For the people, always
While discharging duty, safety of the civilian population is utmost.
At the height of the so-called human shield controversy, veteran Editor Shekhar Gupta had put a question to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev in his talk show on what advice he had for Major Leetul Gogoi. The Major was the officer in the middle of the human shield controversy for having used a 'stone-pelter' to save a fast-deteriorating situation and brought stranded government officials back to safety.
Sadhguru said that "The decisions made in a battle field or by a fighting force should be left to the last man there because he is the one who is facing the bullets. None of us have any business giving him any advice. Not even me. I would not advise. I would say just do what is needed because you are risking everything. Who am I to tell you what should you do there?"
The preacher said just the right words, conveyed in the right spirit and the message went down well. We are fortunate to be safeguarded by an extraordinary military – Army, Navy, and Air Force. They are often called on duty for the safety of the citizens, helping to salvage a 'civilian situation' in addition to ensuring peace on the border. While discharging their duty in the civilian areas, the safety of the civilian population is of utmost importance.
A case in the point is the recent rescue operations carried out in the flood-hit areas of Arunachal Pradesh, where the IAF lost one of its finest pilots Wing Commander Mandeep Singh Dhillon. India lost one of its best helicopter pilots when an Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) crashed in the thick jungles of Arunachal Pradesh while on a rescue mission last week. Wing Commander Mandeep Singh Dhillon, along with the co-pilot Flight Lieutenant PK Singh, and another crew member from the Indian Air Force lost their lives in this tragic air crash, along with one police person who was being ferried.
The helicopter was on a flood rescue mission in Arunachal Pradesh and had already made five sorties when it went down in the last and sixth sortie shortly after taking off at 3:50 pm from Pilputu helipad near Sagalee for the heliport at Naharlagun, about 13 kms from Itanagar. It was being piloted by Wing Commander Mandeep Singh Dhillon, who was the Commanding Officer of the 115 Helicopter Unit at Tezpur.
The helicopter was evacuating people stranded due to massive landslides caused by heavy rainfall and was led by the Commanding Officer himself. In a tweet the next day, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu said that until it went missing, the IAF chopper evacuated 169 people from Sagalee and Dambuk areas. Dambuk in Lower Dibang Valley district is 350 km east of the state capital, Itanagar.
Dhillon, in the finest tradition of the Indian military, always led from the front in all difficult situations, and July 4 was no different. They flew out on a short notice, rescued 169 people, and on the last sortie, did not carry any civilian back in spite of nine of them waiting at Sagalee as the weather was expected to turn uncertain. The weather did turn as cheat and Dhillon and his crew went down, doing what they loved most, flying and helping people.
In that difficult situation, Dhillon could not have turned to a preacher for an advice. Jaggi Vasudev was so correct in his saying that in the case of a catastrophe it was the soldier's wife, who would lose her husband; his children, who would lose their father. Major Leetul Gogoi's act saved people, hurling petrol bombs and stones at defenseless government officials, from falling to the bullets of the jawans of the quick reaction team under his command.
And look at it, Gogoi, coming from the North-East, used his skills in the Northern Sector. Dhillon from Punjab saved several people closer to Gogoi's home. The Indian military draws its glory from this beautiful mosaic of soldiers from different cultural hues pledging loyalty to the standard of their unit, which flutters under the pennant of the country.
India has the best armed forces because pioneers like Field Marshals KM Cariappa, Sam Manekshaw, and General KS Thimayya, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh and Air Chief Marshal PC Lal, Admirals Katari and Ronnie Pereira, laid strong foundations of a professional military, which commands unbridled respect and gratitude of the nation, at times smeared by unscrupulous politicians out to make some partisan points at the cost of belittling the uniform.
Gogois and Dhillons, and several others about whom we don't get to read or hear, give the cushion to our democracy where we grow free from many fears which stalk other countries of the sub-continent like Pakistan. Historian Partha Chatterjee, whose article created controversy around Major Gogoi's efforts, has never written an article about the Indian armed forces going nursing people from one corner of the country to another, in times of natural and manmade calamities. Did a Farooq or Omar Abdullah acknowledge the contribution the jawans made in rescuing a large number of Kashmiris, first when an earthquake hit the state a few years ago, and then the floods which followed some years later?
Indian armed forces are a volunteer force, trained in best tradition to uphold the safety of the nation and its citizens. They have repeatedly risen to the challenge, be it war or peacetime operations. Be it Gogoi rescuing government officials from subversives or Dhillon rescuing people from nature's fury, they have always kept their personal safety last.
In their act of leadership, if Gogoi received Chief's Commendation, Dhillon deserves highest peacetime award for rendering yeoman service to the nation and its people.
(Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. Views are personal.)