‘Often reviled, mostly ignored, sometimes venerated, he has taken it all in his stride.’
‘He has stood by the nation through thick and thin,’ says Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd).
Over one million soldiers, sailors and airmen serve our country with honour and distinction. They are role models for the nation — the epitome of courage and unflinching devotion to duty.
In hail, sleet and snow, in icy blizzards and pouring rain, the Indian soldier stands sentinel over the nation’s borders in the high Himalayas.
He maintains a silent and lonely vigil along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. He has held the Saltoro Ridgeline west of the Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world, for over 30 years and denied the adversary the opportunity to alter the Actual Ground Position Line.
He has shown his mettle while meeting the Chinese challenge along the Line of Actual Control with Tibet.
From the snow-clad and wind-swept mountains of the Himalayas in the north, to the steaming hot and humid jungles of the seven sisters in the north-east and the shimmering sands of the burning Thar desert in the west, he never lowers his guard.
Along the LoC, he braves daily spells of intermittent small arms and mortar fire from a wily enemy.
Sometimes he lives through many days of heavy artillery shelling when the very earth around him shakes ominously.
Despite the omnipresent danger, hardships and privations of life on the nation’s troubled frontiers, he stands tall and firm.
Stoic and resolute, his spirit never flags.
He stopped the plunder of Baramulla by Pakistani Razakars in 1947 and saved Srinagar.
He took tanks to the 12,000 feet high Zoji La pass in 1948.
He fought to the last man and last round at Rezang La, near Chushul in Ladakh, in 1962 and etched his name in the annals of military history.
He stood fast against the Chinese at Walong.
He smashed Pakistan’s Patton tanks at Assal Uttar in 1965.
He stormed the invincible Haji Pir citadel.
In 1971, he raced across the Sunderbans to liberate Bangladesh and gave back to the oppressed Bengali people their freedom and their dreams.
He sank PNS Gazi and left Karachi burning.
His tiny Gnat flew rings around Pakistan’s Sabres and Starfighters that had been gifted by America.
At Nathu La in 1967 and at Wangdung in 1986, the glint of his bayonet made the Chinese blink.
In 1999, his indomitable courage in the face of daunting odds and steadfast devotion to duty triumphed over Pakistan’s regular soldiers entrenched on the mountain tops near the LoC in Kargil district.
As the world watched in awe, he manned his guns unflinchingly under the very nose of the enemy and, firing in the pistol-gun ‘direct fire’ role, he blew every bunker on Tiger Hill and half a dozen other mountain tops to smithereens.
His unparalleled valour inflicted another crushing defeat on the perfidious enemy.
For many decades in the northeast and since 1989-1990 in Jammu and Kashmir, he has fought insurgents and mercenary terrorists unleashed by the country’s enemies to de-stabilise India.
He has been ambushed, fired upon with machine guns, made the target of land mines and has been tortured and killed in cold blood by ruthless Islamist fundamentalists sent to wage a war through terror on India, but has never wilted.
He has quelled communal and political riots and police revolts.
In all the internal problems confronting India, he has never struck back in anger even in the face of the gravest provocations.
In fact, while fighting with one hand tied behind his back, he has given a new meaning to the term ‘use of minimum force.’
He is called out regularly for flood relief all over the country.
He has removed bodies buried under the rubble of earthquakes at Latur and Dharchula and at other places in the Kumaon Hills.
He coped with determination in the aftermath of the Southeast Asian tsunami in December 2004.
He has risked his life in cyclonic storms in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh to bring succour to his suffering countrymen.
He has often provided essential services during strikes.
He has taken medical aid to remote corners.
He has braved epidemics and plagues.
He has quelled communal disturbances and riots.
He has participated in United Nations peacekeeping operations and earned the gratitude of beleaguered people from Korea to the Congo, from Kampuchea to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and belonging to many other faiths, he prays, eats, lives, plays and fights for India together with his brothers in uniform.
In fact, in many remote corners of the country, he is the flag bearer, the face of India.
Whenever he goes on leave to his village and when he finally retires, he spreads the message of nationhood and a disciplined way of life in all corners of the country.
He has probably done more to knit India together than all the pompous politicians with their national integration programmes.
Often reviled, mostly ignored, sometimes venerated, he has taken it all in his stride. He has never complained.
He has stood by the nation through thick and thin.
He has held the nation together through seven turbulent decades.
In the cesspool of filth, squalor and corruption in public life, he alone stands apart like a shining lotus.
His life is one of honour, glory and sacrifice — of life and limb.
His blood has hallowed the nation’s battlefields.
For our tomorrow, he willingly, selflessly, unpretentiously, gives his today, but asks for nothing in return.
If he frets about anything at all, it is about the national leadership’s callousness in failing to erect a befitting war memorial to commemorate the supreme sacrifice made by his fallen comrades.
But even here he draws comfort from the knowledge that ‘Glory guards with solemn round, the bivouac of the dead.’
He has truly lived up to Lord Krishna’s exhortation: ‘Reward is not thy concern.’
For him, duty is the most supreme religion — the only one he professes (Seva Parmo Dharma).
He gives so much, gets so little in return, yet serves with a smile.
He is the quintessential Indian who has knit India together.
If there is some truth in the phrase kuchh baat hai jo hasti mit-ti nahin hamari (there is something about us that we cannot be destroyed), it is because of the indomitable courage of our soldiers, sailors and airmen and their immeasurable sacrifices.
Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd) is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
IMAGE: The Army Day parade. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI Photo