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EDITORIALS

Counterfeit currency
Time to fight insidious menace
T
here are problems we as a nation have learnt to live with: money laundering, black money, counterfeit currency, narcotics and terrorism. All of them are inter-linked and their sources are well known. Yet we have not been dealing with them effectively. 

HC ‘lenient’ on Anand
SC ruling a wake-up call for lawyers
T
he Supreme Court has aptly come down heavily on R.K. Anand, advocate and former MP, for obstructing justice in the BMW expose case and served him a show-cause notice on why the punishment given by the Delhi High Court should not be enhanced.


EARLIER STORIES

PM carries the day
July 31 2009
Prices and tempers soar
July 30 2009
Avoidable crisis in
J & K

July 29, 2009
Kargil to Arihant
July 28, 2009
Modi not above law
July 27, 2009
Redefining education
July 26, 2009
Who rules Haryana?
July 25, 2009
Musharraf in the dock
July 24, 2009
A disgraceful act
July 23, 2009

THE TRIBUNE
 SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS


Ministers as truants
Political leaders need to be disciplined
A
report in this newspaper that no Punjab minister attended office at the Secretariat on Tuesday, may not have come as a major surprise to readers, accustomed as they are to ministers and civil servants playing truant.
ARTICLE

Congress vs BSP in UP
Development becomes a casualty
by Syed Nooruzzaman 
A
n interesting tug-of-war is on in Lucknow these days. On the one side is the Congress, heading the UPA government at the Centre, and on the other the BSP, the ruling party in UP. The BSP is faced with a challenge to its supremacy in the state from a party that has been in disarray for a long time after the rise of caste-based political formations. The Congress has got a new lease of life after the recent general election when it improved its vote share to over 18 per cent from 8.5 per cent in the 2007 assembly polls.

MIDDLE

Bollywood bond
by Kumar Rakesh
P
uritans blame Hindi films and music for many moral ills afflicting our society; for many others, they are simply to be appreciated for their entertainment quotient. If I dare say they are also a potent force for national integration, don’t dismiss me as if you have bumped into an overzealous Bollywood buff who is overstretching the logic.

OPED

Education Policy — A Tribune Debate 
Focus on primary education
by S.S. Randhawa
I
n my view, competition, commercialisation, neglect of primary education and substandard educational institutes are causes that need immediate attention. Radical changes in the system are not warranted.

Too many dropouts
by Rupinder Tewari
N
early 50 per cent of the children joining primary schools in India drop out by the age of ten. Out of 100 girls admitted in nursery, only 50 go past class V, 18 go past class 8 and only one goes past matriculation. One-fourth of the world’s school dropouts are in India.

Why grades?
by Balvinder
T
o ‘de-stress’ both the school-going children and their parents, the proposal is either to scrap the high school board examination or change the existing system of awarding actual marks to a limited grade system(A,B,C,D & E).

Improve the quality of teaching
by Vikram Chadha
A
flurry of recommendations aimed at reforming the secondary and higher education structure in the country have virtually swept many of us off our feet.

Colour of a martyr’s blood
by Maj Gen (retd) Raj Mehta
I
t is July 26, 2009 — another hot, humid, rainless day in the tricity. I am back home after a round of golf, followed by attendance with my better-half at a moving, well-conducted public function at the imposing Major Sandeep Sankhla memorial at Panchkula, by the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, to pay homage to the Kargil dead and injured.



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Counterfeit currency
Time to fight insidious menace

There are problems we as a nation have learnt to live with: money laundering, black money, counterfeit currency, narcotics and terrorism. All of them are inter-linked and their sources are well known. Yet we have not been dealing with them effectively.

We react, or rather over-react, whenever there is a major terror strike or drug/fake currency seizure, and then soon forget it instead of making serious efforts to root out the problem. Frequent seizures of counterfeit currency have ceased to stir the national conscience. Newspapers try to shake the powers-that-be by repeating the Naik Committee’s startling revelation made a few years ago that counterfeit currency amounting to about Rs 1,69,000 crore was circulating in the country till the year 2000. The figure has not been updated since then.

While the government in general and the RBI in particular seem to be helpless in tackling the national menace, counterfeiters have refined the art of printing Indian rupees of 500 and 1,000 denominations so much so that fake notes have 95 per cent features of the genuine ones.Leave alone a shopkeeper making fruitless efforts to see whether a Rs 500 note presented to him is genuine or not, even a trained banker often fails to distinguish the fake from the real. There are reports of banks handing over counterfeit notes to customers and ATMs becoming distribution centres of such currency. Such is the fear of being in possession of illegal currency that every 500 and 1000 rupee note is viewed with suspicion.

Yet this has not woken up the government to the destructive effect the deadly combination of drugs, counterfeit currency and terror is having on society and the economy. Government agencies fight their own battles without coordination. Laws are not stringent enough. Telgi got away with just seven years’ jail for the Rs 50,000 crore stamp paper scam. After 9/11, the US paid as much attention to internal security as to wiping out sources of terror funding. The destablising role of economic terrorism needs to be better understood and countered in this country.

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HC ‘lenient’ on Anand
SC ruling a wake-up call for lawyers

The Supreme Court has aptly come down heavily on R.K. Anand, advocate and former MP, for obstructing justice in the BMW expose case and served him a show-cause notice on why the punishment given by the Delhi High Court should not be enhanced.

A Bench consisting of Justice B.N. Agrawal, Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice Aftab Alam has ruled that the High Court was “lenient” towards him and the punishment was “wholly inadequate and incommensurate to the seriousness of his actions and conduct.” Anand has eight weeks to reply. He was barred — along with special public prosecutor I.U. Khan — from appearing in the High Court and subordinate courts for four months last year. The High Court also held that both had forfeited their right to be designated as senior advocates. They appealed to the apex court which let off Khan with a rap but did not spare Anand.

The nation was shocked when NDTV showed Sunil Kulkarni, a key witness in the case, asking Anand for Rs 2.5 crore for refusing to identify Sanjeev Nanda, who was charged with mowing down six people with his BMW car in 1999 in New Delhi. (Recently, the High Court reduced Sanjeev’s jail term from five to two years and ordered perjury proceedings against Sunil). The judgement is a wake-up call for all advocates to behave and the Bar Councils to enforce discipline among their members.

Equally significant is the apex court’s observation that the court’s permission was not required to carry out sting operationss as it would amount to curtailing the freedom of the Press. It augurs well for the world’s largest democracy that the apex court has refused to treat NDTV’s sting operation as a “trial by the media”. On the contrary, it rendered “valuable service” in protecting and salvaging the purity of the course of justice, it said. It has also refused to lay down any norms to regulate the media. To raise the professional standards, such norms should come from within, it said.

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Ministers as truants
Political leaders need to be disciplined

A report in this newspaper that no Punjab minister attended office at the Secretariat on Tuesday, may not have come as a major surprise to readers, accustomed as they are to ministers and civil servants playing truant.

Neither ministers nor senior officers in the state seem to connect punctuality and discipline with good governance. But respect for other people’s time and discipline are essential components of governance. Indians are known for a cavalier approach to discipline, but there ought to be keen awareness that in a competitive economy, this can be a major handicap.

In Asia, several countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore have made dramatic advances by instilling discipline among their people and public servants. Ministers and bureaucrats in India, who are always ready to conduct surprise inspections and deliver lectures to others, must, therefore, set an example. The UPA government in New Delhi and some of the state governments have already set the ball rolling.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs in North Block, where Mr. P. Chidambaram is said to be a stickler for punctuality, is known to have issued a circular, asking employees to be in their seats by 9 am and not to leave before 5.30 pm. The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, has told ministers to be punctual or leave the council of ministers.

Ministers and bureaucrats need to be reminded how during Emergency rule in the mid-seventies, punctuality, attendance and service in government offices had improved out of fear. The average delay in the running of Bullet trains in Japan is said to be six seconds. Arriving late in office is reason enough to lose one’s job in Singapore. China is known to have enforced draconian laws to ensure discipline and Malyasia conducts a regular audit to see how fast government offices serve the people. It’s time Punjab sets a benchmark in India.

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Thought for the Day

Dreams whet your appetite, but goals make you hungry. — Josie Bissett

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Congress vs BSP in UP
Development becomes a casualty
by Syed Nooruzzaman 

An interesting tug-of-war is on in Lucknow these days. On the one side is the Congress, heading the UPA government at the Centre, and on the other the BSP, the ruling party in UP. The BSP is faced with a challenge to its supremacy in the state from a party that has been in disarray for a long time after the rise of caste-based political formations. The Congress has got a new lease of life after the recent general election when it improved its vote share to over 18 per cent from 8.5 per cent in the 2007 assembly polls.

The Congress-BSP fight has become fierce after Mrs Rita Bahuguna-Joshi, the state unit chief of the country’s oldest party, made intemperate remarks at Moradabad against Ms Mayawati while referring to compensation given to Dalit rape victims recently. The incident infuriated BSP workers, resulting in Mrs Joshi’s Lucknow residence being put on fire. Now the Congress has threatened to launch a “jail bharo” agitation not only to get the culprits punished but also to expose the kind of politics being played in the state.

The BSP, instead of condemning those involved in the burning incident, has “rewarded” one of its activists, Mr Intezar Abdi, who allegedly led the arsonists, by appointing him the Chairman of the UP Ganna (Sugarcane) Sansthan, a position equivalent to that of a minister of state.

The controversial remark by Mrs Joshi, a former professor of history at Allahabad University, as she has explained, was intended to highlight the plight of Dalit women. Yet it has upset the Congress top brass. The party is defending her because no other course suits its interests.

The Congress has advised its rank and file never to behave in the manner in which Mrs Joshi did at Moradabad . An editorial in a recent issue of Congress Sandesh, a party mouthpiece, says that Congress persons must “inculcate the habit of diplomacy and decorum in expressing our anguish wherever required.” The editorial indirectly refers to the Joshi episode when it points out that “Lately, it has been seen that political leaders have become prone to using intemperate language while reacting to political situations”.

However, there is much enthusiasm among Congress workers after the party’s spectacular performance in the recent elections. This was clearly visible at the July 25 function in Lucknow held to felicitate the 21 Congress MPs elected from UP. The AICC General Secretary-in-charge of UP affairs, Mr Digvijay Singh, exhorted his party men and women not to get complacent but to work relentlessly “to return to power” in UP by winning the 2012 assembly polls.

Mrs Sonia Gandhi has told her party rank and file, “This is not the time to relax; instead, it is time to work harder.”

The Congress has rightly expressed the view that the days of caste-based parties are over. People want a government that can deliver. The Congress has accused the UP government of “misusing” Central funds for installing statues of Dalit icons, including those of Ms Mayawati, though the state’s development projects are suffering for want of money. Never before has any government installed statues of living personalities.

Having become wiser after the drubbing her party received in the recent general election, Ms Mayawati is back to protecting her Dalit vote bank, her main support base. She is now laying greater stress on schemes for Dalit emancipation. Her government has declared 47 districts as drought-hit, including many in the Bundelkhand region dominated by Dalits, and demanded Rs 80,000 crore for coping up with the situation.

The Congress has found a novel way to respond to the challenge posed by Ms Mayawati. AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday with a demand for a Rs 8,000-crore package for the entire Bundelkhand region, which includes parts of Madhya Pradesh. The Congress has come out with the idea of creating a separate agency — the Bundelkhand Development Authority — free from the control of any state government, for undertaking development projects in the poverty-stricken region. How Ms Mayawati reacts to this remains to be seen. 

Interestingly, she is not as much under pressure from the SP, her party’s main rival in UP, as she is from the Congress. This suits the BSP, as the Congress record during its long rule in UP in the past has been no better than that of the BSP. When the other day Mr Rahul Gandhi criticised the Mayawati government for not according priority to the state’s economic development, she shot back: “After Independence the Congress had ruled UP for nearly 40 years, but in terms of development we have done much more than the Congress in our two years of rule”. She chided the Congress by saying that it was the “continued neglect” of the Dalits and other deprived classes that caused the formation of the BSP in 1984.

She is right as the main vote banks of the BSP as well as of the SP comprise those who were once solidly behind the Congress. It can regain the support of these classes only if the Congress does something substantial for their socio-economic emancipation. Some of the voters belonging to these sections favoured the Congress in the just concluded parliamentary polls, but it was more because of getting disgruntled by the Mayawati government than any other factor.

It is a tricky situation for the Congress. If it goes out of the way to promote the development of the state, the maximum credit may go to the Mayawati government. The BSP leader will find it easier in such a situation to impress upon the people that it is Ms Mayawati’s pressure on the Centre that has made the UPA government do what it has done. If the Congress-led government avoids to contribute substantially to the cause of UP at this stage, the party is bound to be exposed for talking too much and doing too little in real terms.

However, Ms Mayawati will have to take imaginative steps to protect her UP turf. She will have to find resources from wherever she can for addressing the development-related grievances of the people. All the statues of Dalit icons she has installed will be of no help when the time comes for people to caste their vote. People have given a clear idea of what they want through their 2009 electoral verdict. The BSP suffered a setback because of its not being serious about taking up the issues agitating the people.

Forget about development for a while. The BSP government’s record is not satisfactory on the law and order front, too, contrary to what the people expected from it. Ms Mayawati must keep in mind that the deterioration in law and order, which helped her capture power in 2007, can be one of the key factors contributing to her downfall in the next assembly polls if the situation remains unchanged.

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Bollywood bond
by Kumar Rakesh

Puritans blame Hindi films and music for many moral ills afflicting our society; for many others, they are simply to be appreciated for their entertainment quotient. If I dare say they are also a potent force for national integration, don’t dismiss me as if you have bumped into an overzealous Bollywood buff who is overstretching the logic.

Most persons with whom my relation has grown in Kashmir are not really die-hard Indians, and a few later confided in me how they were swept away in early years of militancy by the romantic idea of a Kashmir sans India.

“The biggest fear I had,” my close friend Shabir Ahmad, who runs his own newspaper from Srinagar nowadays, told me an evening, “that militants would ban Hindi movie and songs”.

The man, who could recount almost every verse from the songs of Umrao Jan and Bazaar and surprise you with nuggets from the lives of Rafi, Shankar-Jaikishan, Sahir Ludhianvi et al, said he would toss in his bed in night as orthodox elements grew in influence, bombing cinema halls and burning cassettes.

Then he made a difficult choice. “I told my friends that I would leave Kashmir and settle in India if the worst comes to worst. I was damn serious. I could imagine a life without India but not Indian films and music,” Shabir said in a matter-of-fact tone.

There is another guy, still in his teens, who I would know as someone always in the forefront of stone-pelting protestors in downtown Srinagar. One day he appeared before me, his long hair sacrificed for Amir Khan’s Ghajni look, the stylish cut across the head duly in place. Nobody except Salman Khan sports long hair these days, he said. “No stone-pelting for a few weeks. Police would recognise me in this look. But this style suits me, isn’t it,” he asked me, his fingers brushing across his head.

A woman journalist told me his father would have to go a neighbour’s house to watch T-20 World Cup cricket matches as she and her mother are addicted to soapy dramas produced by our entertainment channels.

Kashmiris, to put it bluntly, dislike most of the symbols of Indian state but nurse softer feelings for cultural and pluralistic features of India. They would, though, often complain in a self-justifying manner that this softer, milder India stops at Jawahar tunnel, which connect the valley with the rest of country, and they are left to deal with the might of the army and paramilitary forces.

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Education Policy — A Tribune Debate 
Focus on primary education
by S.S. Randhawa

In my view, competition, commercialisation, neglect of primary education and substandard educational institutes are causes that need immediate attention. Radical changes in the system are not warranted.

Classroom education was given to us by the Britishers. Their objective was to produce desk personnel to run the administration and have a communicable military force. These simple aims needed general curriculum and minimum infrastructure. As time passed, the country needed scientists, engineers, doctors, bureaucrats and citizens of good quality, but the means remained stagnant and hence the weeds.

Besides general education, as practised by earlier schools, schools now need infrastructure for sports, scientific laboratories, hobbies and cultural workshops. Instead, poor quality government schools mushroomed all over the country.

As the going was good, entrepreneurs selected lucrative places in cities and built good-looking schools. Education, however, remained black board based and produced desk operators in all disciplines. There is a good example to substantiate this point. In the eighties, incidentally, demand came up for desk operators to man computers, a new-found instrument and we had the answer.

Entrepreneurs, publishers and educationists connived to extract maximum with minimum efforts. The easiest way was to make things difficult. With the result, the school bag started bulgling and with it increased the shoulder load and mind stress of the child and financial strain of the parents.

The so-called education started receding to the creamy layer. Schools in the slums and rural areas got deserted and private school classrooms bulged at the seams. Education rapidly moved to cities and then to colonies and ultimately to the drawingrooms of teachers.

The student today has to face a tough competition because of the spurt in the population. Education being the only criterion for a job and varied standards of professional colleges exist in the market, the child is forced to slog even at the peril of his health to go all out for marks or grades. This has further increased the size of the bag and financial strain. Rush in evening classes run by entrepreneurs is mind-boggling.

It is all the same whether you evaluate by grades or marks, stress is bound to persist till the things are streamlined by reforms with regards to quality and it unfortunately depends upon the means we make use of. With regards to doing away with the matriculation examination, it may be remembered that the quality of a product is directly proportional to the number of stage inspections. It is an engineering rule.

The most important link of education is the primary school. Pay special attention to primary education. The school should be housed in a beautiful building having attractive infrastructure and clinical cleanliness. The earlier it is done, the better it would be. Poor quality, unemployment among the educated and the cost of sending children to school are factors setting in aversion for education among the poor. The situation is scary.

Lastly, do not disturb the system. Ours is one of the best in the world. What we need is to keep the objectives in mind and develop the study pattern accordingly. Standardise institutions with the ISI standards so that students do not get into unnecessary competition. Teach only that is needed and attend to the neglected aspects of education. Education should not be the sole criterion for jobs.

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Too many dropouts
by Rupinder Tewari

Nearly 50 per cent of the children joining primary schools in India drop out by the age of ten. Out of 100 girls admitted in nursery, only 50 go past class V, 18 go past class 8 and only one goes past matriculation. One-fourth of the world’s school dropouts are in India.

The students passing out of elite colleges of engineering, medicine and business administration comprise hardly one per cent of the total graduates.

By 2015, 55 per cent of the Indian population will be below 20 years of age. If the present trend of education does not change, only 10 per cent (i.e. 5 crore) will join higher education. In other words, we would have 45 crore dropouts.

HRD Minister Sibal has floated many ideas and the debate will certainly have a positive impact on the final guidelines to be formulated for the betterment of education in India.

The HRD Minister’s idea of making the education system run by an autonomous body independent of political interference is praise-worthy. The minister wants to take the bull by the horns, well realising that a majority of the private professional institutes of higher learning, especially medical and engineering colleges, are run directly or indirectly, by politicians with the main aim of making money.

The minister has realised that public money is insufficient for setting up hundreds of institutes of higher learning and wishes to promote private sector investment in education. Inviting private investors will generate a healthy competition amongst the teaching institutes, which will lead to the production of skilled manpower.

To produce quality graduates, we need good faculty, which is hard to come by. This will prove to be a major hurdle in the case of new world class universities and IITs that are proposed to be set up by the government.

Unless the government takes a serious note of this problem, it will be very hard to produce good teaching faculty. The issues of better infrastructure for higher learning, retirement age and salary have to be addressed. Another aspect which the government should ponder is productivity and promotional avenues of teaching faculty.

In places of higher learning in India, a major criterion for promotion is the number of years put in by a teacher. There are not enough incentives for productive teachers who are bringing laurels to the university.

Unless appreciable incentives are given to productive teachers, we would not be able to produce world-class universities. We must distinguish between the average and excellent teachers.

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Why grades?
by Balvinder

To ‘de-stress’ both the school-going children and their parents, the proposal is either to scrap the high school board examination or change the existing system of awarding actual marks to a limited grade system(A,B,C,D & E).

It is obvious that even the grading system cannot sustain itself without numeric marks that would roughly be divided as Grade A — 81 and above; Grade B — between 80 & 66; Grade C — between 65 & 51; Grade D — between 50 & 35; and Grade E — 35 and below.

For, a mere fall of a couple of marks would not only downgrade one’s performance to a lower grade but also equate him or her to the one who is at the lowest rung of that very grade.

Now when many educational institutions have agreed upon showing answerbooks to examinees, and with the RTI (Right to Information) Act at one’s disposal, no board or school would be able to keep the marks secret.

In short, the proposed limited grading system at a level when one would be competing to join scarcely available higher educational institutions of one’s liking, is simply an impractical idea.

Before thinking of bringing any changes, one must understand that the stress upon school children is not the outcome of a seemingly faulty examination system.

It is there because of the insufficient infrastructure that prohibits all those who want to join higher studies/courses of their choice and convenience.

Until sufficient infrastructure is raised at the higher/professional education level, and interference by politicians and bureaucrats is stopped nothing is going to change.

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Improve the quality of teaching
by Vikram Chadha

A flurry of recommendations aimed at reforming the secondary and higher education structure in the country have virtually swept many of us off our feet.

Experts seem more concerned with the institutional and administrative overhaul of the system through catalysing competition, examination reforms and introducing regulatory mechanisms in the education set-up.

But the core question of addressing the quality of teaching in Indian universities seems to have once again been underplayed, which nevertheless is quintessential in making the educational edifice sustainable.

Various committees and commissions in the past such as the Radhakrishnan Commission of 1949 and the Education Commission of 1966 had pointedly emphasised the overbearing need for betterment of teaching standards in Indian universities.

Though the concept of quality of teaching is hazy and amorphous, yet broadly it may be considered to have two dimensions- one, the content of teaching, and the other, teaching methods and practices.

The content of teaching will in turn depend upon the content of the curricula; available expertise to skillfully impart instructions, and the teachers’ own reading and grasp of the subject.

The content of the syllabi has to be the state-of-the-art. For that the syllabi should be dynamically pegged to the ever-changing contours of research in a particular subject. Thus as research unfolds newer dimensions, these should be spontaneously incorporated in the course syllabi.

Exploring new dimensions of a subject would not only enthuse teachers of having learnt something new, but would also excite the students of having learnt the latest in their subject and also make them more competitive in the job arena. Boards of studies of the universities and the UGC will have to work with alacrity in operationalising this curriculum modernising exercise.

The other dimension of the quality of teaching, and more significant one, is the teaching methods and practices adopted by teachers. The teacher can be eloquent and effective in communicating with students if he uses an impeccable expression; is articulate and has clarity of his subject.

The teacher should kindle interest and curiosity of his pupils in the subject, which is possible by making teaching more interactive through discussion and interluding questions.

With the advent of modern technology in education, viz. Internet, computers, LCD and overhead projectors, and satellite driven education, teaching and learning have become interesting, efficient and easily comprehensible.

The diffusion of new technology in education has evolved in tandem with the rapid proliferation of knowledge and communication, and so teaching and learning through Internet and video conferencing has a large outreach to even the most obscure and remote areas of the nation. It has made teaching more effective- both qualitatively and quantitatively.

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Colour of a martyr’s blood
by Maj Gen (retd) Raj Mehta

It is July 26, 2009 — another hot, humid, rainless day in the tricity. I am back home after a round of golf, followed by attendance with my better-half at a moving, well-conducted public function at the imposing Major Sandeep Sankhla memorial at Panchkula, by the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, to pay homage to the Kargil dead and injured.

Restless, my thoughts wander... unaffected by the stifling heat, to the chill winds, the icy fastnesses of the brooding, gaunt mountains that overlook Dras, Kargil and Batalik.

Ten years ago, 527 soldiers died in those unforgiving mountains; another 1,334 were wounded; some reduced to mortifying stumps; caricatures of once erect, alert, combative, dignified soldiers — all because they swore deathless allegiance to the idea of India; of upholding the sovereignty of their country at the cost of death or permanent maiming.

They swore allegiance with passion, at times with prescience and quiet acceptance of grim reality, of either planting the tricolour on their objective; or returning with their bodies wrapped in it.

The TV channels have been going ballistic covering the 10th anniversary of the famous victory. The newspapers speak of the need to learn lessons from the mistakes of 1999.

This is intelligent, thoughtful stuff. What rankles the rank and file, numbs the nation are the comments of a member of Parliament, who opines that that “Kargil isn’t a thing to be celebrated. The war was fought within our territory. We didn’t even come to know when the Pakistani army crossed over and built bunkers inside our territory...”

My thoughts are overtaken by the darkness that surrounds me. I light a candle and hold vigil over its flickering flame, as ex-servicemen and citizens are doing all over India, in honour of those who died in those trying days when Kargil happened. Yet again, my mind returns to memories of the past...

It was past the witching hour. My time was up. Though still in uniform, I had just retired after 38 years in uniform; had ‘hung up my spurs’ with a heavy heart. With the majestic Dhauladhars as a backdrop, I stood outside the just refurbished War Memorial in Yol Cantonment, near Dharamsala, addressing an audience of serving and retired soldiers, their ladies and a few, distinguished gentry.

Amongst them were the parents of the late Capt Vikram Batra, PVC, the brother of late Major Somnath Sharma, India’s first PVC and himself the ex Army Chief, Gen VN Sharma, along with his wife.

Days earlier, I had visited the Batra’s at Palampur, to pay homage to Vikram, seek permission to borrow for display a few of his artifacts at the Yol museum and request his dignified yet grieving parents to join us for the ceremony.

The Batra home, set beyond a tea garden in the low hills surrounding Palampur, is a far cry from the mountains that claimed him. Yet, his parental home exudes his passion, his fervour, his commitment to the pledge he took on becoming a soldier; the country first, always and every time.

I showed a nine-minute TV clip on Vikram, on that hugely moving last day, at Yol. It was the Barkha Dutt recording of his now iconic ‘Yeh Dil Mange More’ and ‘fly the tricolour or come back wrapped in it’ sound bytes. Barkha stated very recently that she had intuitively sensed he would not return.

So had his father, Mr GL Batra, as he watched that last, touching interview. They were both right. She had unknowingly essayed her first obituary. Mr Batra had lost a son, and Vishal, who resembles him so heart breakingly, his extraordinarily brave twin brother.

Recalling Vikram’s sacrifice, Vishal broke down inconsolably, during the TV interview with Barkha, conducted under the shadows of Point 4875 where he died. We, the nation, broke down too. I wonder, though, how our honorable MP must have reacted.

He needs to be reminded that the colour of a martyr’s blood across the continuum of time, era, history, country, location, is always red. Blood red. It is never daubed in the colours of political parties. May God, Allah Talah, forgive this MP his trespasses as the ESM fraternity and perhaps the nation at large are certainly going to have a problem doing that.

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