How Siachen soldier Hanamanthappa gave India an occasion to cheer, and grieve as one

The Siachen braveheart gave India an occasion to cheer and marvel — and to grieve together as one

Written by Manmohan Bahadur | Updated: February 12, 2016 9:30 am
hanamanthappa, lance naik hanamanthappa, siachen, siachen avalanche, soldier dead, siachen soldier, siachen soldier dead, tribute to hanamanthappa Siachen soldier Lance Naik Hanamanthapp, passed away at the Delhi’s Research and Referral hospital

Lance Naik Hanamanthappa is no more — but he has become a symbol of something bigger and left behind a spirit that needs to be nurtured.

Symbolism means to imbue objects with a certain meaning that is different from their original meaning or function. A ring on the ring finger symbolises commitment, while a piece of metal shaped into a three-point star and mounted on the bonnet of a car symbolises a universal acceptance of a motor car of top quality from Germany. The Americans pulled off quite a show on April 17, 2012, when they flew the last Space Shuttle Discovery, perched on its Boeing 747 carrier, in the skies over Washington before retiring it to a museum. Washingtonians poured out of their offices and homes. “There were costumes, there were cheers and, of course, there were tears,” wrote The Washington Post. This was well-thought-out symbolism — a tug at nationalistic chords, so important for nation-building.

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Hanamanthappa gave India an occasion to cheer, to marvel, to rally around the tricolour and now to grieve together as one. The question is, will we grab the opportunity or carry on with our petty quibbles?

Hanamanthappa was an icon in our midst who literally rose from the dead while, to paraphrase Lord Tennyson, there was ice to the left of him, ice to the right of him, ice on top of him — a full 35-feet high at minus 45 degrees Celsius — and yet he braved it all. His corps commander could only whisper “jolly good” and wipe his moist eyes when news of his recovery was broken to him; his wife could only smile. #SiachenMiracle started trending on social media and the whole nation said a silent prayer for his recovery. A young Atal Bihari Vajpayee had called Indira Gandhi “Durga” after the 1971 war victory. Kargil was the next time that political bickering was set aside and all politicians came together as one. Does the politics of our nation require another war to put all energies together for the betterment of India? Can there be a Hanamanthappa effect?

Read: Siachen – Death (and some glory) at 20,000 ft

Hanamanthappa represents valour; he stood for willpower, grit, determination, fortitude and resilience — all that a rising India needs. India requires cohesiveness that is born out of commonly shared values that the Indian army is a shining example of, not the centrifugal and fissiparous pulls of divisive caste politics. It needs a beacon that beckons the faithful in their march to the promised prosperity by leadership of all hues. While the general public is in a rat race to get hold of scarce opportunities, it’s the Hanamanthappas who slog along silently on the fringes of society, oblivious to the majority. There comes a time, but rarely, when a Hanamanthappa happens and enters the collective psyche of a multitude to effect a disruptive change in society and its behaviour. The world saw that in the young Syrian boy lying face down, dead on a beach in the Turkish resort town of Bodrum. That photograph of him moved Europe, and indeed the world, to look at the refugee crisis differently. Aylan, the Syrian toddler, became an iconic catalyst for change in how the international community viewed itself.

Read: Nation pays tribute to Koppad, last rites today

A few decades earlier, during the Cold War, in 1980, the US ice hockey team, composed mainly of college students, defeated the world champions, the USSR, in the semi-final of the winter Olympics. The “miracle on ice” meant an ideological victory for the US against the USSR at a time when national morale was low due to recession and America’s humbling on the world stage due to the Iran hostage crisis. The US needed something to celebrate — the ice hockey team’s victory provided just that and galvanised the American nation.

Lance Naik Hanamanthappa’s epic survival was a “miracle under ice”. His fight can become India’s catalyst for galvanising society to shrug its lethargy and move with fortitude towards our promised future. Is India ready to seize this opportunity? The political leadership of the country has a call to make. It can use the “Hanamanthappa track” to bring India together in its march to prosperity. This would be a fitting tribute to his indomitable spirit.

(This article appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘A tribute to Hanamanthappa’)

The writer, a retired air vice marshal, is distinguished fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies, Delhi