COONOR TRAGEDY – ANGER, ANIMOSITY & MAGNANIMITY

While we continue in the Defence Services to deal with internal and external threats. We are also the first responders in emergencies and to see the evacuation of casualties in borrowed blankets/carpets/sheets is not acceptable.

Let’s take a step back, while on active service, most of us executed our orders/tasks as entrusted to us based on individual competencies. Did any action taken by the deceased CDS was under “unlawful command”? I don’t think so.
Let’s take a step back, while on active service, most of us executed our orders/tasks as entrusted to us based on individual competencies. Did any action taken by the deceased CDS was under “unlawful command”? I don’t think so. (Image Credit: Indian Army)

By Lt Col Manoj Kumar Channan

On 08 December 2021, most of us were glued to the media news channels as the sad news of the Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter crashing into the hills of Coonoor leading to the death of the Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife, the staff officers, the security detail and the aircrew. The lone survivor is an IAF instructor; a gallantry award winner battling for his life.

The entire event if reviewed dispassionately has led me to pen down a few thoughts that come to my mind. Some are not very palatable, but then reality has a bad habit of kicking you in the groin to let things sink in.

Emergency Response Teams

From the visuals on the TV channels as well as those on social media, it was apparent that the local law enforcement, emergency response teams were not equipped to handle this.

The area was not cordoned off and for most, it was an event they wanted to capture on camera – to what gain, they perhaps themselves didn’t know.

The emergency response team had no medical equipment/medication to give relief to the injured personnel. Infact from the visuals, it was indicative that no doctor has accompanied the teams to the crash site. The doctors were standing on the road head, next to the ambulances with ready stretcher trolleys.

Precious moments were wasted in which lives could have been saved.

The callous filming of the injured as they were being evacuated in their pain denied the dignity and respect which is not acceptable in our culture.

A moral code of conduct needs to be put in place which gives out the guidelines as well as restricts mass sharing of such images to the distress of the near and dear ones of the deceased and the injured.

In some countries, internet services are restricted to prevent speculation as well as disallow individuals from playing the ‘ fastest finger first’ game by being the first one to report.

The news channels had reported that the the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will make a statement on the floor of the house in Parliament, which was subsequently done this morning, his visit to the residence of the CDS, followed by the visit of the Chief of Army Staff’s (COAS) visit to the residence was indicative enough that we had lost the CDS.

The IAF Twitter handle, after due approvals then tweeted the death of the CDS.

While Gen Rawat’s promotion as the COAS and his appointment too as the first CDS was seen by many in the Veterans fraternity and the Civvy Street as cosying up to the Political Leadership as personal career enhancement steps, and the policies being promulgated as a direct outcome, forget that he as the CDS was doing a task assigned. Whether it was to be Gen Rawat or any other officer appointed, wouldn’t have made any difference.

Let’s take a step back, while on active service, most of us executed our orders/tasks as entrusted to us based on individual competencies. Did any action taken by the deceased CDS was under “unlawful command”? I don’t think so.

Were the actions taken by the CDS popular with the rank and file and least of all Veterans? Most unlikely. As during Service days, none as a military leader was looking for cheap popularity, why berate the man in his death?

The Indian Defence Services have always treated the dead with dignity and honour, a few, especially veterans who were nurtured and brought up on this honour code have taken to social media to give vent to their feelings. Understandably, veterans as individuals have a right to their view, but not at the cost of the Service bonhomie and camaraderie. It’s a moment for all to introspect for good or bad!

While the CDS was at the top of the pyramid, very little attention has been given to those on his staff and his protection party. Professionals to the core, selected to assist the Top Man with the Top Job, their commitment, unstinting loyalty and ability to deliver to a Boss who felt he was short of time, must have tested their patience to no end.

Nihal Chauhan has penned a beautiful tribute to Lt Col Harjinder Singh of 2/11 GR, an officer commissioned when Nihal’s father was the commanding officer. A family bond that grew strong and was broken by the unfortunate crash.

It would be nice if some of the veterans who knew these Braveheart’s write about their service.

While we continue in the Defence Services to deal with internal and external threats. We are also the first responders in emergencies and to see the evacuation of casualties in borrowed blankets/carpets/sheets is not acceptable.

It was indeed humorous to see some of the response team in battle order with weapons, how could that be helpful, unless archaic orders exist in unit SOPs to be equipped accordingly while responding to such emergencies.

The fortune-tellers are busy – dates of seniority, Army/Airforce/ Navy or one of the recently retired Chief are being harnessed back for active service. This will hopefully keep a few busy.

I quote Brigadier Satish Padmanabhan “Reaction to a tragedy must have grace and magnanimity. We have grown as a nation, but some through their gleeful petty reactions to a tragic national loss revealed their dark side. Beware the enemies within”.

I sum up what I started with “Tragedy, Anger, Animosity, Magnanimity” are intertwined and we need to reflect upon it in difficult times, after all, it isn’t a perfect world.

(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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