That they prevailed against tremendous odds, is a tribute to their guts and valour. The drama of Kargil was enacted over nearly two and a half months, till the last of the Pakistani intruders were killed or chased out of the Kargil Sector, by the doughty brave hearts of the Indian Army and Air Force. The Kargil Sector is actually a swathe of real estate along the Line of Control (LC) in J&K, stretching north east from the steep glaciated heights north of Drass and extending to the general area of Turtok, just short of the Siachin Glacier.
Kargil had caught the imagination of every citizen of our country during those tumultuous summer months of 1999, from the time the Pakistani intrusion was first detected in early May, till the last of the Pakistani soldiers were neutralized and the entire area was sanitized by 26 July.
The various battles fought in the sector were a series of tactical level offensive operations, conducted with courage and élan. The officers and men of the Indian Army had scaled those formidable and razor sharp sheer heights, unmindful of their lives and limbs. They had won victories on those high peaks, where the defenders - the Pakistani troops, had all the advantages.
The nation had lost 527 valuable lives and over 1300 officers and soldiers of our defence forces were wounded, many losing limbs and organs permanently. They were all brave young men, who sacrificed themselves, with grit written large on their determined faces and a fierce fire burning strong in their bellies.
Why is such unparalleled bravery forgotten by our countrymen within a span of a mere 10 years? Have our nationalistic feelings atrophied to such an extent that we have no time to remember the sacrifices of our brave soldiers and airmen, who fought so valiantly to restore the sanctity and pride of the motherland? Is it the government, which needs to be reminded to take the lead on such occasions, or the military or the people? The country does need to honour its soldiers and the earlier it is done, the better it would be for the security, growth and progress of our nation.
Over the last nearly two and a half months, remembrances of the Kargil martyrs appeared in practically all newspapers on a daily basis. These were either inserted by their kith and kin or by their comrades and units to which they belonged. All of them were proud of these warriors and there is a lot of meaning in such remembrances. However, our government neither had the time nor the inclination to pay homage to those brave men who laid down their lives for their country. I was horrified to read in the media the callous statements attributable to the political leadership, the political parties and the bureaucracy, that made light of the valour and sacrifices of the officers and soldiers who gave their all for the honour of the country.
It is the media, both print and electronic and the ex-servicemen (ESM) who took a lead in generating enthusiasm for the 10th anniversary of the Kargil Diwas, but alas the somnolent functionaries of the government remained unmoved.
One newspaper had reported that the government has decided that the Kargil War was not worth celebrating as we had not crossed the LC! What logic indeed?
Another report clarified that the army on approaching the government was grudgingly allowed to celebrate the Kargil victory on a low key! How generous of a grateful government that does not hesitate to call in the army at the slightest pretext?
The related question is for the army. Since when does the army need permission to remember its comrades and martyrs, notwithstanding the low or high key effort the army chooses to adopt? This is solely the prerogative of the Chief and the Cs-in-C; they must not let anyone interfere with this. If the news report is correct, it is another unwarranted effort at reducing the status of the military, politicizing it and treating it with disdain.
Ours must be the only country in the world where decisions to commemorate military events are based on which political party is in power! One national party, when in power, celebrated Kargil Diwas because that military victory took place when theirs was the ruling party. The other does not, but celebrates Vijay Diwas instead, as it was their party which was in power when the Indian Military did the country proud by their resounding victory over Pakistan in 1971.
A third category popular with the government is when no event is celebrated, or is celebrated in low key, on the specious plea that it may adversely affect the peace process with a particular country!
It is this kind of convoluted logic that shames our nation. The end result of such a thoughtless and lackadaisical attitude on the part of the government is that the military, which is proud of its brave military heritage, is forced to have such celebrations and remembrances in the confines of their cantonments, with no participation by the civil populace, the political leaders or the government. What a dismal and farcical situation?
It is the intelligentsia, the opinion makers and the common man and woman who should have taken matters in their hands and honoured the warriors of the Kargil conflict on the 10th anniversary.
In future, let such events not be sacrificed at the alter of political and administrative expediency, because the government wants to play politics, forgetting that when those brave soldiers assaulted the enemy sitting on those forbidding heights, they did so for the security of the nation and to restore its pride....
By Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi
former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS)