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SOURCE: SUNDAY GUARDIAN LIVE

The whole country celebrated Diwali on Saturday. It was a joyous occasion that everyone spent with friends and family. But spare a thought for the soldier who did not. He kept vigil on the borders, on the LOC, on Siachen and in Ladakh. He did not go home. He was not with his family.

He was vigilant on the borders in this terrible cold so that you and I could celebrate Diwali with our families safely. Soldiers are on duty 24×7. For them, there are no Sundays, no holidays, no Diwali, no Eid, no Gurupurab, no Christmas. Not only do the soldiers do this cheerfully, their families back home support them by not complaining. A child proudly tells his friends that his father could not come home for Diwali because he was on Army duty.

Soldiers stay away from their families so that you and I can sleep peacefully with our families. Soldiers risk their lives so that you and I can be secure. He does not sacrifice his life for his family’s security, or his friend’s, he does it for you and me, the countrymen at large. Can there be a nobler deed?

How can we ever compensate the soldiers for this?

Soldiers serve with the concept of “unlimited liability”. When a man goes into battle, when a man faces terrorists, he faces them with a clear understanding that he could lose his life. It is unlimited, as we cannot assign a value to a soldier’s life. While no one can pay for a life that is sacrificed in such a selfless manner, the country should endeavour to make a reasonable compensation. It should be done with dignity and respect. And equally importantly, the country must enable the soldier to fight better. We must equip him with the wherewithal to be effective on the borders, whether it is modern weapons and platforms or whether it is adequate suitable shelter or clothing to brave the elements.

Any expenditure on national defence and security is the premium to be paid for the national insurance of its security. However expensive it might seem, it is also indispensable. This premium has to be found by the nation to ensure national integrity. Requisite funds for defence and security are not the responsibility of armed forces; it is their need, in order to keep us safe.

During the depression of the 1930s, when there was a cut in defence budget, General Douglas McArthur, Chief of the US Army went to the President Franklin D. Roosevelt to dissuade him from making cuts in defence budget. The President was unconvinced. As a parting shot, General Mc Arthur said, “Mr President, in the next war when an American soldier lies on the battlefield, with enemy bayonet piercing his abdomen and he spits out his last curse, I do not want the bane to be McArthur but Roosevelt.” It is said that President Roosevelt changed his mind and allowed a full defence budget. And history bears testimony to the fact that it was the US Army that turned the tables for the Allies in Second World War.

Whether it is due to cuts in defence budgets or due to mindsets, the defence budgets need to be adequate for enabling the soldier to fight and preserve the country’s territorial integrity. It also includes the pay, pension and benefits for the soldier. He also must feel secure that in case of his death or incapacitation in line of duty, his family will be taken care of. It is a small price to pay for the unlimited liability that he willingly shoulders, for you and me.

In such circumstances, when one hears of grievances relating to pay and allowances, one rank one pension, non-functional upgrades, equivalence issues, disability pensions, different percentages of pensions, it does not do any good to the morale of the soldier. The country has to reassure the soldier about his well-being, within reasonable limits. The soldier should not have to beg.

After the coronation of the Magadh Samrat, Chandragupta Maurya, his prime minister Kautilya, also known as Chanakya, gave his king this blunt advice: “The day the soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadh for then, on that day, you will have lost all moral sanction to be king!”

The good part is that some discontent on these remunerative issues apart, the morale and patriotic zeal of the soldier has not been dented in the least. Captain Ashutosh Kumar and the three bravehearts who made the supreme sacrifice in North Kashmir last week and many such incidents prove the point that the Indian soldier is well-led, he is self-motivated and never hesitates to risk his life in keeping with the concept of unlimited liability.
It is also heartening to note that the Army has a good standing in society. Many may not want to send their children to the armed forces, but they look up to the Army soldier with respect. According to a survey conducted last year by market research firm Ipsos, over 70% of Indians in urban areas find the armed forces the most trustworthy profession, while scientists and teachers bagged the second and third places, respectively.

The outpouring of patriotic sentiment is there to see whenever there are casualties on the borders, whether it is Kashmir or Galwan, Siachen Glacier or jungles of the Northeast. Not only during operations, even in case of any calamity or disaster, the armed forces have practically become first responders. This bears testimony to their professionalism. The country should ensure that a soldier is enabled to remain that way.

Lt General Satish Dua is a former Corps Commander in Kashmir, who retired as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. His book about soldiers’ stories from the battlefield will be published by this year end. Views expressed are personal.