By Shonali Ghosal
An Olympic silver medal, a Khel Ratna award, Rs1 crore from the Himachal government, Rs 50 lakh from the Rajasthan government, Rs 25 lakh from the Rifles Association of India, unbridled praise, recognition and an out-of-turn double promotion in the Indian Army. If all that doesn’t cut it for 27-year-old Vijay Kumar, not much else will satiate his Olympic-sized whims for long.
Kumar shot to fame, rightly so, when he bagged the silver for the Men’s 25m Rapid Fire Pistol event at the London Olympics. But a double promotion and all this talk about the Army Chief entertaining his demands (yes, demands) of yet another promotion to Officer Rank is deeply unsettling, to say the least. Winning an Olympic medal is no small feat. But there are some things that ought to be earned, that are greater than the Olympic medal, like deserving and earning a promotion in the Indian Army for instance. There is a distinction in the requisite educational qualification, the written tests one must take and the Services Selection Board (SSB) interview one must clear to become a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) and an Officer.
Subedar Major is the highest rank one can reach as a Junior Commissioned Officer, one that can take around 26 years of service to reach. Not every Jawan makes it to Subedar Major, no matter how hardworking, no matter how lucky. Is it then fair to “reward” a 27-year-old with a double promotion that takes 26 years to earn? Some may argue that he is no ordinary 27-year-old, how many win Olympic medals at that age?
Understandably rewarding sportspersons is one way of promoting sports but why aren’t the several cash awards and receiving the country’s highest honour for sports achievements, enough? And why should they be promoted in their professional space in order for us to honour their sporting talents? Let there at least be a plausible conclusion in sight for how it promotes the sport.
Kumar mentioned in an interview that Tendulkar and Dhoni were made honorary Group Captain in the Air Force and Lt Col in the Territorial Army respectively. If that be the justification, let’s make Kumar an ‘honorary’ officer too, one who doesn’t shoulder the duties and responsibilities of being a real officer employed in the services. To that effect, Ajay Maken’s plan to give bronze-medalist Gagan Narang a job at the Sports Authority of India still makes some sense. Narang can possibly help reduce the administrational problems a sportsperson might face, having been one.
Why are we creating a sporting culture where to truly appreciate one’s achievements, we must honour them with a government position that is entirely unrelated with their sport— a Rajya Sabha membership, IAS jobs or a double promotion in the Army? Let’s not forget that the individual gained as much, if not more, from his personal accomplishments as the country did. If indeed our intention is to dangle government jobs like carrots in front of a horse to create competent sportspersons, then this is the way.
There is a reason for the clichéd use of words like discipline, structure and rigour when one speaks of the Armed Forces. For Kumar to break rank and so much as hint at leaving the Army if not for the promotion, insults the opportunities that the Army gave him in the first place. To say, “I’ve won this and I’m still a Subedar” is offensive not only to the Army but to his fellow Subedars.
For Kumar to avail the appropriate training, facilities and coaching required to make an Olympic winner under the payroll of the Army and then threaten to walk out, if not promoted, does not exemplify the so-called capabilities to become an officer that the Army Chief claims to see. Talking in English does not make an officer. If he’s perfectly capable of becoming an officer, he should ask for a chance to rise by following procedure, clearing the exams and interviews.
Unfortunately, we don’t question the qualification of sportspersons with respect to the jobs rewarded to them since they apparently rise above the ordinary norms of procedure. God forbid, if we did, one might even start to wonder how the most perfect straight drive down the ground qualifies Sachin Tendulkar to become a Rajya Sabha member?
While supporting Kumar’s promotion to Officer, the Army Chief mentioned that the Army would “further strengthen his capabilities to make him a commissioned officer.” How about starting with some tips on officer-like conduct, just for kicks? After all, lesser mortals in the Army still are court-martialed for the lack of it.