A shame on the Nation

published on June 28, 2008

Lone minister represents govt at Manekshaw’s funeral
Source:Times Of India

Rajat Pandit

NEW DELHI: A military legend, an icon – Sam Bahadur may have earned many such epithets during his lifetime, and even after his death was described as such in condolence messages.

But Friday, the day of his last journey, seemed to be just another day in office for the political leadership and top military brass.

Right down from President Pratibha Patil, also the supreme commander of the armed forces, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to defence minister A K Antony and the three Service chiefs, none attended the “state funeral” of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw at Wellington on Friday.

Only Army chief General Deepak Kapoor had valid reason to stay away since he is currently touring Russia and was represented at Wellington by vice-chief Lt-Gen M L Naidu.

The others it seemed were too busy with their “prior commitments” over the nuclear deal, promotion boards or meetings to spare some time for Sam Bahadur on his last journey. They, of course, did come out with the customary condolence messages.

Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta and IAF chief Air Chief Marshal F H Major were very much present at their HQs in New Delhi, for instance, but were represented by just a rear admiral and an air marshal at the “state funeral”.

The government, too, was poorly represented, with just minister of state for defence Pallam Raju heading for Wellington.

“In a rare gesture, the government took a decision to give a state funeral, as also depute the MoS defence to represent the government,” said Antony, brushing aside questions on the poor representation at the funeral.

An aide added that Antony’s presence at the “small town” would have led to “protocol requirements”. But the minister could have given protocol a miss for once at least.

The defence given for the missing Service chiefs, in turn, was that “reaction time” was “too less” to make arrangements to travel to Wellington, with one VVIP jet deployed with the President who was in Maharastra, and the other kept on “stand-by” for the PM.

But then, some of these VVIPs could have taken a ride with the MoS defence, who took an Embraer Legacy jet to attend the funeral. Or, they could have emulated Lt-Gen Naidu, who took a civilian flight from Delhi in the early hours.

“Shameful,” was the response of a wide cross-section of retired and serving armed forces personnel.

Said a Brigadier, “We, as a nation, simply don’t respect or remember our heroes. Cricketing ones are honoured even after 25 years of winning a world cup, soldiering ones are forgotten promptly after the war is over. The nation turns to the armed forces only in times of emergency.”

But then, added another officer, what else do you expect from a nation where till recently the Service chiefs were frisked at airports, while even Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra could sail through the security checks. “It’s only after the media took up this issue that the embarrassing matter was resolved,” said a Colonel.

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