Each year, on the eve of Republic Day, when the distinguished service awards for the military are announced, they become a source of some mirth among the serving and the retired military personnel. Good-natured ribbing about the number of Generals getting the awards has always been a point of discussion and often some jokes. But this year something seems to have snapped. The ribbing has given way to anguish and anger over high ranking officers getting an unusually high number of awards.
Social media has aided the dissemination of these feelings of disgust and annoyance and post after post, criticising the awards, have been made on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. The Generals are in the cross-hairs in these posts.
The list of distinguished service awards showed that as many as 50 Lt Generals were awarded various medals ranging from Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM), Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM), Uttam Yudh Sewa Medal (UYSM) and Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM).
PVSM has been awarded to 20 Lt Generals, AVSM to 17 Lt Gens, UYSM to five, Bar to AVSM (meaning a second award of AVSM to same person) to three Lt Gens, VSM to four and bar to VSM to one Lt Gen. If the number of Brigadiers and Major Generals who have been awarded these medals are also taken into account then a whopping number of flag rank officers of the Army have cornered a majority of the distinguished service awards, leaving only a smattering of awards for middle ranks.
And this is what has set off a debate on how distinguished service seems to be rendered automatically after attaining a certain rank and position. Virtually every GOC-in-C of a command and head of arm or service is assured of AVSM and PVSM, in due course, without any explanation of what he did to merit the medal. The dicussions on social media platforms criticise this ‘divine right’ over medals ignoring the services rendered by other officers, JCOs and Jawans who are fobbed off with commendation cards. And these awards do come with a handsome one time cash award for the recipient by the respective state governments across the country. That, of course, is the icing on the cake.
Sample some of the comments made on the awards:
-“Seems only Generals and Brigadiers are serving the nation. We cannot give recognition to our young soldiers and jawans. No wonder we are treated indifferently by others too”.
-“People who are farthest from the scene of action have heavier chest with hung metal”
-“Out of 88 Lt Gens in Army, 50 awarded today. Isn’t it nauseating to see? Out of 187 distinguished service awards, 138 have gone to star rank-almost 75 per cent”
-“Our heroes are our Lt Gen…with pensionary benefits of PVSM, UYSM, YSM, AVSM….We need Lokpal in Army first mto set things in order”
One detailed message doing the rounds on WhatsApp comments that only 25 per cent of the awards have been conferred to middle rank officers-the real work force and numerically the largest number. “Why not recommend names of middle rank officers for these awards. Why not award hard working, industrious and dedicated middle level officers and JCOs? That way the organisation would have shown that it really recognises selfless service. Why cannot we award a Subedar or Subedar Major for distinguished service with an AVSM or VSM?”
The English journalist-turned-World War 1 soldier, Charles Montague is quoted as saying that, “The number of medals on an officer’s breast varies in inverse proportion to the square of the distance of his duty from the front line”.
From the outpourings in the public domain, it is quite clear that something needs to change, something needs to give way as far as the system of awards is concerned. The method must evolve and ensure that the deserving are awarded, no matter what rank, and that it should simply not be a matter of right. Reaching a high rank and appointment itself is a sign of merit and ability. The achievement should not get embellished with a medal just because “this is how it happens”. As the former GOC of 14 Corps, Lt Gen Arjun Ray was fond of saying in the words of Bob Dylan, “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind”.