I write this email on an assumption that you will, like you have done during our earlier sporadic interactions when I was in service, keep my identity concealed for reasons that would become clearer as you scroll down this mail.
Like me, you have seen the list of awardees for gallantry as well as distinguished service in the Army released on the eve of Republic Day, 2014.
In fact, I read your blog which posted photographs and brief description of each of the recipients' bravery that fetched them Kirti and Shaurya Chakra or other medals for gallantry. I was also following your tweets throughout 26th January. Sometimes I feel you are more fauji than the faujis themselves! The photographs you posted of the tri-colour flying at Dras and in Siachen brought a lump in my throat.
Then in the evening, I saw you and heard your brief intervention at the Flags of Honour Foundation function which had a theme: "Do we Care for your soldiers?"
If you had not introduced yourself to the audience, most would have mistaken you for a former military officer. So passionate and genuine was your view about the mistreatment meted out to the soldier by this country at large. You aptly described the fact that today the soldier has slipped to a lowly position in the social hierarchy in India for various reasons, not the least because senior military leaders, among others have also let the soldier down. Your remark, in the first instance, did hurt me. For I was, till the other day, a senior military leader. I meant to confront you at the end of the function but you left early. I had made up my mind to write a stern email to you especially negating your contention that senior military leaders often let the soldier down.
By the time I returned home and got onto my computer, you seem to have started a new thread of discussion on twitter. One of them read: "Something to ponder. 184 distinguished service awards in Army: Lt Gen-51, Maj Gen-37, Brigs-43, Col -45, Lt Col -5, Majs-3, Capt/Lt -nil." Once again, my first thoughts were: "Why is this man grudging us the awards." Even as I was collecting my thoughts, came an email from another retired fellow officer with this link to a blog: http://swordarm.in/?p=685, which confirmed your statistics. For all I know, you may have taken the figures from there. But that is not my point at all. Clearly written by a current or former soldier, the blog pushed me to write this email to you. As I mentioned, I was to challenge your assumptions on the military leadership being weak
That this email has taken a completely different turn is thanks to the list (http://indianarmy.nic.in/Site/FormTemplete/frmTempSimple.aspx?MnId=PQvQY/4oLUCBfKtBVLKjPA==&ParentID=N3pAsPUrqwRr9HhQ3uSb5g==&flag=w8XT6R9/GkyXdQNkLYfMPg==) of awardees for distinguished service I obtained from that blog.
Let's take a closer look at that list. Among the awardees for PVSM are: the Vice Chief of Army Staff, both the Deputy Chiefs of Army Staff, the DGMO, a former DGMO (and GoC Bengal Area), two Army Commanders, DGMI, the MS, the AG, DGs of Mech Forces and Infantry, two AMC officers, GoC Delhi Area and a couple of others I can't recognise. Those who got AVSM include: Two Army Commanders, DG Arty, DG MT, Commandant, OTA, among others. I can go on but the blog I mentioned earlier has expressed enough anguish about this 'wholesale' awards to senior most officers.
As a former senior officer, I too got one of these decorations and I writing to you not to complain that I got only one but to lament the fact that we have started devaluing them by handing them out by the shovel.
What extraordinarily distinguished service we senior officers do to deserve this? If these awards are for exceptional and well-coordinated operations then how is the former Central Army Commander Lt Gen Anil Chait missing from the list? After all, he coordinated the Uttarakhand relief operations, didn't he? What about the hundreds of other officers and men who rendered selfless service during that tragedy? Pray, what work does the Vice Chief, Deputy Chiefs, PSOs and even Army Commanders do beyond their assigned responsibilities? Are they not are expected to lead the force and work for the welfare of their subordinates? What is so 'distinguished' about their day to day responsibility? Why can't we have more younger officers being recognised for their courage and their commitment? For their hardships and their leadership in the face of adversity?
Nitin, you, as someone who writes and reports with rare empathy about the armed forces (you said during that brief intervention that you are a fauji kid. Are you?), must raise these question, howsoever uncomfortable they may be. Media today has the power and reach to alter many decisions. It hardly uses its influence to bring a positive change. Will you dare to buck the trend? I do not know you enough to say with certainty that you will but a man lives on hope. I will understand if you decide not to 'rock the boat' for I myself am guilty of not showing the moral courage to come out openly and criticise what is happening. Instead I am writing to a journalist--the last thing a fauji should do, serving or retired.
I wish you the very best in your profession and pray that the top brass of the Indian Army does some introspection for its own good and the benefit of the glorious institution that we all have either served or are serving!
BELOW IS MY RESPONSE
The first mail I read at 4 this morning was your anguished and angry missive. Let me first thank you for all the good words that you have for me. Yes, I am a fauji kid and proud of that. I have written elsewhere how grateful I am to my parents AND the fauji upbringing. But I digress.
How do I respond to your letter? To begin with, I am 100 per cent with you when you say more younger officers--and in my view even men--need to be recognised early in their career. Awards in the initial stages of their career will motivate them to further improve their work.
In fact, you perhaps missed my later tweet wherein I said: "One way to prevent mass distinguished awards to senior most military offrs is not to give them after 1star. Aren't they already distinguished?"
In a way our thought process is similar. My argument is officers from Major General upwards should rarely be given these awards. After all, if they have reached two and three star ranks, they are distinguished enough; they have attained these ranks by being better than their peers. Also, I wonder if these awards mean anything outside the military world. Have you ever come across civilians giving you more respect just because you have a VSM and a PVSM? They don't. May be we need to educate the civilians about military traditions, ethos and culture for them to understand the importance of awards. That's a topic we can discuss separately perhaps.
I also want to say this to you: these issues have been raised in the past, but fleetingly. The answer I have always got is that everyone needs awards and rewards from their peers. The distinguished awards are born out of that need. You can argue about it but there is certainly a major section within the military which does not see anything wrong in these awards being given only to senior most officers! I will also not get into a debate with you whether A deserved the award or B did not!
You have asked me if I will dare to raise the points you have mentioned. Since I am not sure how much interest my organisation will have in this subject at a time when the looming elections in the country hog all the air time and print space, I am going to do the next best thing: Put this exchange up on my Blog (NewsWarrior: nitinagokhale.blogspot.in) for whoever cares to read and react without revealing your identity. I am sure there would be varied--and angry--voices on both sides of the argument, although, admittedly, my blog is certainly not among the most widely read.
Thank you very much for your email. I hope to receive your response soon.