The rolling foothills with dense pine forests of the smallest district of Himachal Pradesh or Devbhoomi (Abode of the Gods), Hamirpur, is also befitting called Veerbhoomi (Land of the Brave).

Hamirpur District boasts of the largest number of soldiers to the Indian Armed Forces, who typically populate glorious Regiments like the Dogras, Jammu & Kashmir Rifles, Punjab, Rajputs etc.

Hamirpur’s sacrifices to the nation is unparalleled in terms of gallantry and valour with countless bravehearts ‘paying the ultimate price’ – virtually every household has someone in the line of Military duty to the nation.

The noble martial traditions of Hamirpur can be traced back to the Puranas and Panini’s Ashtadhyai, and later to the Katoch Rajput dynasty (old empire of Jallandhar-Trigarta), most notably of whom Raja Hamir Chand built the fort, after whom, Hamirpur derives its name.

The Sufi poet and mystic Bulle Shah (1680-1757 AD) fell in love with the picturesque township of Nadaun in Hamirpur and famously quoted, ‘Aaye Nadaun, Jaaye Kaun’ (Who so ever comes to Nadaun, does not want to go back).

Hamirpur was always in the thick of wars, if it wasn’t the local Ranas sparring amongst themselves, then it saw Turkic invaders, Mughals, Sikhs, Gorkhas and British – bestowing the finest traditions, instincts and ethos known to the profession of arms.

The illustrious Dogra warriors of the region are endearingly known as ‘Gentleman Soldiers’ for their dignified, cultured and fearless conduct in war and peace. Unsurprisingly, two out of the four Param Vir Chakra’s (Highest Gallantry Award in wartime of the Indian Army) for Kargil operations went to Himachal Pradesh, just as the first Param Vir Chakra given to any Indian, Major Somnath Sharma.

Military service is not just a profession, in places like Hamirpur, it is a matter of deep faith.

Recently the four-time Member of Parliament from Hamirpur, Anurag Thakur, was in ‘breaking news’ for getting promoted as Captain in the Territorial Army. Anurag Thakur had persisted with the familial tradition of soldiering in Hamirpur, as both his Grandfather and Great-Grandfather had served in the Army (His father is a politician and former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh).

Sentimentality and legacy aside, Anurag Thakur’s decision to partake the ‘Uniform’ in the second line of defence by joining the Indian Territorial Army (TA) creates a positive impression amongst his electorate. The news of his promotion within the ‘Terriers’ had no less than the Defence Minister followed by an array of Central Government Ministers, Chief Ministers and a host of other politicians and celebrities congratulating Captain Anurag Thakur.

Clearly, the nation reserves reverence and respect for the ‘Uniform’ and the incalculable heft that it carries for the citizenry. The elated Captain soon tweeted, ‘I reaffirm my commitment for serving the people and the call of duty towards Mother India’, a well-meant public reassertion, though perhaps a bit over the top, given the normalcy of the same.

While service in the ‘Terriers’ can afford the opportunity to serve in trying combat operations or hostile conditions, it is not known if Anurag Thakur had the undertaken such stints. Many from the ‘Terriers’ have distinguished themselves with their bravery like the much-decorated Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani, Ashok Chakra (Highest gallantry award in peacetime), Sena Medal Bar (Twice).

Nazir Ahmad was awarded the Sena Medal in 2007, second time in 2018 and finally the Ashok Chakra posthumously in 2019, making him the first recipient of the Ashok Chakra from Jammu & Kashmir. Lion-hearted Nazir Ahmad had neutralized many terrorists and his citation had read, ‘He always volunteered for challenging missions, displaying great courage under adverse conditions, exposing himself to grave danger on numerous occasions in the line of duty’.

Similarly, the reputed lawyer and author, Major Navdeep Singh of the Territorial Army, epitomizes fine soldering accomplishments despite the restricted annual time tenures of the Territorial Army – yet, he has an unprecedented eleven commendations from the Armed Forces, and he continues providing yeoman service to the institution, in his capacity as a full time lawyer.

There are many accomplished sportsperson and celebrities who are given honorary commissions into the Territorial Army to invoke their stardom for inspiring the youth to join the Armed Forces. Many like Kapil Dev, Abhinav Bindra, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohanlal have all worn the ‘Uniform’ with much aplomb – but it is perhaps Lt Col Mahendra Singh Dhoni of the Territorial Army (Parachute Regiment), who literally vests his heart and soul into the ‘Uniform’.

The inventor of the ‘Helicopter Shot’ naturally gravitated towards the ‘Red Devils’ who adorn the coveted Maroon Berets – Dhoni literally earned his ‘wings’ on the chest after making five successful para-jumps, including one at night. The likes of Dhoni have given back to the ‘Uniform’ in their own way e.g. his deliberate wearing of his military uniform with the accompanying swagger, correctness and sharp salute to the Supreme Commander, before accepting the civilian award, Padma Bhushan, was keeping in line with the Paratrooper elan!

Later Dhoni showed the graciousness and understanding in recognising the sensitivity and inappropriateness of wearing the ‘Balidan’ (Sacrifice) patch that is exclusively worn by only the Para Commandos of the Special Forces, within the Parachute Regiment, and not everyone. In Dhoni, the Indian Army and the Territorial Army in particular, have a truly sincere, earnest and dedicated ambassador.

Cricketers like Dhoni or politicians like Anurag Thakur have the ability, responsibility and opportunity to equally ‘give-back’ to the ‘Uniform’ whilst in their mainstay, for all the dignity that the ‘Uniform’ affords them personally. As a senior member of the ruling party and most importantly, as the Minister of State for Finance – Anurag Thakur is powerfully placed to ‘voice’ and ‘pitch’ the institutional concerns, in the corridors of power.

Constitutionally, traditionally and culturally the Indian Armed Forces are publicly restrained from opining about themselves and therefore dependent on the civilian government to address its perceived challenges and concerns. Despite its hallowed status in public imagination, the diminishment of the Armed Forces in national priorities and precedence is an undeniable reality, where all political parties without exception have contributed to the slide, save the condescending and patronising soundbites for electoral considerations.

Anurag Thakur could play the role of the institution’s unsaid ambassador, like his former party-senior and Rajput clansman in the Finance Ministry, Major Jaswant Singh.

But Jaswant Singh was old-school in many ways in that he shunned appropriating or positing his Military Service for electoral optics, given his inert reserve – while still personifying the trappings of a classic ‘Officer and a Gentleman’ in his personal conduct, dressing sense, manner of speech, and service to the nation, and the institution. The proud cavalry officer was not from the Territorial Army but a regular officer from the prestigious National Defence Academy, from where he joined Central India Horse Regiment.

The fine horseman and Scholar-Warrior-Statesman belonged to the Jaisalmer-Barmer district of Rajasthan, which much like Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh, has given India some of its most fierce, distinguished and decorated soldiers. Jaswant Singh was also a man-of-letters especially on matters military, where he authored over a dozen seminal books on national security.

Despite flitting between the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs and Finance – he was India’s go-to man in the Vajpayee era on all matters Defence/Security. Singh never forgot that onerous responsibility and with much justifiable pride and charm in the otherwise moribund annual budget speech, referred to the subject of Ex-Servicemen welfare in his trademark baritone, ‘whose welfare is so close to my heart….’, and went on to enumerate tax exemptions and medical facilities in that particular year. Today Jaswant Singh’s son, also a politician, carries forward that honour, and like Anurag Thakur, is an officer in the Territorial Army, Col Manvendra Singh.

Now, it is truly up to Anurag Thakur to live up and exemplify the noble profession of soldering, whilst also a serving as a politician – some have done so with a great sense of equanimity and grace like Jaswant, BC Khanduri, KPS Singdeo, Rajesh Pilot and did so by minding their speech, conduct and contributions, very mindfully.

Not for them was the reckless, loose and inelegant language that is usually associated with boorish and uncouth provincial politicians. Anurag Thakur has been mired in some unsavory controversy pertaining to a provocative speech in the aftermath of Delhi riots, that did not behoove the sacrosanct construct of ‘an officer and a gentleman’, especially one from the heartland of fine soldering, like Hamirpur.

The news of his recent promotion and the resultant ‘decibel’ is certainly welcome, and he must translate that goodwill for walking the talk, especially for the institution. That is how his sacred Veerbhoomi of Hamirpur, his illustrious ancestors in the military, his proud constituents, his state citizens and the nation at large, would wish Captain Anurag Thakur to be – even the motto of Territorial Army i.e. Savdhani va Shoorta (Vigilance and Valour) is apt for him to bear in mind, to live up to those hallowed and exacting standards.