Friday, February 6, 2009


I am reproducing below an article that was received by email. The writer is a retired Lt. Gen. who is an ex-Vice Chief of Army Staff. The letter is a very considered opinion of the author and is reproduced without any comments.



Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi

An unprecedented eleven Ashoka Chakras were presented by the Rashtrapati on the 60th anniversary of the Republic. That the numbers are exceptionally high may not be an issue, as bravery of the most exceptional order cannot and must not be constrained by numbers. However, the highest peace-time award must only be bestowed for exceptional bravery and for no other reason. There is a question mark on whether the awards this year were given only to the exceptionally brave.

In writing this piece I am aware that I am touching a sensitive issue, especially as it is about the death of four highly regarded police officers. To that extent, I am guilty of being politically incorrect, but there are times when one has to speak one’s mind, however unpalatable it may be. This is one of those exceptional occasions. My aim in doing so is not to denigrate the sacrifices made by these officers but to caution the national leadership not to succumb to political expediency when considering such weighty issues as conferring of the highest bravery awards.

We Indians are highly emotional when it comes to death, but emotions have no place when it is a question of recognising valour. The highest recognition for exceptional bravery is the award of Ashoka Chakra in peace time and that of the Param Vir Chakra in the face of the enemy during war. These are the only two awards that are bestowed publicly at the Republic Day Parade and for good reason, so that the bravery of the awardees is fully appreciated by the entire nation. All other awards, for bravery as well as for distinguished service, are presented by the Rashtrapati on investiture parades held at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

In accordance with the official website, Ashoka Chakra is awarded for most conspicuous bravery, or some act of daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice otherwise than in the face of the enemy. All ranks of the army, the navy and the air force, members of the nursing services of the armed forces or of any of the reserve forces, the territorial army, militia and of any other lawfully constituted forces are eligible to receive this medal. Civilian citizens of either sex in all walks of life, other than members of police forces and of recognised fire services are also eligible.

Soon after the terrorist attack in Mumbai, where a number of senior police officers had lost their lives within a few hours of the terrorist strike, an analyst had termed them “Innocent Casualties”. In amplification he had stated that these three officers, along with a few policemen had been surprised, waylaid and butchered without getting a chance to use their weapons. Perhaps their lack of training did not permit them to anticipate and react with operational swiftness. Their dear ones do deserve our deep sympathy and heartfelt condolences, as well as care and compassion, but do they meet the criteria of “the most conspicuous bravery”? The same applies to another police officer who was unfortunately killed in an earlier incident in Delhi.

By all accounts, all four police officers were highly efficient, dedicated and exemplary officers. Their devotion to duty needs to be recognised and honoured, but this is not the way of doing so. There is a vast difference between gallantry awards and awards for distinguished service. A large number of military personnel, especially from the army, lay down their lives or lose limbs fighting terrorists in various parts of the country, nearly on a daily basis. Their sacrifices are for the country. Yet most of them do not qualify for earning gallantry awards, even of a lesser category. Let me cite my own example. I lost my leg during the 1965 Indo-Pak War and became permanently disabled, but I did not get any award. Neither did I ever think that I should have been given one. The same is the case with the large number of soldiers and officers who are killed or disabled in wars or warlike situations. That is how it should be.

In the army, grant of gallantry awards is an elaborate process, where commanders at successive levels give their recommendations after evaluating all facts. Eventually, a committee presided over by the Vice Chief takes the final decision. During this process, the operational staff briefs the committee about all facets of the relevant operations. It is only when all members of the committee are fully satisfied that the award is approved. In the case of higher level of awards, the cases also need the Chief’s approval and later that of the Minister of Defence.

The trend of bestowing gallantry awards merely because officers had lost their lives in terror-related incidents goes back to the death of two senior officers in Afghanistan in a terrorist incident, who were awarded Kirti Chakras, the second highest gallantry award not in the face of the enemy. The two, one a brigadier from the army and the other an officer of the foreign service, lost their lives as they were driving in when an explosive device was exploded by terrorists at the embassy gate. Surely there was no bravery there. The government must take all actions to help the next of kin monetarily and for subsequent rehabilitation, but it must not be done by bestowing high level gallantry awards. Such hasty and irrational decisions taken by the Government devalue the awards, besides creating embarrassment.

My concern in this piece is that if we persist in this type of populous largesse, the sanctity and aura attached to these highest level gallantry awards that the nation bestows on the bravest of the brave would disappear. Surely, the nation does not want this, even if some political leaders desire it for extraneous reasons.


How do we know said...

the writer makes his point very well and surprisingly, i agree.

Piper .. said...

ohh I couldnt have agreed more. I kept thinking about the 3 police officers who were shot down. And I knew they were being foolhardy to get into the front seat of the car(all 3 of them) and go driving around when terrorists were on the loose. I dont think its a lack of training. It was 'josh' I`d say. In no way am I trying to denigrate them. I just feel that some more caution should/could have been exercised.
Having said that, I would also like to add that I completely agree on the awards point as well.I have served on the LOC for 3 years, two of which were during the time when cease fire was NOT on. I know the amount of sacrifice the jawans do.No questions asked. But being in the medical corps, I also know that most dont get the awards they pbly deserve. A small part of that has to do with the superior officers. I remember a case wherein my C.O wanted me to show a case as a BC(battle casualty for the uninitiated), because he wanted to please the brigade commander. It happens everywhere. Still happening. Those who deserve it most, somehow get left out..

Renu said...

I also thought on same line, but being an ordinary person could not put it in words. The way Padma shree's are granted , they have lost their meaning, instead of respecting the awardees, most of the people are ridiculing the govt.
We dont want that to happen to Ashok Chakra.

Usha Pisharody said...

Thank you for sharing this, Sir. Actually there are those who, this time, have felt similarly.

Finally when it comes to political expediency, that is what ultimately measures the extent of bravery sometimes, isn't it? And the said Lt Gen. is true to Army Tradition, being very modest about his own self too. It also takes courage to express an opinion such as this, when the entire nation is inclined to believe that the martyrs of 26/11, or of any other incident last year, is deserving of the awards that were given.

It is food for thought indeed. And perhaps there needs to be more aspects considered, to revere and keep the sanctity of the said awards.

J P Joshi said...

How do we know: I agree with your comment, and have sentiments similar to the General, but could not have expressed it so well.

Piper: Agree with you on both counts. I too have seen bravery being taken for granted.. not being rewarded and taken as part of one's duty,.... and the flip side where it has been rewarded due to extraneous considerations.

J P Joshi said...

Renu: Couldn't agree with you more. We need to maintain the sanctity of our national awards - in any and every field.

Usha: Agree with you completely. The General has put the facts in perspective and in a language and tone that appeals to reason, and does not denigrate the loss of human life and loss to the family. I too second his view that says, "My concern in this piece is that if we persist in this type of populous largesse, the sanctity and aura attached to these highest level gallantry awards that the nation bestows on the bravest of the brave would disappear. Surely, the nation does not want this, even if some political leaders desire it for extraneous reasons".

I too had wanted to write a post on this, but could not have expressed it in such a dignified way. My admiration for the General has gone up many folds.

Joseph Pulikotil said...

Hi JP:)


Excellent post and the General’s article is timely, brave and hits the bulls eye.

It is despicable to note that politicians have started messing up bravery awards for their selfish aims. This is an era of coalition government and every partner in the coalition must be kept very happy at all costs otherwise they will withdraw the support and the Government will fall. No one wants this to happen. You can see what the Marxist party did to the UPA government. The Marxists wanted to rule the country by giving outside support and they threatened innumerable times that they will withdraw support if the central government doesn’t toe their line. In the end they withdrew the support on the nuclear agreement with US.

So the government is always on tenterhooks. In their eagerness to please the political allies they will give money, position and even give away bravery awards without going into the merits of the case. Whether the candidate in question really deserves the award or not is of secondary importance. This is the bane of coalition government. They are guided by the dictum: YOU SCRATCH MY BACK AND I SCRATCH YOUR BACK.

Similar complaints were heard in the sports awards also. Some good athletes got fed up and gave up sports altogether.

The general deserves a standing applause for trying to open the eyes of people who are making a mockery of gallantry awards for their political survival and my compliments and congratulations to you for posting this beautifully written letter with your wise comments.

Wish you a wonderful day :)

J P Joshi said...

Joseph Pulikotil: Thank you for your comment. I agree with you about the state of our politics and politicians. However, I also do believe that we are today at the lowest point in politics, and things can only get better from here onwards. I can see the signs of the youth getting involved and I firmly believe that it is the youth that can bring about change.

I do believe that the General has put in a lot of thought while putting across his views on such a sensitive subject. I also believe that he has done it admirably well, and that is the reason for my having posted the same.

Indian Home Maker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Indian Home Maker said...

I agree.
And I heard everybody else feeling dissatisfied too ....
this way soon the awards will have no real value!

Reflections said...

Thank U for the post!!!!!
The gentleman has expressed his views very even a sentence worded wrongly can create tension.
Everyone of us who thought carefully abt this wd agree with him but not express it for fear of being disrespectful towards the dead amongst other reasons.

J P Joshi said...

Agree with you Nancy - it is a very sensitive subject. The General must have pondered over it at length and then penned his opinion on the subject.