On the face of it, the cycling odyssey by Lt General Alok Kler to take over the command of South-Western Command of the Indian Army lends itself to great compliment. If for nothing else at least for the originality of his arrival. But that said, the element of grandstanding does enter the mix. Why would one disrupt convention and do this thumbing of the nose to tradition?
Want to cycle? An army commander gets two months of leave a year, go knock yourself out. Do the Tour de India and good on you. But when one is taking over the command of an army with several three-star corps commanders and a dozen major generals not to mention the brigadiers that comprise 1 Corps and X Corps and seven divisions in that command, there is a certain protocol. One should respect it.
One is received with a certain amount of pomp and ceremony and there are formalities like handing over and taking over of command. You are received by a guard of honour and there is a mini-parade to escort you to your new command. When 200,000 men, who look up to you as the army commander, put in the effort to welcome their superior, they expect a certain reciprocal style.
That splendour and those accoutrements of office are part and parcel of the profession. It maintains the morale and undercutting that tradition only confuses the soldier. Fetching up the command of an army in cycling gear scarcely makes the grade, and the honour guard will be mystified and so will the hierarchy including your equal ranked chief of staff who officially receives you.
Now, no one is against fitness, but there is a time and place for that. The army is all about fitness and the army commander can have a blast doing the obstacle course or the 20-kilometre cross country with his men. That would be commendable. Even arranging cyclothon on a Sunday morning instead of beer and tombola at the club is fine, but not self-indulging at a ceremonial occasion.
And let’s be honest. The bike costs more than an air ticket even though as the new commander of the South Western Command Lt General Kler would be entitled to a private aircraft. Then there would be a medical team following him as well as escort cars and according to one ‘inside’ assessment a whole line up of ‘supporters’. There would be a cardiologist, a physio and an alert to all units on the 270-kilometre route from Delhi to Jaipur. There would also be a cycle mechanic, spare bikes, security detail also on bikes, an advance guard, a rear guard, a possible hold up for civilians at junctions as the general comes sailing by, multiple lemonade stands and a whole durbar set up for the lunch break. There would also be an army media team to record all this fuss and bother for posterity and definitely a military police escort jeep.
Engaging in one’s passion is all very well but do it on your own time. Not when you are on official duty and certainly not when you are going to get into a three-star vehicle with a siren and a dozen military police vehicles flagging you to the Army House and another honour guard.
Time and place matters.
Updated Date: Sep 01, 2019 20:44:08 IST