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Kargil Vijay Diwas is upon us. It is a day of remembrance for and tribute to our armed forces and to the gallant soldiers whose determined efforts saved our country against the enemy on this day in 1999. Many lives and limbs were sacrificed to achieve this, and many families lost their loved ones. We can never forget this.
This year, Kargil Vijay Diwas comes in the wake of the devastating floods in Uttarakhand and Assam. As on countless previous occasions, when our nation and our people have been faced with calamities, our men and women in uniform have magnificently risen to the challenge of saving and protecting our fellow citizens. They have ignored risks and perils to themselves - costing India the life of Wing Commander Daryll Castellino and his crew of 20 in a Mi17 helicopter that had flown unrelentingly to save, rescue and evacuate hundreds of people in Uttarakhand.
The rescue operations involved an entire gamut of planes and helicopters of the Indian Air Force (IAF), including the C130j, the Mi17V and the ALH. This was the largest such operation in the IAF’s history. In Uttarakhand alone, the IAF has airlifted a total of 18,424 persons to safety. It has already flown 2,137 sorties and dropped or landed 336,930 kg of relief material and equipment. This has been a colossal task, executed with discipline that is the hallmark of our armed forces. It has made the nation proud.
This commitment of the armed forces was underlined by Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne: “Our helicopter rotors will not stop churning till such time we get each one of you out. Do not lose hope.” This statement underlines the ethos of India’s armed forces. The IAF continued its operations in the face of great tragedy. The Army, along with some paramilitary units, played an equally significant role with thousands of soldiers working through treacherous weather and geography to reach those stranded. It was an unprecedented search and rescue and logistical effort.
This day is therefore a remembrance day for all the men and women, and their families, who show us everyday what real service to the nation is about. It’s a day when we take a minute and say thanks to these guardians of our security and lives. As was reported, one of the rescued persons in Uttarakhand was moved to say, “Bhagwan aaye hain wardimein” – God came to save us in uniform.
The nation is grateful to the armed forces; the political class would do well to appreciate this groundswell of gratitude. It is critical initiatives are undertaken that go beyond words. It is time concerns of the armed forces were brought out of sub-committees and files and onto the political agenda.
This is also a day when the citizen needs to sign a covenant with the armed forces. The citizen is grateful to the armed forces, and like in countries such as the United Kingdom, must step forth in different forums, including the Internet, to express solidarity. The citizen is a force for change and he or she, through a covenant, can express his or her commitment to the armed forces.
The issues that trouble the armed forces are well known. They are simple and coherent demands and require political will for implementation. As I have suggested several times, it is important to incentivise private sector companies to employ those armed forces personnel who are discharged in their 40s. In May 2013, I had taken this up in Parliament where I had raised the question of whether the Government would consider granting tax incentives/concessions to companies that agreed to hire retired or released armed forces veterans. In this regard, I have written to the Minister of Defence as well as the Finance Minister.
This is a win-win proposal for both the armed forces and the private sector. The Government has responded by stating in bland bureaucratese that “presently no such scheme exists”. But this must be taken up meaningfully – and it will be if the people of our country start demanding it.
Similarly, the long pending issue of One Rank One Pension for the armed forces must be implemented forthwith. This must be done on the lines of the Sixth Pay Commission, as was accepted originally by the Cabinet, and with six per cent interest for the delay in implementation.
This will go a long way in addressing a core concern of retired armed forces personnel.
On this day, we must once again reinforce the fight for justice for our martyrs. It is the perfect opportunity for the government to approach international courts as well as confront Pakistan over the torture and killing of Captain Saurabh Kalia and five other soldiers during the Kargil War. We must pursue with Pakistan the issue of 54 missing war heroes from 1971. Their families have not yet found closure. Some of these families, like that of Flight Lieutenant Vijay Vasant Tambe, have lived tragic, poignant lives for decades.
General George S. Patton, one of history’s greatest commanders, once said, “The soldier is the army. No army is better than its soldiers. The soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.” That is a stirring sentiment, one India must honour. There can be no better day to make a beginning on this front than Kargil Vijay Diwas.
As such, it is important that all of us in our own way get out of our comfort zones and remember the bravery and sacrifices of the Indian soldier. Make this a day of remembrance. If you are in Bangalore, go and visit the National Military Memorial to pay your tribute to the soldiers who gave their tomorrow for your today. If you are in New Delhi, visit the eternal flame of the Unknown Soldier and leave with the dignity of a silent prayer and flowers. Wherever you may be - in your school, at your office or in your community - make it a point on this day to spare a minute, say a prayer and remember the soldiers who gave their lives for the nation. And remember the thousands of families that have lost their loved ones because of their belief in service to our great country.
Think of them, and give this day the honour it deserves.
This appeared in Mail Today on July 26, 2013