(.) THE PRESIDENT IS PLEASED TO APPROVE THE AWARD OF THE ASHOK CHAKRA TO YOUR LATE SON CAPTAIN HARSHAN R. WHO MADE THE SACRIFICE IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS DUTY TO UPHOLD THE SOVEREIGNTY AND INTEGRITY OF OUR GREAT NATION(.) WHILE SHARING YOUR GRIEF, PLEASE ACCEPT MY HUMBLE FELICITATIONS(.) VIJAY SINGH DEFENCE SECRETARY
Thus read the telegram of 14 August 2008 addressed to Captain Harshan’s father, stating that his son had been awarded India’s highest peacetime gallantry award. Incidentally, Captain Harshan is the youngest awardee of the Ashok Chakra.
If this is the way the nation treats its heroes, there is something drastically wrong about us. From the language of the telegram to the mode of delivery, there is nothing that befits a brave soldier or a nation’s grateful recognition of his gallantry.
The language is typical officialese – a formal and obscure style, that reeks of a bygone British colonial era. Replace “the President” with “H.R.H. the Queen” and “the great nation” with “the Crown”, and the writing would make greater sense. The President should not “be pleased to approve the award” of India’s highest peacetime gallantry award; she should at least be “proud to award” the Ashok Chakra. The nation can certainly find and afford a better drafter for the message than the current one.
Why is the telegram not personally from the President? Or the Prime Minister or at least the Defence Minister? They are the highest symbols of the Republic and the elected leaders of the nation. This is the least courtesy that a nation can offer to its highest heroes. If the status of the initiator is immaterial, then why the defence secretary as the signatory of the telegram? Why not let a clerk in the defence ministry sign the telegram?
This is not a harangue hellbent on nitpicking the technicalities or externalities of the award. Let us not forget that the gallantry award is in itself a symbol. It symbolises grateful commendation and recognition of the soldier by the entire nation and is a source of pride, not only for the soldier’s immediate family, but also to his comrades and innumerable brothers in uniform. At another level, it acts as a motivation to others in the line of duty and provides a sense of gratification to the organisation. It boosts the morale of the average man on the street and reinforces his belief in the armed forces of this nation. The seriousness and decorum of the procedure is a testimony to the importance of the award and reflects on the respect shown to the earlier awardees.
Does the insensitive approach to the award and callousness of its observances by the government bely the importance our society places on values like valour, courage, bravery and national pride? Or is the government taking the cue from the erosion of such values in the larger society?
Whatever may be the case, a big salute from all of us at the INI to all the gallantry award winners! And a very happy Republic day to all the readers of this blog.