First things first!
As the PM described, “He was a remarkable leader who entered public life at a young age and went on to serve society with utmost diligence and compassion. He will always be remembered for his good work.” Paeans of praise have already been heaped over the departed leader, there can not be two views over this. Mr Anant Kumar was a great administrator, remarkable leader and a huge asset, not only to a political party that he served but also to the nation, in general. It was an extremely tragic, unfortunate and untimely death. My deepest condolences to the bereaved family and we pray for the departed soul, may the soul rest in peace.
The question, however, is over the new practice and precedence of according a military funeral to the persons other than to whom it was meant for. A military funeral was a formal memorial or burial rite given by a country’s military for a soldier, sailor, marine or airman who died in battle, a veteran, or other prominent military figures or heads of state. Exceptional politicians and constitutional heads, although given, is more of an exception than a rule. Many such deserving constitutional heads often opt for a religious rites rather than a military one. However, every country has its own set of rules and protocols that dictate who all can be accorded this honor. In this instant, how did Anant Kumar deserve this is the question that the rank and file is silently posing.
Every country has its own tradition and custom surrounding this ritual. For instance, it may feature guards of honor, the firing of volley shots as a salute, drumming and other military elements, with a flag draping over the coffin. The Last Post and Rouse or Reveille is sounded at the right moment during the rite. Not only the drills, even the individuals who can be accorded this honor differ from country to country. In some countries, only the members of the Armed Forces who died in the line of duty are granted a state funeral and not every other military man. Opposed to this, in the United States, a dignified military funeral, with full honors, is accorded even to the veterans. However, “Honoring those who Served” is the custom that is quite prevalent across most armies. Interestingly, not just their own men, armies have a tradition of honoring gallant warriors even from the enemy side.
Manfred Albrecht Freiherr, also known as Red Baron, was a German Cavalry officer who later switched to German Air Force and went on to become one of the finest “fighter Pilots” of all times. He was considered the ace-of-aces of the World War-I, and was officially credited with 80 air combat victories. He was a protagonist of many a movies, books and stage shows. Needless to mention, he was a national icon of his times. His aircraft was shot down by the Allied Forces and he was killed on 21 April 1918, near Somme. It may be interesting to note, the officers of the Allied Forces organized a full military funeral and the serving officers of the enemy squadron served as pallbearers for this gallant air-warrior. Allied squadrons, stationed nearby, presented memorial wreaths, one of which was inscribed with the words, “To our gallant and worthy Foe”.
Therefore, traditionally, Military funeral honors are a dignified ceremony and final demonstration of deep gratitude to those who have faithfully defended their motherland. They are solemn, formal and reverent affairs. They were primarily meant for men who lay down their lives in the line of duty.
Leaders from all walks of life, including politics, deserve a befitting send-off. But, we should be careful not to confuse military funeral with the status symbol. An undefeated Member of the Parliament should not be the only criteria for such honors. In a country like India, there are many more politicians who can boast of such a feat but many of those politicians are men of questionable honor, the country knows.
Importantly, military should not be seen as a pawn, kowtowing to the whims and kinks of the politicians in power.
We must well understand the perils of such practices!! The sooner the better!!
How about reserving such rituals only for Bharat Ratnas??
Think it over.