While tragedy struck in the northern state of Punjab in the form of seven lives lost in the Pathankot terrorist attack on January 3, the sense of loss was palpable in the southernmost state of Kerala too.
On Tuesday, Lt Col EK Niranjanâ€™s mortal remains -wrapped in the Indian tricolor- were kept on a make-shift stage in a primary school less than half a mile from his house. Over the next 4-5 hours, people stood in lines, braving the heat and in absolute silence paid tribute to their hero who most knew very little about up until 2 days ago when they heard of his catastrophic death in Pathankot.
Many of his colleagues, batch mates and well-wishers had made the journey from Delhi to see Niranjan off on his last journey. As family members sat -grief-stricken yet dignified- in a demarked enclosure, it was as good as a harthal in Elambassery with no shops opening and almost all staying away from work to show their gratitude to a brave heart who died protecting the country.
As local politicians, movie-stars and villagers offered their condolences to the family, his parents, wife and 18-month old daughter sat dumb-struck, still unable to come to terms with the loss. But in the little they spoke, they said that no matter how unbearable their grief, they stand tall and proud of Niranjan.
Reports however are slowly trickling in of how these seven slain lives could actually have been saved by simply following standard Army-drill procedures prescribed for such operations and avoidable laxity in reinforcing security measures around the Pathankot Air Force Base.
An email letter from Lt General HS Panag (Retd.) that was published by Mohan Guruswami on his Facebook page said, â€śDespite the windfall of SP Salwinder Singhâ€™s carjacking and the use of his mobile, we were not only slow to respond, but also caught with our pants down.â€ť
An opinion piece in Telegraph India asked whether Lt. Col EK Niranjan really deserved to be honoured as martyr when he was neither wearing the necessary gears nor did he use specialized equipment like remote controlled robots to move a dead body.
Indian Express, which went ahead with an elaborate investigation, has revealed some serious security lapses and unprofessionalism in the airbase that had facilitated the strike.
They found that the fence floodlights didnâ€™t work, and there were gaps in border patrol, the police response was on and off.
Not just that. One of the Punjab police officials who spoke to the Indian Express blamed the security lapses on severe financial constraint that rural police stations have maximum of two functioning vehicles for their jurisdictions and that they often lack fuel for more than a few hours of running each day. Hence night patrolling had to be terminated.
Saikat Datta a senior journalist and author specialising on security issues in his article for The News Minute said that the defence force had not learnt from their mistakes they had committed during 26/11 and the LeT attack in Gurdaspur in July 2015.
Sheer fall in discipline and unpardonable security lapses in the day-to-day functioning of the defence forces are what -defence experts say- caused an absolutely avoidable tragedy as the one in Pathankot.
And now the entire top defence brass beginning with the head of the defence ministry is working overtime just to cover up their colossal stupidity in making the entire defence force appear amateurish and unprofessional.