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When soldiers perish under snow

  By Vijay Darda | 30-01-2017

Of late, while extolling the virtues of nationalism and patriotism, and asking common citizens to make sacrifices for these causes, the valiant soldiers guarding the borders under perhaps the most testing circumstances in the world have been invoked a great deal. It stands beyond every element of doubt that our soldiers are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice whenever they are called upon to join battle against the enemy. It is also understandable when they lay down their lives and achieve martyrdom in combat. But when soldiers perish under an avalanche of snow the situation is not just tragic, it is somehow unacceptable. It causes not just a lot of pain, but leads to a great deal of anguish.

The two situations may not be comparable, but the same angst prevails when the terrorists from across the border manage to sneak in and attack Army camps. All these unsavoury events raise disturbing questions, as precious human lives are lost, and we seem to remain almost helpless. The basic question that haunts is when shall we be free from these tragic incidents? Or will we just keep on regretting and condoling such incidents? It is a question that cast a long shadow on our international image and prestige as a nation. We are seen as weak and vulnerable, and this is unacceptable.

Recently, there have been several incidents of our soldiers getting buried under an avalanche of snow. The biggest incident took place in Gurez were 15 soldiers were killed in two separate avalanches, but seven soldiers were rescued. The other incident came two days later when five soldiers were rescued from under the snow in Kupwara area. As Kashmir witnesses one of the more severe winters with temperatures dropping below minus 7 degree Celsius such episodes are likely to happen but it also signals the failures of the advance warning systems. It is not that there is no mechanism in place for such warnings, in fact a Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) has been functioning under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at Manali since 1969, and it does issue such warnings occasionally. But clearly, this time the warnings were either not there or not effective and soldiers perished under the snow.

In fact, the avalanche deaths are a sad commentary on the state of defence preparedness. These show the wide gap that exists between the rhetoric our leadership relishes about the status of our nation vis-a-vis our international rivals and the reality on the ground. Indeed, when it comes to vulnerability from natural disasters there is hardly any difference between the civilian population and the military soldiers. It is worth recalling that when a massive two-day flood paralysed Mumbai city in 2005, and took a heavy toll of life and property a decision was taken to install a Doppler radar and 22 other automatic weather forecasting stations, but so far the BMC has not even allotted the land for the site of installing the Doppler. The most important commercial city in the country thus remains vulnerable.

In this era of climate change, every country remains vulnerable to such flash floods, droughts or the type of destruction that was witnessed in Uttarakhand a few years ago. There is no getting away from such onslaughts of the nature. The essence of the national spirit and commitment lies in making sure that we learn the right lessons from such tragedies and are better prepared for the future. Our problem lies in the fact that we remain high on rhetoric and plans but have very little to show in terms of preparations on the ground. This is not a case of playing the blame game, every government has its own share of failings.

The only way out of this situation is determined action in which all the state agencies cooperate. As the authority with resources and power it is for the central government to step in and ensure that all the other agencies fall in line. The red tape at every bureaucratic level must be cut mercilessly and decisions must be taken within deadlines. It is the failure to take appropriate decisions on time that is largely responsible for the overall mess that we are in, and it is also one of the main reasons as to why we lag behind in the world index for ease of doing business. When Narendra Modi was promising a change in the run-up to the 2014 elections, the people were anticipating that with his image as a doer in Gujarat, he would usher in this change. But once again, even in office as prime minister he has made promises galore without commensurate action on the ground.

Take his latest demonetisation decision that was hailed as the boldest political initiative by any prime minister in independent India and was to unearth black money. We are yet to know as to how much black money has been recovered and how many persons have faced action on this count. The nation was in the dark about the roadmap when demonetisation was announced, and even now post-demonetisation it has no idea about the government’s follow-up road map. The point is not about black money. There is the larger national issue. Can we afford to drift from one issue to another without a consistent national agenda?

Our pre-occupation with several sentimental issues that have a tendency to inflame passions is also yet another debilitating factor in our national affairs. For instance, pray what purpose is served by the play ‘Mi Nathuram boltoy’ in this age and time. We do have respect for creativity and freedom of expression, but then the overall needs of the society also have to be considered. This problem gets exacerbated when the minds that orchestrate these activities are aware that the establishment would take a benign view of their activities. It is for the government of the day to take a call on the overall role of such minds.

Before I conclude…

The violence unleashed on the sets of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmavati’ in Jaipur needs to be condemned without any reservations. The Karni Sena can protest about the film, but it cannot indulge in violence. We have seen that filmmakers are high value soft targets for such senas. However, there is no need to give into their pressure tactics. Bhansali should produce his film as per his own creative understanding of the character and should make no concessions.


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When soldiers perish under snow


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