As troops trade fire and charges fly thick and fast across the Line of Control, Chief Justice of India T S Thakur, without mentioning the new low in ties between India and Pakistan, Tuesday delved into the recesses of memory to recall the horrors of war.
In 1965, when he was a boy in a Jammu town, Justice Thakur recalled: “After 18-20 days of fighting, a gentleman, Colonel Roop Singh, who used to bring the spoils of war from Pakistan, took us to the territories we had occupied. That is when I got to see the graveyards of war. Bodies had been buried just on the surface, with a layer of soil over them, because nobody had time to dig proper graves. I saw feet in Army shoes being eaten by dogs.”
He was speaking at a function where he presented the 17th Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award to diplomat and author Gopalkrishna Gandhi. Those in the audience included former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, former Home Minister Shivraj Patil and former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh. None of them spoke.
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As Chief Justice Thakur himself said, many in the audience, including students of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management, had never seen war.
“It is a very, very unnerving experience… There were all types of rumours floating around — of Pakistani paratroopers coming and killing Indians. The city became desolate because people started fleeing. Only two shops did good business — a trunk-repair shop where people took their old trunks for repair so that they could lock away their valuables before leaving, and the other was a poultry shop because whoever remained behind thought they might as well have something good to eat,” he said.
Even lighting a lamp or a cigarette after sundown would be a problem. Neighbours would protest since any light seen from above could make one a target of the enemy, he said.
Shastri’s political instincts in difficult times, Justice Thakur said, made him “India’s man of destiny”. He quoted extensively from the former Prime Minister’s speeches including where he spoke on the distinction between India and Pakistan based on religious freedom or the lack of it.
In his award acceptance speech, Gopalkrishna Gandhi spoke on all that had gone wrong with politics and politicians to make the point that Shastri belonged to an era when politics in its present form would have been unrecognisable.
Recalling Shastri’s role in setting up the Santhanam Committee to probe corruption, he asked why Lokpal was still elusive. “Look at the RTI activists who get killed. Ask-and-you-will-get-it has acquired a new meaning. Why are whistleblowers still in danger? Would Shastri recognise Indian politics now? He would not. He was the very antithesis of Indian politics as we know it today. Earlier, you needed to know India to be in Indian politics. Now, you need to know politics,” Gandhi, a former IAS officer and former Governor of West Bengal, said.