The Army Chief's Medals.

This is a mundane post about Medals in the armed forces -  to observe the uniqueness of the current Chief of Army Staff's Medal entitlement.  Medals offer a fascinating insight into a soldier's career. As a historian it is fascinating to 'read' the medals of an officer and to guess what his service life was. This post is published only as an academic exercise and is in no way judgemental about the General's illustrious career and his achievements.

2017 COAS

A publicity photograph of the Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat addressing the annual Army press conference as run up to Army Day 2017, in New Delhi on January 13, 2017 got us thinking. he has an impressive array of presidential awards on his medal ribbons. The result of an active and diverse career including operational stints in hot spots. Not counting the Wound Medal, which every soldier would be proud to sport on his chest - the other presidential awards really catch your eye - starting from the lowest order or precedence : VSM, SM, YSM, AVSM, UYSM .. typically this would have ended up going all the way up to one more.. but then we noticed   something unusual!

The Army Chief is probably the first one in decades not to have the customary Param Vishist Seva Medal (PVSM) award. Yep.. Almost every chief in the past three decades had a PVSM awarded to him before he was promoted Chief. Most senior Lt Generals end up earning on in the course of their stints as Corps Commander or as an Army Commander.  An officer who had advanced through the ladder to become Army commander obviously did so many things right that they typically get the PVSM by the time they retire.  But here we are, the Chief of Army Staff doesnt have one.

The last time an Army Chief took office without the PVSM was in 1975 when General T P Raina MVC took charge.   The last time an Air Chief without a PVSM took charge was Air Chief Marshal P C Lal in 1969 and the last time a Chief of Naval Staff took office without a PVSM was in 1966 when Admiral A K Chaterji took office.  

So what happened? PVSMs are planned into the careers of senior officers as much as their higher positions are. The only reason we can think of that General Rawat didnt have a PVSM under his belt is that his name would have been on the list of awardees for the Republic Day 2017 in normal course of events. But in the recent turn of events that suggest he was given a merit promotion ahead of time, it may have ended up with him becoming chief without picking up the award.

This still raises an interesting question for us to speculate - if his name was submitted for the PVSM for the upcoming republic day 2017, and in the normal course of events the award is sanctioned, we will see a first ever award of a PVSM to a full fledged General!. Thats a unique double. First General to become a chief without a PVSM in three decades (and probably wont be one for a while). And a second one for getting it in the full rank of a General!

For what its worth, since its institution in 1960, the PVSM has been awarded 1059 times (not counting five years for which we dont have stats). None were awarded to a four star ranking officer. So it will be an interesting exercise to see if we will see a "first" on this republic day.

Which brings us to the second point of this mundane post about medals and ribbons and awards.

 Medals are an important element in a soldier's uniform. Medals indicate government recognition of specific acts of gallantry, or operational service, or general service, or simply the posting of a soldier to various difficult sectors in difficult times. The medals are issued by the Government Mint and the Ministry of Defence along with letters specifying the authority in which they should be worn. Each medal is "named" by a machine,  that gives the service number rank and name of the receipent on the rim of the medal. This bestows a unique identity for every single medal given to all service men.The medals in a medal group and ribbon tell the story of a soldier's career.

A recent article by Dinakar Peri in The Hindu unearthed the lackadaisical attitude of the Ministry of Defence in issuing these medals. A huge revelation from the article has been that the MoD has stopped issuing medals for the past nine years.  So much so that some young officers who have been recently been commisisoned are not even aware that they are issued medals officially by the government that are named with their personal details. We see more and more armed forces personnel resorting to buying cheap 'fake' medals made by private contractors in the private market.  These medals have a  name for them "Tailor Copies". Originally devised by Miltiary tailors who put up shop near Army Cantonments servicing the needs of the soldiers.  Today these "Tailor Copies" are seen everywhere.

So lets get back to the main focus of this post - General Rawat's medals. Here is a photo of his medal group - from the official publicity photo reveals that while the presidential awards seem to be mint issued, all the rest -the campaign medals, the long service medals etc seem to be "tailor copies" (i.e non-mint issues) from the neighborhood market. You can tell a non-mint issue medal by the absence of a "claw" suspender.. as well as the absence of clasps. eg the Videsh Seva Medal and Special Service Medals are always issued with Clasps.2017 COAS Medals

This points to a sad state of affairs. Were the original medals issued in the first place? Perhaps he lost them. Its not uncommon for a service officer to lose his medals in the course of postings. Luggage gets misplaced during transport. Some get stolen. But the Ministry of Defence has the authority to issue replacement medals.

But in this case the private non-mint copies seem to suggest that someone as senior as the Army Chief cant get replacement medals issued by the Ministry of Defence - which is a sad state of affairs. What hope will others have? especially the personnel below commissioned officer ranks? There is an slight chance that he is not really interested in pushing paper to apply for the replacement medals  and simply resorted to the copy medals for convenience - thats a sad state of affair as well, but I hope that is not the case.  

Perhaps this post will convince young officers not to give up and pursue their right to get mint-issued medals?