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Slighting Sam

Slighting Sam

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 2, 2008

Govt should apologise, and keep quiet

Adding insult to injury, the Government has now put forward the dubious claim that the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and three services chiefs missed the funeral of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw because he did not figure in the warrant of precedence. Apparently the Field Marshal -- a five-star General rank that has its equivalents in the Navy and the Air Force -- does not figure in the warrant of precedence. Hence, the Government argues, there was no automatic declaration of a state funeral; this was granted, almost as if it were charity, by the Prime Minister upon the request of the Defence Minister. Hence also no lowering of the national flag, no travel plans for senior officials to give Sam Bahadur, as India's best-known modern warrior was known, the last salute. What this facile reasoning fails to explain is how a Union Minister, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka and the three service chiefs made it to Field Marshal KM Cariappa's funeral in 1993. Not every well-known Indian figures in the warrant of precedence. There are many private citizens -- business barons, civil society leaders, scholars and cultural artistes -- whose death merits national mourning and tribute from the Indian state. This comes not from a narrow, legalistic interpretation of the person's official designation -- and place, if any, in the warrant of precedence -- but from sensitivity of the Government and the political class. Perhaps it is a question of priorities. When Baba Amte, great man as he was, died earlier this year, he was given a state funeral, with two Union Cabinet Ministers in attendance. Did he find mention in the warrant of precedence?

A political establishment is, in the end, a reflection of the cherished hopes and beliefs of its people. In insulting Sam Manekshaw and deciding he did not merit a suitable farewell -- never mind what the silly rule-books may have said -- the Government and the political leadership have let down India. The warrant of precedence is a bureaucratic roster, to decide who should sit or be introduced before whom at public functions where two or more VIPs are present. It cannot become the arbiter of how the nation must treat its heroes. It defies reason why, instead of taking resort to monumentally silly excuses, the Government cannot simply admit it messed up, and apologise to the memory of Sam Manekshaw, to his family and to the people. There is no divine injunction that holds that the Government must never say sorry.

While the UPA Government must shoulder responsibility for this colossal act of boorishness, the Opposition cannot escape censure. The BJP prides itself for being a nationalist party, alive to the security challenges and the strategic concerns of India. Yet, it did not deem it fit to depute even one senior functionary to Sam Manekshaw's funeral. At a time when the Indian Army is facing a serious scarcity of officers, when its pay and remuneration regime is being perceived as appallingly poor in comparison to competitive white collar professions, the manner in which politicians have treated Sam Manekshaw will not help win new recruits. Mid-ranking or even potential officers cannot be blamed for wondering, 'If they can do this to India's most celebrated General, what can't they do to me?'

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