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Sharing The Spoils:FAULTY AWARDS SELECTION, by B.K. Mathur,17 April 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 17 April 2006

Sharing The Spoils


By B.K. Mathur

Another annual ritual, the Defence Investiture Ceremony took place in the Rashtrapati Bhawan the other day.  As usual, scores of military personnel were decorated with medals by the Rashtrapati, who happens to be the Supreme Commander of the armed forces.  The list of recipients every year raises several questions: who gets the award; who selects the awardees; what is the criteria for selection; how do so many people get selected even in peace time; and, importantly, what do the awardees get?  The list also highlights, rather concernedly, that most of the personnel who get medals for gallantry, for valour and courage are Officers of the three Services, giving an impression that only the Officers are gallant and not the Other Ranks (ORs) or the Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs).

In fact, the distribution of military awards is increasingly turning into a farce.  So also the Republic Day awards which the President of India announces every year for defence personnel.  Prior to independence detailed examination of performance and gallantry was undertaken before bestowing high military honours. Imagine, sometime back, a Param Vir Chakra was announced to a jawan “posthumously” only to clarify later that the hero was very much alive.  Earlier, the highest military award was reserved for only a select few whose deeds were subjected to the strictest scrutiny.  More significantly, most of the gallantry awards went to the fighting men, that is, the jawans as they are the real brave personnel who risk their lives in a battle.  Remember, after the II World War, of the 28 Victoria Crosses awarded to the Indian soldiers only two went to the Officers.

The Officer-men ratio remains about the same as in the British Indian Army during the II World War: 20 to one. It was the same during the Kargil operation in 1999 where about 10,000 troops were deployed for what can be described as a minor operation.  Surprisingly, in accordance with the practice since independence about 85 per cent of the gallantry awards went to the Officers.  Undoubtedly, the Officers in the Indian Army always lead an operation but the jawans, twenty or twentyfive of them, are ready to sacrifice their lives behind one Officer.  They do not watch the operation from the sidelines or do not show any courage. Give them their due, please.

The present system of distributing gallantry awards obviously shows that awards are given by policy makers for valour and devotion to duty according to the rank in the Indian Army.  How else can one explain the lopsided distribution of gallantry awards mostly to Officers. The situation is invariably worse in the case of the Republic Day honours where there is near-absence of ORs (Other Ranks) more often than not. And what the gallantry honour means? The Param Vir Chakra, the nation’s highest wartime medal for “most conspicuous bravery” carries an allowance of Rs.1500 per month; Ashoka Chakra Rs.1400 p.m.; Mahavir Chakra Rs.1200; Kirti Chakra Rs.1050; Sena Medal Rs.250.  Just a pittance, indeed.

At once this reminds one of some very interesting observations by former Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral J.D. Nadkarni made after his retirement about the manner in which gallantry awards are distributed to the armed forces personnel.  For the first time in independent India, all the three defence Services, the Army, Navy and the Air Force participated in the 1971 war against Pakistan.  The Government of the day was so keen to claim victory that it began to announce gallantry medals even before the war got over . To make matters worse, Nadkarni disclosed, each Service began to demand its own and proportionate share of the honours. In each Service various Commanders wanted their own share. The Navy wanted exactly the same number to its Western and Eastern Commands.

Worse, Nadkanri further disclosed, the entire process of awards was turned topsy-turvy when the awardees were selected first and the Citations were written afterwards to suit the awards.  The terrible hurry about announcing the awards led to some “hilarious” situations.  The Navy bestowed an award to an Officer believed to have gone down with the INS Khukri only to discover later that the Officer had been hospitalized and was not on board when the vessel sank.  My own younger brother, then a young Captain in the Army, was “informally” informed of an award he was to get for his gallantry in 1971.  Alas, his name could not be recommended because he passed away in a sailing accident at Okhla within days of his Regiment’s return to Delhi from the War theatre after the Pakistan Army’s surrender.

One can go on and on narrating instances when gallantry awards, both wartime and peacetime, have been recommended to connected Officers and some favourite Other Ranks (ORs).  Worse still, deserving personnel, (JCOs) and ORs, are left behind simply because the recommending Officer does not like them.  This growing trend ultimately demoralizes the armed forces, which are already facing problems concerning recruitment of boys of required calibre in military training academies. The forces are at present suffering not only in quality but also in quantity. There is at present shortage in the Officer cadres  of all the three defence Services.

Senior military Officers and Instructors at the academies and training Centres invariably quote the immortal words inscribed at the famous Chetwood Hall at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun: “The country comes first each and every time, and the men you command come next.  Your own comfort and wellbeing come last each and every time.”  Unfortunately, what the advice preached is rarely followed even at the time when the military Commanders get the opportunity to show that the country cares for India’s jawans, sailors and airmen and awards them for their services and sacrifices for the nation.  It is a matter of great concern that those in authority serve their own interests first and those of the men they command and the nation next.

It is high time now that policy-makers in the Union Government took greater interest in honouring its gallant men and Officers. At present the selection process is greatly flawed. An award for gallantry needs to be offered for a major action in time of war or war-like situations as border conflicts.  It must be understood that gallantry awards for minor action would amount to devaluing them – and, worse, no one would care to win them.  Also, the number of such awards needs to be limited so that their value increases. The increased value of a gallantry medal will actually be all the more greater if the monthly allowance that goes with each category of awards is increased substantially. These are important, not minor, things to attract talented youth for the armed forces.  In regard to the military awards, it is perfectly possible that a gallant soldier may just not care to share the spoils!---INFA.


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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