As the nation revels in the justifiable pride of yet another Indian, and Army man, Neeraj Chopra, the muted murmurs of the efficacious Military ‘ecosystem’ abound.
What is this ‘ecosystem’? What were its elements? What are the auguries? The Profession of Arms has seeped into the conscience of this ancient land, since antiquity – the nobility of Soldering is captured mellifluously in the Bhagwad Gita, ‘I am a warrior, defending my nation is my Dharma. I will train my mind, body, and spirit to fight. Excel in all devices and weapons of war – present and future. Always protect the weak. Be truthful and forthright. Be humane, cultured, and compassionate. Fight and embrace the consequences willingly. God give me strength that I ask nothing of you’.
As one reflects re-reading the timeless wisdom of the holy scriptures, it’s not just the Golden Warrior, Neeraj Chopra, who befittingly threw a literal ‘spear’, a classical implement of war – but also the haunting images of another apt ‘combat sport’ i.e. Boxing, of a tireless combatant, Satish Kumar, who fought out of his skin and only went out, whilst still punching back.
Both products of that hallowed institution called the Indian Army, whose ethos, traditions, and values predate any other continuing ‘institution’ in the Indian society. Like ‘India’ itself, the codes of Indian warriorship got enriched (not diminished, as is often postulated politically) by the waves of influences that came – often with abject ferocity.
But only to get absorbed and internalized into the uniquely Indian end-product of unmatched nobility, fidelity and chivalry by producing the likes of a Maharana Pratap, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Maharaja Ranjit Singh or Brigadier Muhammad Usman, each who personified the most sacred religion of this institution, Seva Parmo Dharma (‘Service to Nation’, above all).
There is a symbiotic relationship between sports and soldiering, in the way practitioners of both domains relate to their goals, pain, obstacles and to the larger purpose of the ‘team’ (in this case, the nation).
Unsurprisingly, such a fertile conflation of realms naturally begets other Olympic Silver Medalists like Rajyavardhan Rathore, Vijay Kumar and legends like Dhyan Chand, Milkha Singh, Shriram Singh, Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar, Shiva Thapa, amongst countless others.
While ‘facilities’ is one aspect of such a thriving ecosystem, a vibrant ‘culture’ is the other inseparable part of that ecosystem – this vivid ‘culture’ that also extends to other sports like squash, polo, mountaineering, sailing etc., that has thrown its own roll-call of distinction like Raj Manchanda, VP Singh, Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar, Abhilash Tomy etc.
Herein, the institution does not treat such realms as ‘elitist’ (as can be simplistically assumed by the ignorant), but as an integral and essential component of the soldering lifestyle that has sustained that winning ecosystem.
As an example, the view on horses outside of the cantonments maybe that of luxury or even profligacy, but for the proverbial ‘sowars’ on their noble steeds, the spirit animal is a priceless throwback to the knights in shining armour, who in their latter day steel avatar as tankmen ‘cavaliers’ piled up a Pakistani tank graveyard in Asal Uttar sector in 1965 Indo-Pak war.
Recently, the poise-personified Hanoverian equine, ‘Rio’, a bay-coloured charger was awarded the Chief of Army Staff Commendation Card for demonstrating ‘impeccable demeanour, strong core character and sterling qualities’!
Part of the legendary 61 Cavalry that has given an unprecedented 12 Arjuna Awardees in equestrian sports, the regiment now faces the end of a tradition, as the horses make way for tanks – the conversion though necessitated by the times that be, still diminishes a certain lifestyle aspect of the Military calling, and counter-positing the argument of inevitability, functionality and ‘modernity’, can be a wholly convenient argument in the face of one tradition falling after the other.
Seemingly, even Golf Courses are too much of any entitlement and the rush to rechristen them as Army Environmental Park & Training Area, had be undertaken – the proverbial ‘closed gates’ of the cantonments which euphemistically dissuaded the air of societal-morass and ‘divides’ that gave the Forces a semblance of discipline, unity and order, has had to ‘open’ and make way for civilians, the minor trifle of security, be damned.
The silent institution carries the can for the national task of optical-austerity and visibilised ‘nationalism’ as the CSD Canteens are bereft of international brands and the curbs on entitlements and lifestyle are certainly not incumbent on other arms like the civil servants, CAPF’s or the political classes.
The misplaced Nehruvian perception of the Military’s supposedly ‘privileged’, charmed and ‘entitled’ lifestyle, has only worsened with an alternative set of regressed, jingoistic and localised aesthetics that brazenly diminish the traditions and ecosystem (even its ‘quirks’ that made it inimitably unique), facilities and ‘culturality’ – in the same partisan spirit of ‘cleansing’ that is being undertaken in civil society.
The fount, aesthetic and spirit of that erstwhile ecosystem that is increasingly under threat, had bore its imprint across the canvass of other professional callings (beyond sports), that reflected the same sense of refinement and excellence, that behooves the Military institution.
From the non-nonsense, dignified and upright politicians like Jaswant Singh, BC Khanduri to the uber-confident but grounded entertainment artistes like Sushmita Sen, Priyanka Chopra or Anushka Sharma, each who linked their success to ‘brat’ experiences as Military kids, for chiseling and rounding their personalities.
But then, both a Jaswant and Khanduri had to face the ignominy of surrendering to the new winds that blew in their own ideological camp and were soon eased out to usher in a completely different set of aesthetics and sensibilities.
For that institutional fount to continuously incubate that essential quality and efficacy of output (be it amongst the ‘Uniformed’ members or their families), would necessitate the continuous nurturing of those institutional moorings, and not the diminishment of the same.
Today, despite emerging as the most revered governmental arm, the Defence Forces stare at crippling shortages in the officer cadre – the unsaid reality is that everyone wants the Military to defend the country, though given a choice, they’d rather have their own children join some other profession.
Seemingly, everything is under the scanner and the sword of denialism, cuts and work related ‘overstretch’ seems reserved for the Armed Forces, and that negatively impacts that proverbial ecosystem. The only way to hide the ensuing curbs is to mask the same under hyper-nationalism, revisionism and partisanism – the ultimate bane of any professional institution.
The much bandied ‘Mission Olympics’ of the Armed Forces was envisaged and implemented in 2001 – since then, it has churned out creditable results but that same has taken investments in terms of finance, patience, commitment and flexibility (all of which can be questioned for its relevance, today?).
In the humdrum of success, the tendency to forget or downplay the challenges of retaining and nurturing such initiatives, in today’s times, has an amnestic quality that begs the opportunity to reiterate its value.
The potential medal winning shooters will always require imported guns, ammunition, and even training abroad – just as rowers would need the double scull boats, riders may need thoroughbred Hanoverian horses or golfers, the ability to unapologetically have access to golf courses!
But will the institute be spared the Janus eyes of those prying on its traditional ‘ways’ and tastelessly suggesting things like Bollywood tunes on Beating Retreat, putting mattresses for civil events etc. – or will it survive its independence, élan and dignified restraint, that always exemplified the illustrious, apolitical and ‘inclusive’ idea of Constitutional India? Now is an ideal time to celebrate and introspect, simultaneously.
About the Author
Commissioned in and subsequently commanded 17th Rajput, the author fought in the 1965 & 1971 wars and various counter-insurgency operations in J&K and North East. He was the Military, Naval & Air Attaché for the East & South Africa Region. Later he was the Military Secretary to Presidents, KR Narayanan & APJ Abdul Kalam. He was the ‘Colonel of the Regiment’ of the Rajput Regiment, President’s Bodyguards, and the Army Physical Training Corps. He retired as the Director General of Military Training. He is currently a columnist for leading publications.
(This article was first published in the 'Citizen' and has been reproduced with due permission from the author in the larger interest of the military fraternity. Views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)