In 1967, when Cassius Clay, also popularly known as Mohammad Ali, refused to join the US Army and fight against the Vietcong, there was widespread criticism of the pugilist. He went on to defend his stance and quipped that he had ‘no feud with the Vietnamese Government’. He did not want to serve in the army and kill people he did not know. It was as simple as that. But Ali was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to 5 years in prison and a fine of USD10,000. That was then.
Fast forward to 2019; Times are different today and so is the sentiment towards serving your nation. The former Indian captain MS Dhoni recently returned from Kashmir where he lived like a soldier and was ready to toughen it out like one. His alacrity and his solemn dedication towards the army raised the much awaited question; should more celebrities and people of power serve actively in the armed forces?
Elvis Presley and Jimmy Hendrix are some of the few foreign celebrities who served in the US Army and did so willingly. Or so it was stated by the Pentagon. But once again, it was a different time and a concept like conscription may not necessarily be a good idea if applied in India.
But the perks of having someone like a Dhoni serve actively are many. Not only for the forces but for those also who are looking for inspiration to serve the nation.
Firstly, there is dearth of youngsters looking to join the armed forces in the recent years. Although the Defence Ministry has been working on reforms and better pay, there have been very few takers.
Secondly, this furthers the concept that you can serve your country by representing it in cricket with the bat, but the passion should not end there. A legend like Dhoni has altered the definition of serving the nation through his intrepid and selfless move. His commitment has struck deep in the hearts of those who wish to do more despite being at the top of their game. Many cricketers and Bollywood stars join politics but it is not the same thing now is it?
There is also this thought that conscription should be made compulsory as it inculcates a sense of discipline and the privilege that the state can summon you when the need to serve it arises. But after Dhoni’s heroics it is but natural to assume that you don’t have to be forced into the armed forces. If your love and compassion for your country goes far beyond your vocational calling, you can still make an impact.
Dhoni will be appreciated for his move for a long time and will compel the high and mighty to raise their standards and subsequently walk the talk.
Vineet Malhotra is a Consulting Editor and Prime Time Anchor with News X.