I got a chance to visit the Bhima-Koregaon ‘Victory Pillar’ in Koregaon, Maharashtra. The Pillar commemorates the victory of the British East India Company over the Peshwa of the Maratha Confederacy on 1st January 1818, which ensued the rule of the British East India Company in nearly all of Western, Central and Southern India.
A long pillar in bright stone is the main attraction, along with the Bhima river that flows close to it. On the walls of the memorial are names of great Bhima-Koregaon victories. I would have liked to swim in the Bhima, but the water was very dirty like any other Indian river, and hence it is almost forbidden. Near the village are the same old poor villagers and their mud houses which are painted with the names and pictures of their caste leaders.
Who were defeated at Bhima-Koregaon? The Indians. Who were the 1st Regiment of Bombay Infantry, the Mahars, fighting against, under the British East India Company? The Indians.
The ‘Victory Pillar’ gate proudly announces the year of the victory – 1818 – a century and a quarter before Independence. Who did the 1st Regiment of Bombay Infantry, East India Company mercenaries, Mahars and Captain Francis Staunton and other British officers shoot, bayonet, mine and blow up in that battle? The Indians.
The brutalities were worse than Jallianwala Bagh. Colonel Dyer only gave the order in 1919 at Jallianwala Bagh. The killing was done, triggers pulled by the Gurkhas of Gurkha Rifles, and by the soldiers of Baloch Regiment. This is an ugly truth; I am not revealing any secret. I say that the soldiers loyal to the Crown of England August 14, 1947, renamed themselves as Indian & Pakistani Armies the next morning.
Prior to this, we Indians, at least the Hindus, do not have history of a nationalist army, unlike Muslims and Christians, though there are mentions of fighting and warfare traditions of the Indians which go back at least 2,500 years. The first Greek historian Herodotus mentioned that at the battle of Plataea in 479 BC, Indians constituted a part of the army of the Persian king Xerxes. The Indians fought heroically, but the battle was won by the Greek alliance and the Persian king Xerxes lost.
Eulogizing this tradition, Urdu poet Ghalib had proudly said: “Sau pusht se, hai pesha-e-aba sipahgari,” meaning our family profession has been soldierly for a hundred generations. The world has great respect for the Indian soldier’s capabilities. The flattering biographers of Alexander the Great, Arrian, Quintus Curtius Rufus and Plutarch, mention that the greatest generals have had to use treachery to defeat Indian soldiers. This undermined the greatness of the conquerors, as it meant they could not directly face the latter’s fighting skills.
I have seen the respect for the Fauj (armed forces) and Fauji (soldier) mount to a cult-like worship; they have suddenly risen above criticism. Currently, the national mood is such that no one is ready to accept any narrative against the army. People became upset with subsequent Union governments who changed the rules and lowered an Army officer’s ranking with respect to a bureaucrat of similar rank. The argument here was that when all bureaucratic systems fail, soldier have to step in and hence soldiers must be positioned higher than bureaucrats.
The ‘one rank, one pension’ demand too had to go through a similar ordeal for decades while schemes benefitting certain vote banks were being approved and implemented in a matter of days. A retired soldier had to commit suicide over OROP to be announced a compensation of Rs 1 crore for his family by the Aam Aadmi Party.
Politically controversial and sensitive deaths like that of Mohammad Akhlaq (2015 Dadri mob lynching), Tabrez Ansari (2019 Jharkhand mob lynching), Pehlu Khan (2019 Rajasthan mob beating), and Rohith Vemula (2016 Hyderabad suicide case), have always been showered with monetary help and job assistance. However, there has never been such aggressive and competitive bidding over a soldier’s dead body because the media prefers to highlight such controversial deaths, and the death of a soldier for long has not allowed a vote-winning strategy.
The nation now thinks differently. It wants all of us to pay constant and unconditional obeisance to our army. It is now engraved deeply in the minds of our voters that we sleep comfortably because our soldiers are awake.
It is because of this new reality of hyper-nationalism that we need to strengthen and equip the Armed Forces. The government has very rightly spent INR 59,000 crores for 36 Rafale jets. Some disruptive elements tried criticising this deal, but it only backfired.
The fact remains that given the geopolitically risky neighbourhood we live in we need to invest more in advanced warfare. We also have serious domestic threats that raise concerns over India’s national security.
Pacifists ask, who are we going to war against? It is an irrelevant question. The Army must be strong whether there is a war or not, not only to protect our boundaries and keep our people safe, but also so that we won’t have to celebrate more defeats like the one at Bhima-Koregaon.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.