In their obituary of Admiral J.G. Nadkarni, VSM, NSM, AVSM, PVSM, the former Chief of the Naval Staff who sadly passed away on 2 July 2018, the Ministry of Defence has used the readily available picture of his son, Rear Admiral Ravi Nadkarni, a serving Naval Officer. This is indeed symptomatic of the cavalier manner in which the MoD treats the armed forces. This has had a shattering effect on the services community, both serving and retired.
It was only the other day that the Defence Minister readily agreed to the issue of an FIR against Major Leetul Gogoi a gallant officer, allegedly on the basis of a telephonic call from the then Chief Minister of J&K, Mehbooba Mufti, without consulting the Army. This shocked the Defence services. When Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, the greatest soldier India has produced and one who is respected not only in India but also overseas, died in Wellington on 27 June 2008, his funeral was attended by a nondescript Minister of State of Defence. from MoD. Mr A.K. Antony, the redoubtable Minister of Defence at that time issued a public statement that it was a conscious decision.
Before this, the MoD deputed a Deputy Secretary to Wellington to deliver a cheque of outstanding dues to the Field Marshal when he lay ill in the military hospital. Apparently, the Ministry of Defence had not finalised the pay structure of Sam Manekshaw after he was elevated to Field Rank. This is the disgraceful manner in which the government of the day treated Manekshaw.
Compare this to the traditions of Great Britain which the Indian military inherited after independence. If an officer of Field Rank dies in the UK, the chief mourner is the monarch of Great Britain who follows the catafalque. The next in line is the serving Prime Minister.
I am sure readers would recall the picture of the President of Italy being the chief mourner following the hearse of an Italian soldier who was killed in UN operations a few years ago.
I belong to a family of eight brothers of which seven were associated with the Defence Services. The eighth was medically unfit. It was a coincidence that at the time of Sam Manekshaw’s passing away, our family was holding its annual reunion. Little wonder that one of the elderly ladies present remarked that it was fortuitous that no one from the next generation had joined the Armed Forces.
I wish to narrate another touching episode concerning our family. My eldest brother Wing Cdr D.B. Mohindra who was staying with his daughter in London after retirement died at the age of 91. The RAF authorities gave him a magnificent send off. Three retired RAF officers reached his home and wrapped his coffin with RAF Association colours. Meanwhile, a flag bearer positioned himself 100 meters away from the funeral house waiting to escort the hearse to the crematorium. As the hearse approached the crematorium, the RAFA flag bearer moved to the front and carried the flag aloft till the entrance. RAFA had also mounted a Guard of Honour wearing their medals and standing to attention. There was a short dedication by a senior RAFA member. They also sent a beautiful roundel of flowers with their dedication.
A large number of mourners were surprised to see the respect paid by Royal Air Force officers to a brother officer from the Indian Air Force. The ceremony was very dignified and intensely moving. Our family felt deeply honoured. They gave my brother so much respect and honour even though he did not belong to their country.
There is a growing feeling amongst the Armed Forces in our country that their dignity and status have been progressively downgraded since independence.
The Indian Armed Forces are second to none in the world. They are a very proud fighting force. Should the Government of India and, in particular, the Ministry of Defence not treat them with the respect and dignity due to warriors?
The writer is a retired Captain of the Indian Navy.