So Sachin is an honorary Group Captain in the Indian Air Force now. In a much publicised ceremony - attended by none other than the Marshal of the Air - Arjan Singh, and a large number of Air Force Officers, other Government dignitaries and the media, Sachin was conferred this honor, by the Chief of Air Staff - Air Chief Marshal Naik.
Many thoughts related to this event crossed my mind then, and I continue to think about it even now.
I admire Sachin Tendulkar -for his achievements as a cricketer, and for his huge contribution to Indian cricket.
I saw photos of the function in which Sachin was honored. I saw him, wearing an IAF uniform. At the same time I couldn't help notice his long hair, side burns, and an unshaven face. For a moment that image reminded me of the 'rogue' policemen that one comes across is so many of Bollywood movies. Those cops, who are dishonest, corrupt, and those that generally bring a bad name to the service.
Now I don't have anything personal against Sachin. But I certainly have a problem with the decision that the Air Force has taken to confer this honorary rank on Sachin. Here's what I think
What does the Air Force want to achieve by conferring such honorary titles? The top brass I am told, hopes that the youth of the Country would get inspired to join the armed forces.
Is that right? I can imagine a young boy watching Sachin at the crease, blasting away fours and sixes, and the young boy getting inspired to become a cricketer...
But why would this boy be motivated to join the Air Force - is something I cannot comprehend....
Second, honorary ranks should be conferred upon those individuals who contribute towards the progress and development of the armed forces themselves. And the honorary rank should be a symbol of appreciation and gratitude towards the individual who has personally contributed towards the betterment of a force. Examples could be engineers, scientists, doctors and other professionals who while being outside the forces have helped in some way towards the betterment of a force, or all forces in general.
Because Sachin is a great cricketer, is no reason for him to be conferred military title ! By the extension of this logic, every other distinguished performer in his field of speciality, should also become an honorary Colonel or a Group Captain. Why not Bollywood actors like Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan? Their contribution to Indian society through the medium of cinema, has been significant, by any standard.
What is sadly not understood, is the link between an individual's contribution in his field of speciality or his profession, and a military honor
Third, what is the message that the Air Force has sent to its rank and file?
An officer who joins the force through a fierce competitive written examination and an rigorous interview and personality test. He then undergoes tough military training, before he is commissioned into service. Every promotion comes his way only after continuous training and upgradation of skills, and through selection. It is after some twenty years of above average performance, that he attains the rank of a Group Captain. By this time this officer is well past the age of forty.
What would this officer feel when he sees Sachin Tendulkar - a boy who was born when this Air Force officer was in senior school, wearing the same uniform and the ranks?
Let's talk about a 'jawan' - known as an airman in the Air Force. Who does he look up to, as his leader? More importantly, who does he accept as his leader, whose command he will not hesitate to obey? It is an officer who is more educated, more trained and qualified and more experienced in the same profession - which is air combat.
How will this airman feel, when he sees a senior officer's uniform being made available so cheaply to a civilian?
The Indian armed forces are known the World over, for their customs and traditions. Repsect to the uniform is one of the 'values' taught to every soldier.
Don't fritter away such values, just because you admire a sportsman !
There are enough civilian honors and awards that the likes of Sachin have already got, and can get in the future.
Save the uniform for someone who devotes his entire life to the force.