Date: 16 Feb 2009



            "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 the medal. Civilian citizens of either sex in all walks of life other than members of Police forces and of recognized fire services are also eligible".
      The above is as per the initial gazette notification. It is apparent that the proviso pertaining to the exclusion of the Police and fire services personnel from the award of Ashoka Chakra has been recently amended to make them also eligible for this decoration. Considering that these two services had pointedly been made ineligible for this prestigious and coveted Military decoration and also taking into account that they have their own awards, it is mystifying and beyond comprehension as to why so long after initiation of this award, this stipulation needed to be removed.
       Except for the fact that the Military and the Police are both uniformed organizations, there is nothing even remotely common between the two. There is an unbridgeable gap in the ethos, work culture, value systems, standards of probity, mind set, officer-man relationship, accountability at all levels and sense of fair play between the two formations. Therefore, it is unreasonable and illogical to have common awards. If required, some additional police- specific decorations could be instituted. Where is the need to intrude into Military decorations. 
      Now, consider the havoc which has been perpetrated since the removal of the qualifying clause. Just about 40 Ashoka Chakras were awarded in the long history of independent India from the time of entry of this decoration in the list of Military decorations. Yet, in only 1 year, may be the very first year of their inclusion, the policemen have contrived to get 7(in fact they were trying for 16 for the Mumbai policemen alone). This was grab- as- grab- can at its worst and ignominious level. If this is a precursor to what will follow, we will become an inter-national laughing stock.
              The award of Ashoka Chakra to a Serviceman is an ultimate honour, not only to him but also to his unit, and its anniversary celebrated with maximum participation, year after year. It motivates the coming generations to emulate the shining example of valour set by their predecessors. The ethos of the Services is that any number of deserving cases could go unrecognized but no undeserving case should ever get it. Now, that even the highest such decorations are going to become a dime a dozen, they will lose their luster and become a subject of ridicule and derision.
       In the Services, there are a number of filters through which a recommendation for a decoration goes through. At every stage, facts are checked, corroborated and verified. In the event any inaccuracy is detected at any stage or it is felt that the act of the recommended gallantry is of a lower level, either the recommendation is rejected or a decoration of a lower order recommended. This process ensures that the chances of an undeserving individual getting an award are minimized if not eliminated altogether. What happened in the case of awards for Mumbai or Batla House policemen? Without an inside knowledge, it can, at best, only be surmised. After the initial initiation of the citations (geniuses who wrote these citations need to be rewarded for building fables and making normal actions in the line of duty into conspicuous acts of bravery), the whole thing was leaked out to the media who immediately took on the responsibility of batting for the "brave hearts". A matter, which needed to be treated discreetly and sagaciously, became a subject of public debate. Most unwarranted and unedifying lobbying by the State Govt, local police establishment, the family and the colleagues followed. At the end of the day, this whole exercise cheapened Ashoka Chakra, trivialized the system and demonetized the complete galaxy of Military decorations. By association with such shenanigans, the highest peace- time decoration of our Nation stands diminished in stature and halo. 
      Should the Nation's highest decoration for bravery in peace- time be given out in this cavalier, irresponsible and disdainful manner? Were these revered awards being doled out as alms to cover up and silence the rampant and Nation- wide opprobrium and criticism of the establishment for its total failure to provide the citizens a modicum of security? Or, was this mockery of rules played out to spite the Armed Forces? Never mind the self- congratulations and mutual adulation, who out of the discerning and knowledgeable will believe these cooked up canards?
      Lives are precious and their loss need to be mourned. Memories of the martyrs should have a permanent place in the Nation's psyche. The Nation owes a debt of gratitude to the martyred policemen of Mumbai and the one who made a supreme sacrifice at the Batla House. Their sacrifices having been acknowledged by the Nation, their families needed to be suitably honoured and compensated. However, the all important question is whether their act of martyrdom merited the award of Ashoka Ckhakra. The award is a fait accompli. Even so, the question needs to be answered honestly, dispassionately and objectively without any competitive finger- pointing. The matter is of supreme significance, hinging on the credibility of the Military decorations. In the interest of the Nation, this matter should not be converted into police versus the Military. The Police and the Military are two most important organs of the State. Both should have their own space and need to be nurtured. However, the interests of one should not be allowed to impinge or poach on those of the other. 
      If merely coming in the line of fire and getting killed was to be the criterion for getting a gallantry award, then 109 Param Vir Chakras should have been awarded for the heroes who made the supreme sacrifice of their lives at Rezangla in 1962. The present generation would not have even heard about this epic battle, without any parallel anywhere in the annals of military warfare. The 113 soldiers who took on wave after wave of the Chinese hordes and fought them for several hours against the heaviest odds laid down their lives one by one and bunker by bunker. Hundreds Chinese soldiers were mowed down. Of the 113 martyrs, only 14 were decorated which included one solitary Param Vir Chakra.
        What about Kargil? This is comparatively a recent battle. A very large number of our compatriots would vividly remember it. More than 500 officers and men sacrificed their lives on the icy heights of  Kargil in fighting the well- entrenched Pakistani intruders for weeks. It was a saga of supreme grit, raw courage, human endurance and sheer determination. That was bravery in every sense of the word. If death was synonymous with gallantry, all of them should have been decorated. However, the decorations conferred were only a small fraction of the sacrifices made. 
      It will be best left to the intelligence and imagination of the reader to compare the Batla House action and Mumbai episode with these epic battles. The "encounter" at Batla House is a matter of wide spread controversy and,yet, an Ashoka Chakra has been conferred on a police officer. In the Mumbai action, one solitary Kasab was wounded and captured. This one great act of bravery was an excuse to decorate not 1, not 2, not 3 but 4 "brave hearts" with the Nation's highest award. It is a classic case of one "kill" and a dozen claimants. Going by the media reports and statements of families and friends, they were all excellent and brave police officers. However, the subject matter is about justification of the award of Ashoka Chakra to them, under the circumstances which were public knowledge. At least some who did not even know what was happening around them, who were taken unawares, who got killed without even firing a bullet or who merely came in the line of fire without any chance of reacting did not, by any means, display bravery. Did they merit Ashoka Chakra? If this is not a travesty of the laid down norms, then what is?
      One is forced to come to a conclusion that these awards were all cooked up and given to cover up failings, inadequacies, lack of preparedness and lack of action at various levels. And, in this game of brazen cover up, sanctity of Military decorations which are the most coveted possession of the Armed Forces has been destroyed for good.
      What does the future hold in this regard? Hereafter, there will a fierce competition between States, various police organisations, classes and communities to show who has managed to garner maximum Ashoka Ckakras. These awards will be doled out as political or bureaucratic patronage as is the case presently with the Padma awards.
      Where does it leave the Armed Forces? Every one who is concerned about the legacy, ethos, customs, traditions and values of our Services should get involved in preventing this perverse and blatant sacrilege. Ordinary Indians should take up this matter. The media has a very onerous responsibility to build a public opinion in this regard on behalf of the Military. In fact, the silence of the media so far is a great mystery. The truth is bound to be known to them. So, why are they quiet?
Our Armed Forces are a National asset. Their interests should not be sacrificed at the alter of one up-man-ship. This pernicious game is being played at various levels out of sheer jealousy and avarice, unmindful of the long lasting damage being wrought on the Nation's security and unity.This must stop.