Do I Love My Country Or My Government?

“We are Indians, first & last.”

So said Dr BR Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution. Today, as I watched India celebrate the 68th Republic Day, that emotion was re-emphasised. Multitudes of people from across the country who were standing on Rajpath on a cold wintry morning to badge_logowitness the military & cultural show of strength, were themselves India’s show of strength. Not having missed watching a single Republic Day Parade in the last 23 years, I felt something different this year – a definitive change in the way we have showcased ourselves as a country. If I could describe it in two words, I would call the 2017 Republic Day Parade as “chic & dignified”

With the images of the parade, a series of thoughts went through my mind. India turns 67 from a Constitution perspective. So, does our Prime Minister. Both, he and our Constitution were born in the same year. Our Constitution is what we have to implement in letter & spirit and as the Prime Minister of our country, he has taken an oath to do so.

Robert Ingersoll once said, “In a republic of mediocrity, genius is dangerous.” Do we have to accept mediocrity as a nation and then deny the geniuses a chance to help this country develop & progress? The parade, once again told me that we are no longer looking at mediocrity. The tableaux today & the show of strength by our Armed Forces tell us a very different story. The NSG marched on Rajpath in the parade for the first time today and they could send shivers down anybody’s spine in their uniforms and weapons. LCA Tejas flew for the first time, the Air Force contingent headed by a lady officer, the Naval contingent and the Corps of Military Police all stood like beacons.

The air is one of jubilation, energy and optimism and yet there are systemic challenges that stop us from moving ahead at the pace with which we want to move. The Prime Minister and his team have promised us a government “bearing true faith & allegiance to the Constitution.”

Make no mistake when you read this. I am proud of the way things have turned out in the last two & half years.The greatest hero for a country is the person who gives a progressive vision, a peaceful landscape, a modern mind and an unshakeable belief in sustainable development to his nation. However, there are systemic issues that come in the way of such a leader. The beginning is the most important part of the work for a leader and that has been made. Yet, if the challenge of systemic corruption is not taken care of in our governance processes, all the initiatives will not yield the results visualised or worse, will be killed by those who may not be knowledgeable or interested enough in implementing them.

A show of strength today must translate into everyday practices that will truly make our nation great. We have demonetised our economy last year, yet there are those who still promote cash transactions. Middlemen exist and control our real estate, mines, forests and  certain industries creating complications for those who want to do business with the ease that has been promised by our Government. Swachch Bharat can only happen when the local governing bodies provide infrastructure to keep their areas/regions clean, when water bodies are maintained, sewage systems are built in every village of India, citizens are made aware of hygienic practices everywhere.

Real life situations for commoners like me are very different. We pay tax only to realise that our hard earned money has not been spent on facilities that we can use publicly or worse, those public facilities are ruined, destroyed or exist only on paper. We would love to be self employed, but, the documentation and bribery to start/grow our own business forces us to think twice about contributing to the wonderful Make In India projects. There are those of us who have daughters and love the girl child and would like to work on empowering our young ones as initiated in Beti Padhao Beti Bachao. Yet, when we find our politicians making sexist remarks and perpetrators of sexual crime walking freely on Indian roads, our blood boils. It is a horrible reminder that our show of strength should not just be on Rajpath, but every lane & road and nook & corner of our country to protect and empower our women & girls.

Yes, the government owes its allegiance to the Constitution. However, there are 1.25 billion Indians who believe in the core values of our Constitution, even though they don’t take a formal oath to obey it. In a democracy, the safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society are but the people themselves. Abraham Lincoln said, “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” Today, a handful of political leaders are trying their best to keep the Constitutional processes safe and implementable and are being stone walled by the majority who are loyal to their own interests.

In the heat of introducing initiatives and new projects, let us not forget the foundations that have to be cleaned first. While our foundations are strong and built on core values of our civilisation, they have also gathered a lot of dirt. It is that dirt which has to be washed away for us to acknowledge and the world to believe that our show of strength is not limited only to 26th January.

Signing off with freedom in my mind, faith in my words, pride in my soul and great memories in my heart, I look forward to the day when I can say I love my country and my government. Jai Hind!

Fifty Ways To Thank Our Armed Forces!

Spending time in the UK led me to discover some amazing day to day aspects of British society treats people in general, and the armed forces in particular. In the last couple of days, I took the opportunity of visiting St John’s House, Museum of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (Royal Warwickshire). The museum tells the story of over 300 years of history of the County Regiment, from its raising in 1674 to the Fusiliers of today…a fascinating journey!

What was more fascinating for me was my conversation with a veteran, Major James Fullarton, who was visiting the

St Johns Museum, Warwick

St Johns Museum, Warwick

museum. Major Fullarton was curious to know why an Indian woman was visiting this particular museum as he said not many foreigners are seen here. I explained my background of being an Indian army brat and we started talking. His grandfather had served in the British army in India in the 1920s and his father served in the Royal Navy. Our conversation led us to discussing many things about the state of the armed forces world over and he shared some things that made me feel proud & elated, yet, disappointed & sad. Proud & elated because the community of armed forces world over is based on the same set of ethos and principles, unlike the governments they are part of. Disappointed & sad because we in India, do not do half the things that British, American or any European society does for their soldiers.

Part of my learning that from Major Fullarton is compiled into what I would call Fifty Ways to thank our armed forces and this includes veterans and military wives and children. 1_Flag_of_Armed_Forces_in_India

  1. Listen to their stories with interest. If they have fought wars or are a war-veteran they have seen things you will never see. Listen & learn.
  2. Initiate a special talk by anyone from the armed forces fraternity in your schools or colleges.
  3. Greet a soldier in uniform or a veteran with a smile and a thank you.
  4. Start a social drive for them. Gather people in the neighbourhood or like minded people and work on a veteran oriented project.
  5. Make greeting cards and post them to the soldiers, veterans and their families you know.
  6. Send e cards using social media.
  7. Post messages of gratitude in social media pages dedicated to the Indian Armed Forces. Some of the pages are Indian Defence Review, Defence & Security Alert, Indian Defence News, Indian Defence, etc
  8. If there are veterans & their families in your neighbourhood, acknowledge them on special days like Indian Armed Forces Flag Day, Republic Day and Independence Day.
  9. Invite veterans, soldiers and their families to give a talk on those special days. army women
  10. Those of you who knit, sew or embroider, make something for veterans or their families and gift it to them.
  11. If you are dining out or having a coffee or a drink and you know there is a member of the armed forces (serving or retired), invite them to join you. I promise you…you will have a great conversation.
  12. Do a random act of kindness for the members of Indian Armed Forces.
  13. Visit War Memorials in different parts of India, whenever you travel next. You will also meet some of the serving soldiers then. Talk to them…listen to them.
  14. Talk to your children about the pride we have and ought to have in our military. Instil in them the value of being a nationalist and a patriot.
  15. Open your homes on festivals for soldiers on leave, veterans and families. Make it an occasion they will not forget…neither will you.
  16. As parents and teachers, encourage your young ones to write about the Indian Armed Forces. Post it on social media.
  17. Whenever & wherever you hear our national anthem playing, stop, stand and give a thought to our security forces. They have sacrificed for us hear the national anthem. join-indian-defence-forces
  18. Employers – look beyond the usual hiring process and re-employ veterans. They can truly bring a lot of strength to your organization.
  19. Organizations – do not stereo type members of the Indian Armed Forces. You do not know what potential they bring to the table. Think out of the box…they did when they had to save your freedom.
  20. You will find a lot of car stickers that say Army, Navy, Air Force or Armed Forces. Leave a thank you note on the windshield. You will make their day.
  21. Find out which businesses or companies support veterans in your areas or communities. Become their customers.
  22. If you are running a business yourself, offer discounts to your veterans, soldiers and their families.
  23. Check if the local armed forces hospital will allow you to spend time with recovering soldiers and families. Become a support system there.
  24. Do you know parents of soldiers or veterans? Thank them for raising India’s true heroes.
  25. Proudly display “I love Indian Armed Forces” “I support Indian Armed Forces” stickers on your vehicles. Saluting Our Heroes
  26. If there is a military member at the same restaurant as you, send across a drink or dessert expressing your gratitude.
  27. Support war widows in their endeavour to stand on their own.
  28. Find out Ex Service Men organizations that support children of our martyrs. Work with them in enabling and empowering those children.
  29. Become part of developmental projects in villages and towns our war heroes come from. One such project is the Vir Sainik Graam Yojana.
  30. With the help of your local corporator, mayor, panchayat head, district officer or politician organize an event acknowledging and rewarding our veterans.
  31. With the same people helping, you could also organize a pot luck lunch and invite the local community and veterans.
  32. Take a couple of veterans and their families out for a picnic. Swap life stories…you will realise how different their lives are.
  33. Get in touch with local army schools and see how you can help in some of their projects.
  34. Talk to the local army formations and see what kind of community initiatives they run. The Indian Army has some projects going on where they work with civil society. Become part of those.
  35. A number of Ex Service Men organisations also work with local army formations for certain initiatives. Connect with them and contribute your time and skills.
  36. If you have a special talent, offer to teach that talent to children of soldiers and veterans.
  37. Donate your “air miles” to a veteran family you know.
  38. It is not the job of a military man to campaign or publicize what they do. We can do it for them. It also shows how proud we are of them, what they do to protect us.
  39. A group of like minded people can come together and hold an exhibition with the help of veterans on a particular military theme.
  40. As civilians let us ensure our government does it’s duty, so our Armed Forces can do what they do best – protect our country.
  41. During a family union, please raise a toast to the veterans in your family – immediate and extended. Express your gratitude.
  42. Teach children and the youth of our country India’s proud history and legacy. We have much to be proud of and this legacy we have to pass on to our next generations.
  43. Pass out small flags on Armed Forces Day in your neighbourhood. Share small stories that you know or get people to share those stories with you.
  44. Dedicate a patriotic song in honour of a veteran or active soldier on your favourite radio channel.
  45. Offer a pick up or drop to the airport or railway station to your veteran neighbour and their families.
  46. Encourage your kids to spend time with the veterans or active soldiers whenever there is an opportunity. They will learn a lot. martyrs-day
  47. Teach children patriotic songs and get them to sing them on various occasions.
  48. Employers & Companies – host a special lunch for your veteran colleagues. Acknowledge their contribution to the growth of your company and your country.
  49. Vote. Exercise your franchise. Don’t let their sacrifices come to a naught. A good citizen votes to protect the freedom of our country. Do not take that freedom for granted. Our soldiers have paid with their lives for that freedom. Value it, cherish it.
  50. To truly honour our armed forces make the best of the opportunity the sacrifices of our fighting men and women have provided. Love India with passion, and do what you can to make it a better place.

Who is a military man? A military man – whether active duty, retired or in reserve or re employed – who at one point in his/her life signed a blank cheque made payable to the “Republic of India” for an amount of “up to & including his/her life.” That is honour. A lot of people do not appreciate or acknowledge or understand that fact.

Let us stand up for them, raise our caps, raise a toast and salute the honour and integrity of these brave hearts.

Jai Hind Ki Sena!

A Soldier Never Gives Up…Saving Naushera

Today, as the new government took oath in Jammu and Kashmir, I was thinking of the price we have paid as a nation for this to happen. Even as the debates ranged from what will be priority, to AFSPA, to the new Chief Minister’s statements, to Sajad Lone becoming part of the government, my thoughts turned back to the time when the problem in Kashmir first hit us.

There never was a good war or a bad peace – Benjamin Franklin.

Starting in October 1947, Pakistan employed regular troops along with militants to attack and capture areas in the Kashmir Valley in different sectors. Pir Panjal Range divides Jammu & Kashmir into two halves. Srinagar Valley is on the north east part and Poonch Valley is to the south west. The Pakistani army and the Raiders had attacked the Uri – Baramulla sector in Srinagar Valley first, where they were defeated and evicted. They started making advances in the Poonch Valley, massacring non Muslims in Mirpur, Kotli, Jhangar, with the aim to capture Naushera. If they had captured Naushera, the entire state, south west of Pir Panjal would have been effectively cut off.

Brig Mohammed Usman

Brig Mohammed Usman

It is important to understand this background before reading about how the Indian Army saved Naushera and the courageous acts of our soldiers.

By 25th December 1947, Pakistani army had deployed troops around Jhangar and had captured it. They planned to attack Naushera from the Mirpur – Jhangar axis and capture it. To save Naushera, the axis and the road had to be denied to the enemy. This task was given to Brig Mohammed Usman, one of the 16 Brigadiers of the Indian Army at that time. He was given command of 50 Para Brigade in December 1947 and was asked to cut off the link for the enemy soldiers.

Major General Cariappa had told Brig Usman that Kot, the feature dominating Naushera, had to be captured and secured. The determined Brigadier launched an operation in early February 1948, code name, “Operation Kipper”. Kot

Operation Kipper

Operation Kipper

was secured and played a significant role in inflicting heavy casualty on the infiltrators, who numbered up to 10,000 just a week later. In one of the firecest battles fought, over 900 enemy soldiers died and the attack on Naushera was stopped. This became a major turning point in the First War of Kashmir and Brig Usman came to be called as Naushera ka Sher or the Lion of Naushera.

The next step was to reclaim Jhangar. This was an important junction joining the roads from Kotli and Mirpur. Thus, “Operation Vijay” was launched in March 1948. He wrote a letter to all ranks of his Brigade, before they attacked. It read, ” Comrades of 50 (I) Para Brigade, time has come for the capture of Jhangar. It is not an easy task, but I have complete faith in you all to do your best to recapture the lost ground and retrieve the honour of our arms. We must not falter, we must not fail. Forward friends, fearless we go to Jhangar. India expects everyone to do his duty. Jai Hind.”

Three days later 50 Para Brigade successfully moved into Jhangar, reclaiming lost territory. This irked Pakistan so much that they announced an award of Rs 50,000 on Brig Usman’s head, while he asked for a charpoy and slept peacefully in months.

Unfortunately, the fruits of success were short lived as far as the brave Brigadier was concerned. The continuing fight with Pakistan denied him the pleasure of basking in that success and he died in heavy artillery shelling on July 3rd, 1948, at the age of 36. His last few words before dying were, “I am dying, but let not the territory we are fighting for fall to the hands of the enemy.” His death was a blow to the Indian Army and his state funeral ceremony was attended by the then Governor General Lord Mountbatten, Prime Minister Nehru, Union Minister Maulana Azad and Sheikh Abdullah. For his bravery of exceptional order, dedication and valour, he was decorated with Maha Vir Chakra. J&K04low

An inspiring leader, he believed in walking the talk. He set an example of personal courage, great qualities of on ground leadership and devotion to duty. His memorial in Jamia Milia University stand testimony to this true son of India.

The battle of Naushera saw some fantastic bravehearts, who laid down their lives to help us save the Valley. Subedar Gopal Singh of 3 Rajput, undeterred by the numerical superiority of the Pakistanis, with his men fought valiantly for seven hours. He and his men were responsible for inflicting heavy causalities on the enemy. He led a bayonet charge to separate the attackers. He got isolated and was wounded in the ensuing fight. Sepoy Sikdar Singh found him and carried him back to his platoon. Havaldar Mahadeo Singh assumed command and continued the firing. However, enemy fire killed him on spot. All three were decorated with Vir Chakra.

Jadu_Nath_Singh_Portrait

Naik Jadunath Singh

Lt KS Rathore of C Company, 1 Rajput was yet anther hero who defended Taindhar Ridge and kept the fight on against approximately 1500 Pathans who had crossed over. He moved from bunker to bunker, aggressively encouraging his men to keep up the good fight. At one stage, the enemy came within 50 yards of of the bunkers. Havaldar Dayaram, part of C Company, adopted an ingenious method of firing 3 inch mortars without secondary charges. He started dropping the bombs within 50 yards of the bunker lines without any regard to his safety. This thwarted the enemy approach and also killed many of them. Naik Jadunath Singh was another determined soldier from C Company who displayed great valour and exceptional leadership. He moved his men to additional trenches that were prepared, in such a way that his small group of men, with controlled firing, brought down the Pakistani army from which ever side they attacked.

At the most critical stage of of the battle to defend Taindhar Ridge, Naik Jadunath Singh, left with no option, came out with his Sten gun and started firing into the enemy lines. The surprised enemy fled in disorder and this valiant Rajput met a gallant death as two bullets hit him squarely in the chest and head. He had made the ultimate sacrifice. Naik Jadunath Singh was decorated with the Param Vir Chakra. Lt Rathore and Havaldar Dayaram were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.

The threat to Naushera was eliminated over months and months of fighting in sectors and finally on 20 November 198, Poonch was freed and a link up took place.

The battles to save Jammu and Kashmir have been fought over a period of 60 years. What started as overt fighting, today includes covert fighting to a large extent. We are in a constant state of conflict with Pakistan over this issue. In the bargain we have lost hundreds and thousands of precious lives – on both sides. Today, we have enormous possibilities of new beginnings. cautious optimism, instead of total negativity will save the state from further destruction and pave the way for future generations to reinstate the glory of that beautiful state.

Crazy optimism right…but then I do believe in miracles 🙂