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Magical algorithm of our defense forces

No loss goes unavenged. No call remains unhonoured

Magical algorithm of our defense forces

Since the age of Vedas and the epics, cultural instincts of the Indian soldier and his behavioural conduct has been subjected to and honed by certain martial traditions, values, and codes that thrive in the long-term muscle memory of modern day Indian Armed Forces. A unique framework of religio-social sensitivity without the accompanying bigotry or puritanical insistence, a regional-ethnic celebration without the exclusivist or supremacist dogma, and a carefully incubated and guarded interpretation of its own liberal moorings have evolved, within its 'barrackised' confines. Thus, unlike other security forces like the Police forces or the Central Armed Police Forces, the relative isolation from the societal morass (politics, external interferences, or administrative red-tapism), has ensured that the glint in the bayonet is effectively deployed for any kinetic operation, without any fuss or favour.

One key differentiator from any other executive arms of the government is the quantum of investment that the Indian Defence Forces affords on history (both, good or otherwise) and 'living up to it'. This results in an elephantine memory for the institution that disdains forgetting and 'moving on', without settling scores, albeit, in a heroic, noble, and soldierly (opposite of mercenary) manner. As the Indian Generals stoically underscore, following any terrorist attack, "We won't disclose how we will retaliate but we will do it at a time and place of our choosing", and settle the score they do, for they are wired not to fail a fallen fellow-soldier. It is specific revenge, not generalised vendetta against a populace or even a nation.
This unsaid camaraderie manifests in the silent pride that the institution feels on the commissioning of Swati Mahadik within its ranks – the wife of the Braveheart, Colonel Santosh Mahadik, who in an exclusively Indian phenomenon of military leadership, led from the front in the Kupwara sector, before succumbing to bullets in an anti-terror operation. The institutional pride gets doubled with the co-commissioning of Nidhi Dubey, whose deceased husband was a Naik in the Army. While these women won their own individual battles in life, as indeed, did the institution that still retained the faith and trust of these two, who had lost an irreplaceable part of their own lives, in this calling. Like the 'Surgical Strikes', the commissioning of these women is a cherished ode to 'why we never leave behind our own'.
As with glory, shame is deeply and profoundly personal, yet collectively felt, reposed, and shared. To comprehend the intensity of passion and the retaliatory urge, the composition party of the Indian Armed Forces that undertook the two recent 'Surgical Strikes', one in Pakistan and earlier still in Myanmar, is a giveaway of the institutional ethos. Certain manpower from the affected units (which had earlier drawn blood owing to a terror-attack on it) are deliberately drawn and drafted into the final raid party that subsequently crosses the border to inflict the 'Surgical Strike', as part of the deadly, limited, and calibrated response. The sacred 'Izzat' of a paltan is restored as it partakes the avenging of its fallen own. This unwritten code of 'I have your back' presupposes the inviolable trust, commitment, and action within the fraternity. It is the impact of such cohesiveness and blind trust amongst each other that ensures irrespective of the dangers, the Indian soldiers simply don't disintegrate. From Kargil, the classic infantry attack that reinfused the necessity of raw courage even in modern battles to a civic disorder like Dera Sacha Sauda melee in Panchkula, wherein the immediate impact of introducing just six columns of Army detachments, vis-à-vis the parallel specter of hundreds of fleeing policemen, tells a story of two parallel institutions.
From time immemorial, supremacy is accorded to warrior codes of chivalry and the spirit of never-say-die, as opposed to 'victory' at any cost – Maharana Pratap is revered more for his unbreakable pledge towards his land, audacious courage, and the fight-to-the-end, as opposed to military victories, necessarily. Similarly, his progeny in the Armed Forces today hero-worship, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla from the Navy who went down with his ship in the 1971 war or Major Shaitan Singh whose unparalleled heroics involved refusal to retreat in the face of certain death, in the 1962 Indo-China war. Invoking such spirit, even from the ill-fated 1962 war led to a complete reversal of fortunes in 1967 when the Indian Armed Forces bloodied the nose of the Chinese in Doko La and Nathu La. It is this DNA, which held its own amongst the hardy soldiers in the recent Doklam impasse. No loss remains unavenged, no call remains unhonoured.
The institution has its inexplicably complex systems that often befuddle the mainstream understanding – from priding over 'Battle Honours' won under the British Army, swearing on maintaining sartorial appropriateness whilst inspecting 'Guard of Honour', insisting on the term 'Veteran' to 'civilians' for those who have hung their boots, to being the only calling that is allowed to retain the 'Rank' after retirement – the well-oiled system, runs smooth and efficiently, without any interference or political beneficence. While emotions are all-prevalent, there is a very short-fuse against theatrics and everything follows and respects the 'order' that is handed down. The highest 'officer-to-men' casualty ratio amongst any armed forces in the world, is a blunt testimony to the preferred winds of leadership that blow in the cantonments.
While the politicians and news anchors debate make condescending pronouncements and appropriations - the steely institution remains proudly silent and apolitical. It even handled the Lt Col Purohit issue based the 'orders' that flow, and not out of any sense of opinions as the contours of the case go beyond professional necessity. A kinetic force, lethal but dignifiedly silent is now the last bastion of inclusivity, secularity, and patriotism – that differs from majoritarian, illiberalism, or jingoism. Gender is immaterial and the inclusion of women is based on their merit and not any publically ordained sense of gender-balance, Swati Mahadik has earned her justifiable spurs to wear the uniform that her husband once wore with much aplomb and respect. As society wonders at the magical formula, the simple algorithm of unchanged history, balance of respect and discipline, spirit of nation-above-all, and the tireless training are surprisingly missed on most occasions.
( Lt General Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Bhopinder Singh

Bhopinder Singh

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