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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Politics of Awards

I had posted an article earlier regarding the Mumbai Attacks titled Gallant Soldiers Die Differently . The post discussed our failure as a society to understand the difference between loss and sacrifice, sympathy and 'pride'; innocence and valour. Today at the Republic day function the failure was legalized by presenting an award meant for Sacrifice, Pride and valour to make up for the loss, sympathy and innocence.

Awards have traditionally been the best cover-up for failures. No, I am not saying that all the personnel who get awards don't deserve them, In most cases they do. What I am saying is that if one wants to cover-up a bungled operation, negligence, failure the best thing is to turn the incident on it's head and then pretend that it was something that couldn't have been prevented and the incident would have led to much more death and destruction had the agency or agencies in question had not handled the situation with the efficiency and professionalism that they did. To create more hype these agencies recommend a few personnel for awards for their devotion to duty, bravery etc etc. I have seen it happening at lower levels but now, today, it has happened at the national level. What more proof do we need that India is developing?

11 personnel have been awarded the Ashok Chakra this year. 11, this is the largest number ever since independence, six out of these 11 are for the Mumbai attacks. So many medals have not been awarded even during the wars that India has had to face since independence. It clearly shows that the awards have also become victims of out nation's Politics.

Ashok Chakra is the highest peace time Gallantry award in India. As I watched, the TV and heard the summary of Citations for the awardees, I was ashamed at the senselessness of the Indian state. There were Jawans and officers from the Police and the Armed Forces who had single handedly fought and killed one or more terrorists. And then came the three from Mumbai, Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar. The summary of citations read out for the three were the same. I could make out that the citation did not reflect the reality and the only truth in the citation was that all that the three of them achieved together was, injure one of the terrorists. It finally took Tuka Ram Ombale to take five bullets in his gut to stop the mayhem that the two terrorists were causing. Thankfully Ombale was also given the Ashok Chakra for his effort. Compare the efforts of Ombale, or Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan or Havildar Gajendra Singh and these three. Do they deserve to be seen in the same light?

Are we not diluting the achievements and the sacrifice of the other awardees who genuinely deserve the award and did much more than these three? It is like the topper and the last person in the class both getting a gold medal. This only shows that we have not or are not capable of recognizing and appreciating the efforts of people. Where will the motivation come from the next time such a thing happens? Are we not incentivising mediocrity by giving awards to non-deserving people? Very soon people will start demanding awards since the precedence has been set. Anyone who does anything more than these three did will and in my opinion, logically so, cite these awards while demanding one for himself or for their son, spouse etc.

All three of them did and were doing a terrific job in their respective duties and were highly capable, no one can take away their due, but giving them Ashok Chakra for being victims of circumstances is not correct. Only because, it trivializes the achievement of others. But Indian Politics, being what it is , will not stop at anything to grab that possibility of even one vote. I am surprised that the other victims of the Mumbai attacks were not given Ashok Chakras.

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