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Friday, June 12, 2015

To be a soldier or a cricketer?

Col P S Sangha, VrC (retd)

I have a course mate from the Army days who gave me some surprising news. In his younger days he had played cricket for the Services at the Ranji Trophy level. His younger brother, a civilian, was also a cricketer and played one Test match for India. The news was that both these guys were on the pension payroll of the BCCI. My friend, who had played more than 25 Ranji Trophy matches, was getting Rs 15,000 per month as pension and his brother with his single Test match was getting Rs 3,75,000 per month. In addition the BCCI has given a lump sum going upto Rs 1 crore to ex-Test cricketers to help them in their sunset years. Well, I thought that this was indeed a grand gesture of the BCCI to recognise their effort.

It got me thinking on the value system that prevails in our country. I was a soldier in the Army for close to 29 years before I called it quits. During this period I fought in the 1971 Indo-Pak war and was awarded the Vir Chakra for gallantry. This is the third highest gallantry award after the Param Vir Chakra ( PVC) and the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC). The government gives a decoration pay while in service and later as part of the service pension. It started at a low amount which increased with each pay commission. At present I get Rs 3,500 per month as the decoration pay. For a MVC it is Rs 5,000 and a PVC it is Rs 10,000. 

What set me thinking is the value put on a soldier's life. Most of the gallantry awards are given posthumously. So the awardee is already in the happy hunting grounds and his heirs are left to handle the situation. The dead soldier's family gets a lump sum amount of a few lakhs from the group insurance fund and the pay/pension. All this is a pittance compared to the BCCI dole to ex-cricketers. I remember getting Rs 25,000 in lieu of 5 acres of land from the Punjab Government for my gallantry award. Compare that with the lakhs and crores you can make for getting medals in Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. The conclusion is that a soldier’s life is cheap.


Which brings me to a comparison between a soldier in the battlefield and a cricketer on the pitch. Both face projectiles of differing variety. For the cricketer it is a red/white ball which could be coming at you at a speed close to 150 km. For the soldier it can be a bullet, a bomb or a missile travelling at speeds beyond the speed of sound. The cricketer can hit that ball for a six or just duck under it, or at worst, get hit on the well-protected body. The soldier can just pray that the bullet, splinter or missile misses him. Both the soldier and the cricketer are doing something for the nation. The cricketer on losing a match just says "It is only a game". The soldier just cannot think or afford to lose in the battlefield. Also, consider that as a cricketer you can get a Bharat Ratna for your outstanding achievement. But Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw has not been given that honour despite leading the Army to its greatest military victory which resulted in the formation of Bangladesh. I sometimes wonder what would be a greater catastrophe to the Indian psyche: losing a cricket match or losing a war to Pakistan?  It makes you think: to be a soldier or a cricketer?

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