This year’s Kargil Diwas, on 26 July, is special as it is the 10th anniversary of the day when the last of the Pakistani intruders were killed or chased out of the Kargil Sector, by the doughty brave hearts of the Indian Army and Air Force. The Kargil Sector is actually a swathe of real estate along the Line of Control (LC) in J&K, stretching north east from the steep glaciated heights north of Drass and extending to the general area of Turtok, just short of the Siachin Glacier.
I do not intend to cover the factual details of the various battles fought in the sector, but will highlight some nuances. Kargil had caught the imagination of every citizen of our country during those tumultuous summer months of 1999, from the time the intrusion was first discovered in early May, till the last of the Pakistani soldiers were neutralized and the entire area on our side of the LC was sanitized by 26 July.
The various battles fought in the sector were a series of tactical level offensive operations, conducted at battalion and brigade levels. These were essentially marked by two important features - the formidable nature of the terrain and the sheer bravery of the officers and men of the Indian Army, who scaled those formidable and razor sharp sheer heights, unmindful of their lives and limbs. They did so in many a hand to hand battle and won victories on the high peaks, where the defenders-the Pakistani troops, had all the advantages. The nation lost 527 valuable lives, all brave young men, who sacrificed themselves, with grit written large on their determined visages and a fierce fire burning strong in their bellies.
Why is such unparalleled bravery forgotten by our countrymen within a span of a mere 10 years? Have our nationalistic feelings atrophied that we have no time to remember the sacrifices of our brave soldiers and airmen, who fought so valiantly to restore the sanctity of the motherland? Is it the government, which needs to be reminded to take the lead, or the military or the people?
I recall, with a great deal of nostalgia, the Vijay Diwas of 2000, one year after the Kargil operations. It was an event to remember. I was then commanding the Western Army at Chandimandir. At my instance, an extremely well attended remembrance cum homage function was organized by the army at Chandigarh. Governors and Chief Ministers of both Punjab and Haryana had led the people in paying tributes to the Kargil warriors. The inhabitants of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali came in their thousands to pay homage and to remember the warriors, who had fought and conquered both the hazardous terrain and the well-entrenched enemy. As the ceremony ended, thousands of candles lit the entire ground; it was a sight that set the adrenalin pumping. Sadly, in the years that followed, Kargil disappeared from the radar screens of the government, the people and sadly even the media. Only the military remembered their comrades and held ceremonies and commemoration events, but only within the confines of their cantonments!
The media and the ex-servicemen (ESM) have taken a lead this time in generating enthusiasm for the 10th anniversary of the Kargil Diwas, but alas there is not even a squeak from the government so far. On 26 July, a ritual and token ceremony will no doubt be held at the India Gate, with the Raksha Mantri and the three service chiefs laying wreaths and only a few media cameras in attendance. In our democratic country, the ‘Aam Aadmi’, whose paeans we sing these days, is not even permitted to come within 100 metres of such ceremonies. At best, they can view them on TV, but only fleetingly as the electronic media is stingy in airing such bytes! This must change, not only in the case of the Kargil Diwas, but on the few commemorative military events we still observe, even perfunctorily.
Ours must be the only country in the world where decisions to commemorate military events are based on which political party is in power! One national political party celebrates Kargil Diwas because that military victory took place when theirs was the ruling party. The other does not, but celebrates Vijay Diwas instead, as it was their party which was in power when the Indian Military did the country proud by their resounding victory over Pakistan in 1971. A third category popular with the government is when no event is celebrated on the specious plea that it may adversely affect the peace process with a particular country! The end result of such a lackadaisical attitude on the part of the government is that the military, which is proud of its brave military heritage, is forced to have such celebrations and remembrances in the confines of their military stations and cantonments, with no participation by the civil populace, the political leaders or the government. What a dismal and farcical situation?
The present government, in accordance with their party’s election pledge, had carved out the Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare from within the Ministry of Defence in 2004. It is this Department that should take a lead in celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Kargil victory in a befitting manner, but it seems to be wallowing in indecision, waiting for a cue from the political leaders. Despite its existence for almost five years now, no worthwhile welfare measures have been instituted by this organization. The reason is simple. This organization, from its inception, should have been manned by military officers who understand the problems of serving personnel and ESM, as well as their ethos and culture. The result of such pusillanimous behaviour by this organization is further disillusionment of the military.
The government would do well to keep in mind what the famous military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz, had expounded on the remarkable ‘trinity’ of the government, the military and the people, that is essential for victory for a nation. It is equally applicable to the nation even in non-war situations. Will the government take a lead and bring them together?(Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi is a former Vice Chief of the Indian Army. This piece, sent to me by the General, appears in the forthcoming issue of Salute magazine)