Between impressiveness and delusion

Patriotism, power over people’s lives and the army

“Twenty years from now, men will be ready to die for me, but not for you.” This is what a cadet at the National Defence Academy in Khadakvasla, Pune, tells his friends pursuing engineering when they discuss how much money they will make in their careers compared to him. [Rediff]

Rediff’s Archana Masih thinks the cadet’s words are ‘staggeringly impressive’. Amit Varma argues that they are ‘staggeringly delusionary’, because, he explains ‘there are better reasons to feel proud of being an army man than the power you have over people’s lives’.

As indeed there are. But Amit misunderstands the import of those words. Ask soldiers what makes them rush into combat in war zones, when there’s a good chance that they’ll lose their lives and they’ll tell you that its for their paltan (platoon). And it’s not just the men that are ready to die for their officer, the readiness to die for their platoon-mates extends to the officers who command them. A look at the officer casualties in the Kargil war and in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere reveals that the Indian army’s officer casualty ratio is among the highest.

In a follow-up post, Amit quotes a journalist’s reply to a general who had berated the media for being un-patriotic. “You are paid to be patriotic” the journalist told the general. That’s a nice one-liner to put down someone talking down to you, but neither is it reasonable to suggest that soldiers are patriotic because they are paid, nor is it wrong to be paid to be patriotic. If anything, the army’s shortage of officers shows that India expects patriotism (of the risk-to-life kind) to come at a discount rather than at a premium.