Devaluing bravery?The unseemly scramble preceding this year’s Ashok Chakra awards shows how political and fickle the process has become.R Jagannathan Jan 28, 2009
The unseemly scramble preceding this year’s Ashok Chakra awards shows how political and fickle the process has become. Some jockeying for official recognition may be inevitable in any country, but ours surely takes the cake. In Britain, allegations have been made about knighthoods being sold in lieu of political contributions, but we saw so much lobbying for the Ashok Chakra and other awards that they have lost much of their sheen.
In the run-up to the announcement of the Ashok Chakra, the highest peace-time gallantry award in the country, spouses and families of martyred policemen were holding forth on the issue. State governments, trying to please various constituencies, pitched in with their wish-lists.
The net result is 11 Ashok Chakras in one year — with seven of them being police personnel. That’s more than the number awarded to non-military personnel in the previous 10 years. Nothing wrong in that. But even a casual look at the citations given to some awardees reveals serious lapses in the way due diligence has been done to confirm their heroism. While the citations for heroes like Col Jojan Thomas (killed fighting terrorists in J&K) and Sandeep Unnikrishnan (NSG commando killed in the Taj anti-terror operations) are clear about their specific acts of bravery, the same cannot be said about the citations of Mumbai’s Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, additional commissioner of police Ashok Kamte and inspector Vijay Salaskar.
All of them died in the line of duty when they were fired upon by terrorists on November 26.
The Ashok Chakra citation for Karkare has this to say. On November 26, Karkare received information about a terrorist attack at CST Station — Mumbai’s former Victoria Terminus. “Acting swiftly, Shri Karkare dispatched teams to plug the possible escape routes and himself, along with a small team, rushed to Cama Hospital where the terrorists had moved by then. A firefight ensued between the terrorists and the police team. As a result, the terrorists were forced to change their position. Shri Karkare pursued the terrorists but, in the process, his jeep got ambushed and he was critically injured. He, however, continued to lead the operation and succeeded in injuring one of the terrorists.” It’s news to many Mumbaikars that Karkare “succeeded in injuring one of the terrorists”.
The citation for Kamte says much the same thing. He was part of the police team that went to Cama Hospital, where a “firefight” ensued, after which the “terrorists were forced to change their position”. When the police pursued them, they got ambushed. But even after he was “critically injured”, he “continued the fight and played a key role in injuring one of the terrorists.” From the two citations it is not clear who — Karkare or Kamte — managed to injure one of the terrorists.
And then there is Salaskar. After the pursuit and ambush, “he continued the fight and “played (a) key role in injuring one of the terrorists”. The use of similar wordings in all three citations suggests one of two possibilities, or both: One, the investigators did not know what really happened when the three police officers faced the terrorists — since all three seem to have done pretty much the same thing. Two, it may have been considered politically sensible to give all three the same award since they were in the same boat and met the same fate. Who knows who did what in that brief encounter?
Now consider the politically-charged atmosphere before the awards. First, we saw minority affairs minister AR Antulay raking up an unseemly controversy about Karkare’s death. Was he sent to his death by forces linked to the Hindu militant groups he was investigating? After this outburst, it would have appeared churlish for any government to deny Karkare a medal for heroism.
A few days later, Kamte’s wife was reported to have conducted her own investigations into her martyred husband’s role in the Cama ambush. She emerged convinced that he was the one who got one of two terrorists.
When two of the three officers were found to have deserved awards for bravery, it made little sense to leave out the third — Salaskar.
According to the police sources DNA talked to, Salaskar’s was the gun that injured one of the terrorists. He was the only one carrying a 9mm revolver whose bullet got lodged in the leg of Ismail Khan.
Nobody is sure if Mohammed Ajmal (Kasab), the lone surviving member of the terror squad, was hit by Kamte or Salaskar, since the bullet was never found.
It is not my point that Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar didn’t deserve their awards; for a nation short of real heroes, we could do with many more Ashok Chakras. But by doing shoddy due diligence, the government has devalued their contributions completely.