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Of Fake Killlings and Gallantry Awards

By Yoginder Kandhari

ENQUIRY into the fake killings in Siachen is getting murkier by the day. Everyday there are allegations and counter allegations in the enquiry proceedings and these are widely covered by the media. This open enquiry has tarnished the image of Indian Army no end. In recent times it is second major blow to its reputation after the infamous Tehalka expose. That a soldier can stoop so low as to fake enemy killings In order to get decorated is indicative of the fact that the moral fiber in army is already tattered beyond repair. Sadly, such exposes rob the sheen out of legitimate acts of bravery and false the luster of medals awarded in recognition.

It needs to be understood that gallantry awards have often left a trail of doubt about them. One need not dig deep into history to substantiate this. Instances are galore in none too distant past when gallantry awards were dished out on narrow parochial considerations or as cover ups. Citations for awards are often jugglery of words to conjure up battle situations and superimpose those with imaginary acts of bravery.

In this context one can not help but cite an instance from Indian Army's sojourn in Sri Lanka. An operation was launched by a Gorkha battalion in Nitikaikulam to clear the town of terrorists. A fierce encounter ensued in which more than a dozen soldiers were killed and many times more injured, forcing the battalion to withdraw leaving the dead and injured behind. The injured included their commanding officer (CO). Unit authorities had the audacity to declare the CO to be dead. This infuriated the then force commander of Indian Army in Sri Lanka, who incidentally was from the same battalion, so much so that unit was forced to launch another operation in the same area to retrieve the dead and the injured as also the honour of the unit. Hell was let loose when the CO's wife found out that the urn handed over to her did not, in fact, contain her husband's ashes. After a lot of hue and cry, as a compromise settlement with the family, a gallantry award was itched to the commanding officer posthumously.

One can keep on citing instances to substantiate the issue in point but the moot point, as to what motivates army brass to resort to such dishonest practices, remains unaddressed. Given the restricted promotional avenues on offer in army, it is but natural for the people to trick the system to gain fair/unfair advantage in the selection process and manipulating gallantry awards is one such way.

Besides gallantry awards, there is a middle course as well to circumvent the system to one's advantage. Rather than going the risky way of at least having to 'qualify' for the a gallantry award by way of risk prone postings like those in insurgency infested areas, at times, towards end of command tenures commanding officers manage move of units to Siachen to just 'earn' one battle report and move out of the area leaving the troops to rough out the balance of tenure. Needless to say such battle reports carry more weightage in promotion boards than the peacetime ones. The intent in all such cases is too obvious and message is carried loud and clear to the subordinates. In fact it is a quid pro quo between the superiors and the juniors and in Siachen fake killing issue too same equation seems to have prevailed till the CO and Major Surinder Singh fell apart. Thereafter operation 'cover up' seems to have been let loose to save respective skins. If Major Surinder is guilty of fake killings equally guilty are the superiors at all levels as also the system which breeds such a culture.

Outcome of Siachen enquiry can easily be foretold. All enquiries in army follow a preordained script just like a typical Hindi movie. Lesser mortals will be punished severely while others with clout and position will walk away with mere admonitions and then there will be an interlude till one fine morning we wake up to another expose. This vicious cycle will continue unless basic issues involved are addressed. It is a sorry situation where one finds a fine organization going astray. Army as an institution needs professional interventions to set it in order if we do not want numerous supreme sacrifices by the real soldiers to go waste.

Source: Daily Excelsior, July 27th,  2004

  

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