How should we ‘celebrate’ the Kargil war?
Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the conflict between India and Pakistan in Kargil.
The fighting ended with a ceasefire on this day, ten years back.
As a college student I witnessed Captain Manoj Pandey’s body being brought into the Command Hospital in Lucknow cantonment before his cremation later.
He died a war hero while recapturing the Khalubar ridgeline, a dominating feature, and was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest gallantry award, posthumously.
That day driving by the place I had little idea of what was happening, but the solemnity and the silence of the crowd and passers-by peering over the walls of the hospital on a busy road invited a second look.
Ten years on, Sunday was the first instance of the UPA government, in office for five and more years, participating in the celebrations.
“The best tribute we can pay to the gallant officers and jawans is to dedicate ourselves to the gigantic task of nation building and work steadfastly to protect the unity and integrity of our nation,” said the Prime Minister at the India Gate war memorial in a wreath laying ceremony.
The government has been seen to be dragging its feet on the celebrations. Initially only division-level celebrations were planned.
Is that good for the morale of the forces and for the nation?
It has been commented in the media that the unwillingness stemmed from the fact that the victory was won under the rival NDA regime and because of renewed focus on mending fences with Pakistan.
What has been seen as even more of a disservice is that the lessons learnt from the brief but bloody conflict are yet to be implemented.
Apparently the NDA government promoted celebrations of the Kargil conflict over the 1971 celebrations of the India- Pakistan war that led to the creation of Bangladesh won under the Congress leader Indira Gandhi.
“Unless you commemorate all wars, a nation cannot respect its martyrs. Kargil was not commemorated for political reasons, even though the strategic implications were high. In a way, the government has taken a good step,” said Major General (retd) Afsar Karim on the belated decision to join in the celebrations by the government.
A cousin who serves in the Indian army asked me, two weeks back, about how enthusiastic the people are about the Vijay Diwas – the Kargil war day.
He wasn’t too worried about the government’s stand as much as what the attitude of the people was.
I had to muddle through with a response; perhaps the question was calculated to embarrass a civilian like me.
Some fear that such celebrations can encourage jingoism.
But the word celebrate also means: to perform (a sacrament or solemn ceremony) publicly and with appropriate rites.
Do you think a people who cannot appreciate the cost of war in terms of lives lost can appreciate the benefits of peace?