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Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Military Digest: Guardians of governance to the fore

Forty Victoria Crosses awarded to Indian soldiers are a great source of pride even after 75 years of the last one having been awarded.

Written by Mandeep Singh Bajwa | Published: April 24, 2020 3:00:36 pm
Military Digest: Guardians of Governance to the Fore ‘Greybeards’ of Governance on duty in Punjab combating the pandemic.

There’s a lot to be said for military discipline, organisation and spirit de corps. The resultant dedication, devotion to duty and camaraderie stays even when out of uniform. If channelised properly it can pay rich dividends. The Guardians of Governance (GOG) programme was started by the Punjab Govt in 2017 to act as the eyes and ears of the Chief Minister and monitor development works and issues of administration in the rural areas. A total of 4,300 ex-servicemen were appointed as ‘Guardians’ covering the state’s 12,700 villages. They send in their reports through a well-oiled system using the latest information technology.

The programme as a force of disciplined, well-organised force has really come into its own as the State Govt’s response body to the current pandemic. It speaks volumes for the GOGs’ dedication that they’re all in the field handling various duties. All elderly men, their devotion to duty is exemplary. This even as policemen over 55 years of age have been withdrawn from frontline duty.

Military Digest: Guardians of Governance to the Fore Guardians of Governance distributing rations to the needy as part of the govt’d relief programme.

Some of the duties undertaken by them are reporting Covid cases, including linking with visitors from abroad, distribution of rations, management of migrant labour, various surveys and data-mapping and reporting the impact on essential services. In addition, various kinds of monitoring have been done by GOGs, including operations of combine harvesters. In the initial period of lockdown distribution of medicines was also their responsibility.

The dedicated cadres have enforced social distancing norms at many places including rural banks. Their service in ensuring proper marketing of the all-important wheat crop has been of the highest order. Not only have they maintained social distancing in procurement centres, with their natural military tendency to ensure justice and even-handedness, they have also been of great help to farmers. I was pleased to read a recent news report about a GOG intervening to prevent a farmer being short-changed in Sardulgarh Tehsil.

Military Digest: Guardians of Governance to the Fore General TS Shergill, Senior Adviser to the Punjab Chief Minister motivating GOGs on a tour of a Punjab district.

GOG Control rooms function round the clock at Chandigarh and all district and Tehsil headquarters. Their own leadership has been of the highest order. Lt General TS Shergill (retd), Senior Adviser to the Chief Minister who oversees the programme has constantly been on the move touring the state and motivating his men. The GOGs’ services will not be forgotten in a hurry say administrators.

For Valour

Indian soldiers were awarded 11 Victoria Crosses for showing exemplary courage during World War One. One was awarded (to Sepoy Ishar Singh) in the period between the world wars and 28 during the Second World War, making a total of 40 in all. These men were held in the highest esteem not only in India and Pakistan but also in the former colonial power, Britain which invited all living recipients to the biennial reunions of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association held in England.

A painting depicting Havildar Umrao Singh winning the Victoria Cross, Burma, 1944.

There are of course no living recipients of the Victoria Cross in the subcontinent, the last survivor, Honorary Captain Umrao Singh having passed on in 2005. So where are their medals now? A large number have been sold (usually at auctions) to collectors, Lord Ashcroft in particular having reaped a rich harvest. Others have gone to institutions like the Imperial War Museum in London. Honorary Captain Ganju Lama’s Victoria Cross now rests in the Gurkha Museum at Winchester in the United Kingdom.

Captain Ganju Lama, VC, MM as Honorary ADC to the President in the 60s.

Other Victoria Cross recipients or their descendants have done the decent thing and presented the medals to their units. There they repose now adding to the motivation and pride of the regiment. Many descendants felt compelled to better their economic condition and put them up for auction in Britain. Who can justifiably blame them with Indian VCs usually going under the hammer for GBP 125,000, a sizeable sum when converted into INR? Some families are very possessive about the coveted medals, even refusing to put them on display at commemorative events or regimental anniversaries. A few are the subject of disputes between descendants.

Thank God one hasn’t yet heard of a Param Vir Chakra leaving Indian shores!

Please contact the writer with your military story on msbajwa@gmail.com or 093161-35343

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