September 6, 2001


 Search the Internet
Send this column to a friend

Print this page
Recent Columns
Pearl Harbour -- no,
     not, the movie
End of tradition
Do India and Pakistan
     need IMF to dictate
     a solution
The voices of reason
'Sirs, why not arms
     arms control'

Admiral (retd) J G Nadkarni

Give him something to fight for

His eyes scan the horizon for any movement, while his ears are alert to the slightest sound. He is at a forward post in Siachen at 19,000 feet. It is pitch dark outside and the temperature is zero in summer and minus 40 in winter. He and his colleague have the job of manning this post for three or four days before he returns to the base camp. It took one day's trudging to get to the post and it will take him one day to get back to a hot meal. In the meantime he has to be happy with his packed meals, frozen like hard rock, which he has to heat over a stove before eating.

During his tenure at this inhospitable post he has an even chance of losing a toe or two due to frostbite. There is also the frequent shelling from the other side. More than a thousand of his colleagues have lost their lives here, some in the shelling, some due to the cold and some because of the terrain.

He is the Indian jawan. He and thousands like him keep a constant vigil day and night in some remote forward posts to ensure the integrity of this nation. Why does he do it? The jawan has enough time to ponder over this question while he keeps guard. What motivates a young man to brave the weather and guard the nation's frontiers under such conditions?

To some, but not all, it is a job. In a country with 350 million below the poverty line and endless lines at the employment exchange, an entry into the armed forces is the acme of ambition. He may not be paid highly but a job is a job is a job. He is well fed and clothed and certainly gets more respect than he ever did before. So what does it matter if he gets less than half the salary of a lower division clerk whiling away time on the lawns outside South Block and doing less than two hours of productive work every day? He still gets enough to send his wife and small child, tucked away somewhere in an obscure village in UP or Bihar and whom he will see for only two months of the year.

But surely salary is not everything. Otherwise he would be only a mercenary. Money rarely makes a man put his life on the line. Most of them do what they do for what the army proudly calls izzat (respect). Tradition. Esprit de Corps. Call it what you will, it is that something which made the Indian jawan charge up the impregnable fortress at Cassino or rush through the minefields at El Alamein. It is what made him face bullets while scaling the steep heights at Kargil, losing 600 of his friends in the bargain.

Tradition has made the Indian soldier fight for centuries. The tradition started long before the victorious armies of Chandragupta and Ashoka. It was alive when a half-starved Maratha army decided to battle rather than surrender at Panipat. That is one reason why the Indian Army places so much importance on izzat and tradition.

During the past fifty years India's politicians and bureaucrats have succeeded in steadily eroding these values from the armed forces. If there is one demand the armed forces have above all else, it is this; give us back our izzat. Tradition aside, if there is one thing which motivates India's armed forces to protect their country, it is the love of their nation. Yes indeed, it is that corny word in today's cynical world, patriotism. In his regiment, every Republic Day the jawan has taken an oath to defend his country and its Constitution. He has been repeatedly told that in the ultimate it is his job to preserve and protect the Indian way of life.

In the early days of Independence it was easy for him to do this. The leaders were veterans of the Independence movement and each a political and intellectual giant. Corruption was at a low level. He could see progress in many areas around him. His village was electrified. New schools had come up. His country was a well respected nation in the non aligned movement. In 1971 they won a resounding victory. Above all television was a long way down the road.

Today it is becoming increasingly difficult for the jawan to be patriotic. The TV brings him instant and vivid pictures of what is happening in the country. He sees the proceedings in Parliament frequently stalled and erudite debate giving way to the shouting brigade. Adjournments have become frequent. He sees the Tehelka tapes and the rampant corruption, not only in the political parties, but touching his own officers. He sees scandal after scandal. He sees the breakdown of law and order, frequent and violent bandhs and political chicanery. He sees not only lumpen elements burning down hospitals but boasting about it on national channels. He might be forgiven then, when he sits at that lonely post in Siachen, for thinking, "What the hell am I doing here. Am I required to lay down my life to preserve this way of life?"

Some ten years ago, the then Army chief, General S F Rodrigues said in an interview that good governance was also a concern of the army. He was pulled up for this by the defence minister and the Opposition but never a truer word was said.

The general may not have said it tactfully, but what he inferred was quite clear. Good governance of the country has a direct bearing on a soldier's motivation. The soldier is indeed proud of his country. But the country also must make it possible for him to be proud of it.

India's army is not a mercenary army. It is poorly paid, badly armed and has to preserve the integrity of this country in some of the most inhospitable areas of the world. Yet every man in it is a volunteer. He is in it of his own free will. Every man in the army from the highest ranked officer to the new jawan is willing to lay down his life because he loves his country.

But Indians cannot take this patriotism for granted. And they cannot just leave it to the army to motivate their ranks. It is indeed the job of very Indian citizen to ensure that the jawan feels like defending this country. If you want to be protected then you must be worthy of protection.

The jawan will be automatically motivated to do his job if he finds a progressive, law abiding, prosperous country behind him. It is indeed the job of the government to create conditions that keep him motivated. To restore order and decorum in public life, to ensure law and order, to reign in corruption and to bring back prosperity. And oh yes, win a few test matches also.

Admiral J G Nadkarni (retd)

Tell us what you think of this column