline. Nationalism transcends politics. And in deciding the market value of selective nationalism, the enduring legacy of our soldiers gets obscured.
Instilling a sense of holistic and healthy nationalism in young minds is distinct from feeding them information about the struggle for Independence. It is a matter of national culture that must be consciously developed and kept alive because it is non-existent. In overwhelming outbreaks of impulsive nationalism, jingoism pervades the empty space where informed and mindful patriotism should have been extant. In such times of volatile hyper-nationalism, can we expect the tangible entity of a sober, service-oriented nationalism to be honoured more truly and deeply, beyond the symbolism of the Uniform, beyond procurement of military hardware, and beyond Republic Day parade?
(The author is Editorial Consultant and Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The views are strictly personal.)