When a True Soldier-Sportsperson-Patriot Speaks...!
Sportspersons like soldiers are above partisan politics
Virtual space is the new political battleground, and this realm is routinely poisoned with unsubstantiated, acerbic and polarising content that seeks to ‘manufacture’ hate.
When not pedaling in outright falsehoods - unwarranted innuendos, conflations and contextualization becomes the norm. Towards driving aspired divisiveness, the peddlers-of-hate spare no personal space or sacrosanctity towards their own petty, partisan, and often, nefarious agenda.
In recent times, one particular institution that has been subjected to undesirable political appropriation is that of the apolitical Indian Armed Forces.
Whenever the imagery of the ‘Indian Soldier’ is blended with a partisan purpose, it diminishes the apolitical anchorage of the ‘last resort’ of the sovereign.
Time and again, whenever exigency has demanded and when all other governmental arms have failed (political, civil administrative, law enforcing policing forces etc.), it is only the unbiased, apolitical and avowedly constitutional image of the ‘Indian Soldier’ that diffuses strife and brings normalcy, with the sheer moral weight of its presence. This ‘last resort’, should never be afforded a partisan context.
Importantly, it needs no cheerleaders, defenders, or condescending spokespersons to speak on its behalf, least of all from political houses. The institution is confident of its abilities, about its purpose, and in its actions, irrespective of comments (uncharitable or flattering).
As a nation, the citizenry must always perceive the soldiers who have fallen defending the nation, or those that stand ramrod straight and steadfast – as doing so, only for the nation and its constitutional values, not for a party, politician, or dispensation.
Constitutional values like secularism, equality, human dignity etc., are the standards and expectations that are drilled into the soldier’s conscience, not as empty words but as belief systems.
While the combatant is trained for blunt kinetic abilities, it is equally an institution of discipline, self-control and respect. A soldier is expected to demonstrate courage – both physical and moral, a part of which is not to look the other way, but always speak the truth, however inconvenient or unpopular it may be.
An extension of this behavioural courage is integrity and discipline i.e. speaking up when silence tantamount to complicity, doing the right thing, and setting example. Above all, it is about respect and fairness that instinctively shuns discrimination and bigotry, even onto a ‘enemy’ soldier, who is regarded an equal defender of his/her sovereignty and dignity.
These are not easy values to consistently abide by (sometimes, even for those within), but overall, this institution remains without doubt the finest example of the effective working, glories and civilisational profundity of the magnificent ‘Idea of India’.
The wounded sentiment besetting the Indo-Pak domain notwithstanding, there are innumerable acts of reciprocal dignity and respect afforded by professional soldiers on both sides (though, sadly lesser so from across the other side these days, as the historically professional-regimented Pakistani military slides into the morass of its societal intolerance, prejudices and extremism).
Instances like India’s humane treatment of 93,000 Pakistani Prisoners of War post-1971 victory, the moving respect afforded to Late Lt Arun Khetarpal’s (Param Vir Chakra) father in Pakistan by the man who shot the fatal round on Khetarpal’s tank, Indian officers writing to Pakistani authorities recognising the valour of fallen Pakistani soldiers, or most recently, Indian Armed Forces repairing the grave of a Pakistani soldier within Indian territory – all shining examples of an institutional spirit predicated on behavioural aspects that is usually beyond the comprehension of the vacuous, chest thumping and truly small-spirited people who never stood in harm’s way, for the nation.
Sportspersons like Soldiers share a symbiotic similarity and relationship in the way they relate to a ‘larger purpose’ and ‘team’ – the ultimate pride in raising the national flag in both domains, is the highest sense of achievement.
In both realms, the accompanying ‘spirit’ underlying the effort is critical – the ends do not justify the means, as conduct is critical. Sportspersons like Soldiers are inadvertent ambassadors of their nation’s values, ethos, and perceptions – they must behave themselves in a manner that elevates and does not diminish the national impression.
Serendipitously, when a sportsperson also happens to be Soldier (like Neeraj Chopra), there is an added dimension to his/her persona that adds that extra ‘touch’, as was seen in the simple but moving symbolism of folding the national flag and putting it on the chair in a dignified way (as opposed to tossing it away), after having adorned the same.
The soldiers recognise the importance of symbolism and often ‘pay the ultimate price’ to uphold the euphemistic ‘flag’, be it that of their beloved Paltan (unit), Regiment or the Nation.
The essential symbolism of a dignified sportsperson, soldier and above all, an Indian, also necessitates and extends to a conduct that is befitting of a 5000-year-old civilisational – the boorishness, crassness or intemperateness of the rabidly partisan-minded, can certainly lower a ‘moment’, individual, institution or even the national discourse. Not so, by the pride of India, Neeraj Chopra.
Later in a significant move, as the troll-industry of manufactured hate alluded to an attempt by Neeraj Chopra’s fellow contestant, Pakistani athlete Arshad Nadeem, to jinx Neeraj Chopra’s throw with much spicy insinuations and baseless aspersions, the quintessential soldier and proud Indian spoke, as only a dignified, large-hearted and truly patriotic Indian can, with utmost honesty.
Neeraj Chopra had the option to remain silent and allow the untrue narrative to remain, after all he had nothing material to lose – but he chose to speak, clarify, and negate the inelegant hate-laced agenda. Chopra’s words, ‘I would request everyone to please not use me and my comments as a medium to further your vested interests and propaganda. Sports teaches us to be together and united. I’m extremely disappointed to see some of the reactions from the public on my recent comments’, were nothing short of grace and dignity personified.
Fellow illustrious sportsmen and the son-of-the-soil, Bajrang Punia, chipped in, ‘Whether the athlete is from Pakistan or any other country, he represents his nation. He is a sportsperson first. So, it’s not like we’ll say something against that person because he is from Pakistan’, was telling and sagacious in its import.
Both Chopra and Punia hail from the dust bowl districts of Haryana that have demonstrated an unparalleled saga of valour, sacrifice and blood for the country through the Armed Forces. And for them this poor attempt at hyper-nationalism was not worth sanctifying.
The professional Military sub-culture insists on the moral right and the ethical just – it is an unimpeachable foundation of patriotism (not hyper-nationalism), where each member solemnly swears (or affirms) to uphold the constitution and the constitutional values enshrined.
But in an era, where some can even recklessly and sheepishly question the various constitutional elements and values as already existing, it is hardly surprising that the meek chose the actual broad shoulders of those who fight to see the Tricolour flying high, be it on the combat battlegrounds or in the stadiums.
Lt General Bhopinder Singh is former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry.