Most winners of India’s highest gallantry award — Param Vir Chakra in war and its peacetime equivalent Ashoka Chakra – have received it posthumously, laying down their lives while displaying “most conspicuous bravery” in battling the enemy or terrorists. The ones who survived never went beyond the rank of a Colonel.
Now, for the first time ever, a rookie officer who won such an award three decades ago has breached this inexplicable glass ceiling. Ashoka Chakra awardee Brigadier Cyrus Addie Pithawalla was on Wednesday approved for the next rank of a Major-General and posted as the general-officer-commanding of the Andhra Sub-Area.
Brig Pithawalla is among the only four such awardees — two Ashoka Chakra and two PVC – currently serving in the Army. While one is a major, the other two are from the “other ranks”. The late Hoshiar Singh, awarded the PVC during the 1971 war, had retired as a Colonel.
Medals like PVC and Ashok Chakra come few and far between. Only 21 PVCs and just about 60 Ashoka Chakras have so far been awarded despite India fighting several wars and battling full-blown insurgencies since the 1947-48 J&K operations.
Brig Pithawalla, as a Second-Lieutenant leading a company of his 17 J&K Rifles in July 1981, had conducted a daring raid on a hideout of the People’s Liberation Army, leading to the capture of the insurgent outfit’s chief N Bisheshwar Singh and death of seven militants. Despite being hit in the right shoulder by bullets, he refused to be evacuated till the entire operation was over. He was awarded the Ashoka Chakra during the 1982 Republic Day parade.
Though approved only in the “staff stream”, and not the “command and
staff” one which would have given him an infantry division’s command, Brig Pithawalla has become the first Ashoka Chakra/PVC awardee to become a two-star general.
“While gallantry awards are factored in, the most important criterion in promotion boards is an officer’s annual confidential reports (ACRs) during different appointments. Just because someone has got a top gallantry medal does not automatically mean he is suitable for a higher rank like commanding a brigade, division or corps,” said a senior officer.
Incidentally, the Army is currently relooking at the “quantification-based” selection system as part of the overall re-examination of it’s “cadre-management policy”. Under it, 95% marks are given for “quantified parameters” like ACRs, courses and awards. The rest (5%) is kept for “value judgement” by selection board members on criteria like performance, recommendations, potential for employability in higher ranks and “degree of difficulty” in tenures.