Secularism and the Army



Secular credentials of the Indian Army have been established beyond doubt in the 68 years since independence. An indicator is that in any communal riot, the arrival of the army immediately instills confidence amongst all parties to the dispute irrespective of their denomination. Whether it was 1984, 1992 or 2002, it was the deployment of the army that brought a swift end to communal riots. To truly understand the nature of secularism in the army, one has only to visit a unit celebrating any festival. All ranks, irrespective of religion, partake equally in the celebrations. Therefore, to anyone who is familiar with the ethos of the Army, the recent article in press “Maulvi in Army censured for saying Jai Hind” sounds obviously discordant. To understand the probable cause and effect behind this report, one has to understand the nature of fighting units in the army.

Traditionally, combat units in the army are organized on a fixed class composition. Either the entire unit, or each of its subunit consists of troops from a particular ‘class’ – Sikhs, Ahirs, Jats, Dogras, Kaimkhanis etc. While those unfamiliar with the advantages of such a system may find it an anachronism in a modern democracy, it is something that has withstood the tests of time and battles. The rationale behind this practice lies in understanding what motivates men to risk their lives and limbs and do their duty in the face of extreme adversity. While it is understood that every soldier is patriotic and serves the nation, that in itself is too hazy a concept. “Naam, Namak aur Nishan” is what soldiers understand and strive to uphold. Very simply put, it means Name (or honour – own and that of the unit), Loyalty, and pride in the flag (regimental colours). The pride in the unit is enhanced when augmented by the immense sense of pride of the soldier’s in his own community. Also, the fact that the soldiers deportment in battle – brave or otherwise – would be common knowledge back at his own village thanks to his comrades hailing from the same area, keeps the men going against the heaviest of odds. The veracity of this is borne out by the reply filed by the army in a PIL in Supreme Court challenging such classification – “Certain regiments of the Army are organised on lines of classification because social, cultural and linguistic homogeneity has been observed to be a force multiplier as a battle winning factor”. The PIL has since been dismissed, upholding the army’s point of view.

Every regiment has it’s own unique traditions and customs, which serve to build it’s identity and pride. These include it’s battle honours, regimental colours, war cry and greeting, things that set it apart from others. So troops from Assam Regiment greet each other and seniors with “Tagra Raho”, Sikh Regiment with “Sat Sri Akal” and so on. The religious teacher in question is from the Rajputana Rifles, where the traditional greeting or salutation is “Ram Ram” or “Jai Mata Di”. All ranks of the unit, including officers, irrespective of their own religion, adhere to such regimental norms. Therefore, the insistence by the commanding officer that the religious teacher in question does so too is not to undermine the latter’s religious beliefs, but to uphold regimental tradition. The issue is NOT about objection to ‘Jai Hind’ being used as a greeting, as the article suggests, but rather demurring from using the regimental greeting on religious grounds. It amounts to viewing regimental traditions through a religious lens, which can not be acceptable in the larger interest of the army.

The army can not allow individual thought or sentiments to take precedence over collective organizational interest. Such a situation would make the maintenance of order or discipline in the organization impossible. Imagine the chaos if every soldier in a unit of 1000 men decides to act as per his own will rather than the laid down norms and orders. It is in recognition of this vital necessity that apart from the law of the land, a special ‘Army Act‘ applies to all ranks of the army. The refusal by the religious teacher to follow regimental orders constitutes an offence under this act. It must be remembered that ours is a volunteer army. By enrolling, a person willingly places himself or herself under the Army Act, and is therefore obliged to adhere to its provisions or face action.

The statement given by the religious teacher to the newspaper speaks volumes – “I had served at Rajputana Rifles centre, Delhi, for 10 years but was transferred to Rajputana Rifles (3 Raj Rif Bikaner) because I had complained against the move to send a junior of mine to Sudan. After my complaint I was sent to Sudan but immediately after my return I was posted to Bikaner, Rajasthan”. He managed to stay on in Delhi for 10 years when the usual tenure is 2 years, managed to get a lucrative foreign mission by complaining against a junior (detailment on foreign missions is based on merit, not seniority), and has now gone to the court against being posted out of Delhi. Incidentally, communication by a serving soldier with media without permission itself constitutes an offence under the Army Act, for which the individual can be separately prosecuted.

He has probably given a religious slant to the case in the hope that the attention attracted helps browbeat the authorities and facilitates his attempts to get posted back to Delhi. While the motives of the individual can be speculated about, the publishing of such stories by leading dailies without an understanding and writing about the nuances (as explained in this post) is deplorable. It serves to accentuate the communal tint sought to be imparted to the incident by the individual, undermines the secular credentials of the army and potentially sows disaffection towards it in the minds of the uniformed readers.

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The Missing Tank

The intriguing tale of a train that went missing for 17 days reminded me of a similar mystery involving a tank that went missing many years ago at the Armoured Corps Centre and School, Ahmadnagar. The incident was narrated to me by the officer who was one of the dramatis personae.

The narrator was posted to the Automotive Regiment as Technical Officer, responsible for maintenance of the 300 odd tanks on charge of the Regiment, and detailing them for various training events. A few days after he had taken over the appointment, his Technical JCO reported that one of the tanks on their charge was ‘missing’. Thinking his ears were playing tricks, he asked the JCO to repeat himself, but there was no mistake. The JCO had made all possible enquiries before reporting to the officer, and there was no doubt that they were one tank short. The JCO could not provide any plausible explanation, and there was none that the officer could think of either. After all, a 40 tonne steel monster could hardly be spirited away, or hidden easily.

He sought the advice of another Regimental officer, an old hand at Nagar. “Have you reported the matter?” Was the old timers immediate concern. “Not yet, I wanted to be sure before ….” “Don’t! Whatever you do, don’t report it. If you do, you are as good as finished. Losing an Identity Card is punishable by six months loss of seniority – a tank will probably put you back by 20 years.” He said, only half in jest. “Just carry on as if nothing has happened – in all probability no one will ever come to know.”

The officer heeded to the voice of experience, and went about his business without reporting the missing tank. The Annual CEME inspection, when all equipment and vehicles are inspected and certified by the workshop, came and went. The resourceful JCO and a couple of bottles of rum ensured that the inspection form of the missing tank was filled up with the rest, and none was the wiser.

A few months had passed, and the issue of the missing tank was all but forgotten by the officer, when the JCO came rushing into his office excitedly. The missing tank had been found! The JCO, who had managed to piece together the amazing story of the missing tank after it’s discovery, related it.

Apparently the ill fated tank had been part of driver training for one of the courses. At the end of the training, the permanent driver of the tank parked it close to the washing point intending to wash it the next day. However, on reaching back to the lines, he learnt that he had received a telegram from home that his father had passed away. The sympathetic squadron commander had already sanctioned and signed his leave, and he caught the night train home. In all this, no one gave a thought to the tank on the drivers charge.

It remained parked at the washing point for a while, till one day the tank museum, which was just adjacent to the washing point, was being spruced up for a VIP visit. An Armoured Recovery Vehicle was detailed to straighten out the exhibit tanks, and the Vijayant at the washing point was mistaken for one of the museum tanks – possibly a Centurion. The ARV dragged it in line with the rest of the exhibits, and it received a fresh coat of paint along with the others. There it stood for the next few months. Meanwhile, while it’s driver was still on leave, his posting order back to his regiment was received. He rejoined from leave, took his movement order and left for his regiment, without a second thought to the tank that had been on his charge. He assumed that someone else would have been given charge of it on his sudden departure on leave.

Then, a couple of months later a recruit detailed to dust the museum tanks noticed that the cupola of one of the tanks was locked. He reported this to the JCO, who broke open the lock to find a fully functional Vijayant tank displayed as a Centurion. It didn’t take the JCO much time to realize that this was the missing tank from their own fleet.

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Incredible as the story may sound, it’s claims of veracity would be plausible to anyone familiar with the laid back working environment that Nagar prided itself in. In fact, as a legend goes, a Russian delegation had once remarked that after visiting Nagar, they had started believing in God – for it was only by the grace of God could a place as laid back as this could continue to function.

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Who’s memorial is it anyway?


One doesn’t have to agree with everything you read in a newspaper. And when you disagree, you normally ignore it and move on. It’s rarely that something you read leaves such a bad taste in your mouth that moving on becomes a little difficult. The unpleasant aftertaste keeps returning and you feel compelled to do something about it. If it was something you ate, you would try to vomit it out to get rid of the discomfort. And when it’s something that you read which is causing the nausea, you need to ‘throw up’ the toxic ideas. My way of doing that is through this post.

The noxious piece in question is “Don’t battle over new war memorial…” by an obscure architect called Gautam Bhatia, The essential points that Mr Bhatia makes are:-

  • Since ours is a volunteer army and soldiers are aware that dying is par for the course while signing up, there is essentially no need to make much of martyrs by having a national war memorial for them.
  • Even if soldiers need to be remembered for sacrificing their lives, memorials within their own regiments suffice to do so.
  • The Army and government makes much of events like Kargil Vijay Diwas to be seen as heroes themselves.
  • If the army still feels that a national war memorial is required, why not add in the names of post WWI martyrs on India Gate itself and be done with it.

Possibly cognizant of the slightly blasphemous nature of his arguments, Mr Bhatia doesn’t have the courage to claim ownership of the above thoughts. He, instead, ascribes them to unnamed, unquoted “critics” by whom “questions are now being raised”. Despite extensive online search, I could not find a single piece by any critic who has expressed such views. The lone voice against a national war memorial that appeared in the search was that of Shiela Dixit. So one wonders who are the critics Mr Bhatia is speaking about, and where do they express their views. Or whether they do exist at all.

Mr Bhatia probably views the army like the contractors that he employs to undertake the construction of his architectural designs. They pay money and hire labourers to get the job done. If a construction worker dies in an accident, he pays compensation and moves on. Hence his simplistic if not moronic assertion that soldiers who die in battle don’t need any commemoration – after all, they are being paid their salaries and their next of kin receive compensation. By that logic, the entire system of gallantry awards should also be scrapped.

Well Mr Bhatia, have you given a thought to the possibility that war memorials are not meant for the dead, but for the living? They are meant to celebrate victories enjoyed by the living at the cost of the lives of the dead? They are meant to immortalize the acts of valour by the dead. So that the living can continue to be inspired and motivated to emulate such acts, knowing that if they do make the supreme sacrifice, their nation will not merely pay off their kin and forget about them.

No doubt the armed forces have their own private shrines to their martyrs, in regimental centres, cantonments and elsewhere. But does that absolve the nation from having a national war memorial where national leaders and the public at large can also pay homage to the martyrs? Mr Bhatia, is any war the private business of the armed forces, or something that they engage in on behalf of the country? On YOUR behalf, so that you can sleep securely, wake up at liberty and write such trash?

One wonders what motivation Mr Bhatia has of writing such a piece. Could it be because as an architect he is peeved that the government is considering involving international architects and builders for the construction of the war memorial, thereby ignoring the likes of him? Whatever the case may be, one expected a little more sense and sensitivity from a newspaper like the Times of India than to publish this kind of trash.

Well Mr Bhatia, good luck to you in trying to propagate your views on soldiers and the value of their sacrifice. On behalf of every Indian soldier, I can only say to you, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

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Generally speaking

 A propensity for shooting off his mouth and the inability to look beyond his nose has landed up Gen VK Singh in yet another embarrassing situation – of having either to make an unpleasant meal of his own utterings, or to go back on them on one pretext or the other. Other notable occasions have been when he went back on his written undertaking accepting a false date of birth, when he withdrew his case from the Supreme Court after friendly advice from an empathetic bench, and when he had to render humble apologies to the same court and the J&K assembly for his statements in their contempt.

The latest incident relates to the former general’s impulsive tweets castigating the army chief designate. Since opinion is sharply divided about the personalities in question, it would be a good idea to go into the series of events leading up to the present situation without making any value judgments about the people involved.

Due to an anomaly in the official records regarding his date of birth, Gen VK Singh was asked to give a written undertaking on three different occasions as he rose up the ladder to the high office, accepting a particular date as the valid one – which he did. Whether the act of asking him to do so was malafide, or an attempt to prevent precisely the type of controversy that arose later, is one of the value judgments we are avoiding for now. But one of the outcomes of this was to set up a particular line of succession to the office of the army chief.

On assuming the office of the chief, Gen VK Singh rescinded from his written agreement and invoked the grievance redressal mechanism right up to the highest court in the land, to have his date of birth changed. He asserted that the fight was about restoring his honour, which had been tarnished by the government in not accepting his stated date of birth. The government’s stance was that it was not disputing the general’s assertion about the date, but the fact that the change had not been made within the timeframe stipulated by the rules, i.e. within two years. No valid proof, such as a Part II order of the change in date of birth made within this timeframe, could be produced by the general. As a result, the Supreme Court, which was cognizant of the need to pass a judgment as per the rule position, advised him to withdraw his case lest they be forced to pass an adverse judgment, thereby affronting the dignity of the office of the army chief and the person occupying it.

The general acted on the court’s advice and withdrew his application. A large section of the observers expected him to resign at that point of time, especially since he merely had another three months left in office. This would have had several advantages from his stated point of view. It would alter the line of succession that he had been alleging was orchestrated by his predecessors, and it would also underscore his assertion that his fight was about honour and not about additional time in office. It would kill two birds with one stone, meeting all his stated aims. However, he chose not to do so, and preferred to serve another three months, perpetuating the succession he was obviously against.

During his last few days in office, he ordered an enquiry against a serving Corps Commander and placed him under a Discipline and Vigilance ban. The person in question was slated to be an Army Commander, and also to the chief immediately after the next incumbent. It is interesting to note that despite having resorted to such an action, which would obviously alter the line of succession, at the fag end of his tenure, he was vociferous in criticizing the previous government when it took the decision to announce the appointment (incidentally, of the same person) as the chief towards the end of its own tenure.

And now, when the new government of which the general himself is a senior member, decided to uphold the previous government’s decision, he chose to publicly condemn the prospective incumbent, using some very strong vocabulary. Thereby giving rise to a situation where a minister in the government is openly against the appointment of the government’s appointee to the post of the chief of army staff.

So we now have the piquant situation, where, having publicly taken a stand against his own government’s decision – a decision that has been categorically reiterated by the defence minister in the parliament after the general’s outburst –   the general possibly has the following options:-

–          To bring his government around to his own point of view and change the decision about the appointment of the next COAS.

–          To take a principled stand and resign in protest against the government appointing someone with the shortcomings he attributed in his tweets as the army chief.

–          Retract and reconcile.

–          Pretend that nothing out of the ordinary happened, and continue with business as usual.

It would be interesting to see which of these options the general will choose, or whether he would be able to come up with a fifth option. However, one hopes that in the times to come, the general rises above his personal prejudices and battles to use the opportunity of high office for greater organizational good.

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Elections : A Case Study

Disclaimer – The situation and characters in this case study are entirely fictional and resemblance, if any, to any individuals or organizations is purely coincidental.


The company in which you are a shareholder has been having a poor run in the past few years. What had seemed to be a money spinner with promising growth just a few years ago is struggling to even break even. There have been recent instances of some of the senior management being involved in serious misdealings. The CEO, though apparently a very honest and capable person, has not been able to exercise any modicum of leadership to stem the rot that has gripped the company. The water-fountain gossip is that he is merely a puppet in the hand of the family that owns the business.

You are to elect a new CEO. There are three applicants for the job. First is the scion of the family in question, the heir apparent set to inherit the business. He has been dabbling with back seat driving, trying to run the business without actually being a part of the board of directors, for the past few years. He has no business or administrative experience, never having held any kind of a job, within the company or out of it, even for a day. On top of it, he is not too bright, and the only thing that he seems adept at is putting his foot in his mouth every time he opens it.

The second applicant is a young, bright and energetic intern who joined the company a year back. Because of his unexpected and unprecedented success in handling sales, he was put in charge of a territory over the heads of several more experienced contenders. He resigned after 49 days to throw his lot in the race for the CEO. He has a reputation for being scrupulously honest, and he is obviously very well intentioned. However, his brief experience is restricted to sales.

The third is the seasoned head of one of the regional units. He has been successfully running the unit for the past 13 years and the unit has been doing quite well under his leadership. Of course, there is no dearth of people who can’t stand this manager. There are talks of his being parochial, dictatorial and ruthless. Whispered rumors about him being partial to a particular community, and therefore discriminatory in hiring and appraisal policies are doing the rounds. Yet nothing has been proved against him in this regard, and the results on the ground speak for themselves about his effectiveness.

Who would you like to vote for as the CEO?

We might have liked to put our money on the new intern. Take a risk and hope for a radical change in the way the company does business. He has all the markings of being a game changer, may be with the potential to take the company to new heights. We would have done that if the company was at a point where it had the luxury of being able to take such a risk. If the growth had been steady, profits stable, and the balance sheet healthy. But then, in such a situation there would probably be no reason to change the management.

Common sense dictates that We go with the experienced regional manager, who is the best bet we have right now. And this choice may not be out of any personal likes or dislikes for individuals, but what is the best alternative available to the company today.

As shareholders, we would also like to move the company from being a family owned ‘lala company’ towards a professionally managed organization. And we would like credible succession planning. For that to happen, it would be ideal if the young intern stuck to his territory and gained experience in all aspects of running a successful business besides his obvious expertise in sales. Thus, a few years down the line, he would be a viable alternative CEO whenever the need arises.

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The Spooking of Raisina Hill


Such is the strong apolitical image and impeccable reputation of the Indian Army that even the thought of a military coup in the country seems ludicrous. So when Indian Express broke the story about two Army units closing in towards the capital on a dark, cold January night, it never suggested the C word. It tantalizingly left the obvious connotations to the active imagination of the readers. It hoped that the readers would leap to the same conclusion that the high and mighty in the government had when they had heard that a battalion each of Mechanized Infantry and Paratroopers were heading from opposite directions towards the capital.

It is difficult to say who was quicker to deny the implied connotations of the story – the government or the army. And they both did so independently and vehemently. The outrage expressed on talk shows by enraged veterans, red faced and whiskers quivering, lasted a couple of TRP rich evenings. And with the recent revelations by the then DGMO, recently retired, has sparked the debate afresh. The basic premise of the outraged veterans is that even the suggestion of such an eventuality casts a slur on the image and honour of the army, questioning it’s patriotism and respect for democracy. It seems they are either deliberately or mistakenly missing out the woods for the trees. The question here is not about the loyalty of the organization as a whole, but the atmosphere of extreme distrust that was prevailing largely due to the unprecedented acts of the incumbent Chief of Army Staff.

Attributing the troop movements to a plan to overthrow the government would be ridiculous to say the least. But passing off the sudden mobilization of paratroopers and an entire Mechanized Infantry battalion complete with 48 Infantry Combat Vehicles to the outskirts of the capital as a ‘routine training exercise’ would also be extremely naive. Mobilization exercise would make sense if taken along the route westwards, for induction into the operational area of the unit, not 180 degrees opposite towards the national capital. The reason given for this subsequently – that moving westwards was not possible since as per norms prior intimation needs to be given to Pakistan – seems rather lame. Units move towards the field firing ranges located in that direction all year around. Besides, the options of moving north towards Kaithal or south towards Churu were also available (see map below).

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So, if it was not a possible coup attempt, nor a very routine training move, what was the reason behind the controversial mobilization? The following series of tweets from Lt Gen CS Panag, a straight shooting and highly respected former Mechanized Infantry officer himself, just about sums it up:-

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So what happened on that night was probably an attempt at psychological warfare, a ‘feint’ to cause confusion in the minds of the ‘enemy’. Possible aim was to pressurize and embarrass the government and forestall any thoughts of summarily dismissing the chief like Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat had been. The beauty of the plan was that it could be indignantly passed off as a routine training move – just like it was – irrespective of the fact that it was highly unusual and unprecedented. And the government would be too embarrassed to admit to being apprehensive about a coup – as it was. Especially a weak government which was already reeling under multiple corruption scams and was quite visibly short of public support and sympathy.

While the absolute truth may never come out – at least not in the foreseeable future – there are no doubts that the incident has done irreparable damage to the already precarious civil-military relations. It has done a lot to fuel the dying fires of the scare of a military takeover that prevailed amongst political leaders in the years immediately after independence, a strong distrust which was largely responsible for the gradual but substantial erosion in the status and privileges of the armed forces.

Whatever may be the emotional assertions of the veterans on television channels against the media and the government – we have only the ambition and actions of one man to blame for this – a man who’s sacred charge was to be the highest custodian of the interests of the organization.

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Dubious Honours

1A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon” Napoleon is said to have told the captain of HMS Bellerophon, which was transporting him to exile at St Helena in 1815. Much has changed in the world in the 200 years since – but the truth of this statement still holds as good today for soldiers across the world. The bit of coloured ribbon, with a metallic talisman attached at the end, is the ultimate reward a soldier gets for doing his utmost even while risking, and often losing, limb or life – a gallantry award as a token of appreciation and admiration by a grateful nation.

But not every commendable act or series of acts take place in the face of the enemy. Some acts of devotion to duty don’t involve physical courage or valour, but nevertheless exhibit extreme sense of selflessness – putting ‘Service Before Self’. And the corresponding rewards for such acts are medals for distinguished service. Like all awards, these are meant to highlight commendable acts, encourage the awardee, and motivate others to emulate.

Then there is a third category of ribbons and medals adorned by service personnel.  These are not really ‘awards’, but given as a matter of routine to mark completion of a particular length of service (nine years, twenty years), or for serving in a qualifying area such as high altitude or specified operational areas. These are colloquially referred to as ‘free ration’ medals – a term originating in the fact that prior to the eighties, the entitlement of free rations for officer extended only to those serving in field areas, which were generally the same as the qualifying areas for such ribbons and medals.

With that in mind, consider the following rank-wise breakdown of recipients of the 184 distinguished service awards announced this Republic Day:-

  • Lt Gens – 51
  • Maj Gens – 37
  • Brigs – 43
  • Cols – 45
  • Lt Cols – 05
  • Majs – 03
  • Capt / Lt – Nil
  • Persons Below Officer Rank (PBOR) – Nil

The army is authorized a total of 81 Lt Gens, 274 Maj Gens, 1044 Brigs and 4013 Cols. Thus 63% of all serving Lt Gens, 13.5% of Maj Gens, 4.1% of Brigs and 1.1% of Cols have been recognized for distinguished service. And, ostensibly, not one out of the over 10,00,000 personnel below the rank of officer performed any act qualifying him to be recognized for devotion to duty.

In June last year, a terrible disaster struck Uttarakhand. A massive rescue and relief operation was launched, that involved thousands of soldiers. They worked tirelessly and selflessly to provide succor to the victims – the images below tell a small part of this great story of service before self.

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The fact that not a single one of those thousand soldiers was chosen to be recognized on Republic Day with a distinguished service award doesn’t speak very highly of the entire system of awards. Agreed, that there are other, lower awards –Commendation Cards of the Chief and Army Commanders, which would have been awarded to quite a few of the PBOR including those involved in the rescue operations. But the non-inclusion of any of the lower ranks amongst the higher awards, and the explicit rank bias exhibited in the percentages above, suggests a clear co-relation between rank and recognition for distinguished service. This is something that negates the very purpose of such awards – viz, distinguishing the extraordinary from the ordinary. It undermines the significance and the value of such awards.

There is no denying the fact that any individual who rises to the upper echelons of the steep pyramid of army hierarchy does so based on outperforming his peers. The reward for such differential performance is the promotion, which is pretty elusive in itself. But duplication of such performance parameters with qualification for distinguished service awards cannot be justified. Thus, the bar for what can be considered as ‘distinguished service’ should be raised with the rise in ranks. This would ensure that at every level of rank and service, individuals who perceptibly differentiate themselves from their peers by performing outstanding service are duly recognized by such awards.

Otherwise, if we continue this trend unabated, distinguished service awards may soon be reduced to glorified ‘free ration’ medals for senior officers.

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Who stands to lose?

news_27-1024x682In the past few years television debates between politicians of various dispensations reinforced one thing loudly and clearly. Amidst all the hand wringing, finger pointing and name calling, the message that came through was this. In the opinion of politicians, the common citizen of this country is a simpleton with a single digit IQ. Someone with a very short memory, someone they can continue to fool and heap indignities upon day after day, while in turn the hapless people will continue to repose blind faith in them.

They wanted us to believe that businessmen offer interest free loans to them without any quid pro quo. That their astute investments and extremely productive agricultural assets have been the reasons behind the almost universal rise in net worth amongst politicians of all shapes and hues.  That being born in illustrious political families bestows divine rights  and innate leader­ship skills even in college dropouts of abysmally low IQ. In addition, it gives them, and even those married into such families, unlimited access to state resources, security and ability to dole out patronage.

Unfortunately for this established political class, their endless good times seem to be hanging on an edge.

A hyperactive and hyper competitive media, a politically aware and vocal electorate expressing their opinions and debating on social networks, not hesitant in questioning the ruling class, were some of the changes that came about in the recent years. Popular protests and movements, like the spontaneous demonstrations in reaction to the Delhi gang-rape case and the anti-corruption  / Janlokpal agitation, saw large scale and spontaneous participation by ordinary people.

Continued complacency of the political class in failing to adequately react to these changes resulted in the rise of a completely new breed of popular leadership. Thrown up by the popular movements, they are not really politicians in the conventional sense, since the term is not associated with a lot of respectability. They are people like us and unlike the politicians, they come across as being sincere and well meaning.  The reason why this phenomenon is considered both, amazing, as well as one replete with hope, is because they have managed to turn conven­tional wisdom on its head.

For years common people were trapped under a realization that they were powerless to do much to change the system despite their overwhelming dissatisfaction with the governance. The best that they could hope to do was to cast their vote in favour of one party over other. The choice offered in that was also limited between various shades of grey. Besides, elections were fought and won largely through vote bank politics based on caste and similar considerations rather than performance or policy issues. So the common man’s vote was not considered to have much impact. And the common man from the street actually managing to fight elections (and win) was only in the realms of fantasy.

But all that has changed. Ordinary people- professionals, businessmen and people off the street with no political connections – came together to form a political party. They managed to muster adequate resources to fight an election, and adequate public support to win it. And they could do all that without invoking castes or the use of muscle power. Their incredible success was possibly even beyond their own highest expectations, and events have suddenly propelled them from being the underdogs to the forefront.

Having come so far, and now having formed the government, the burden on their inexperienced shoulders is heavy indeed. There is the justifiable burden of people’s expectations. But, in addition, they have the burden of the heartfelt desire of all other political parties to see them failing to meet those expectations. Because, if they manage to survive, and manage to deliver even a fraction of what they have promised, it would signal an end to the way politics has been practiced in our country.  The old order of privileges, patronage and nepotism, of corruption and lack of accountability, would necessarily have to come to an end.

And the list of stakeholders for the established order is formidable indeed. It includes the established political parties, and those that benefit from their way of doing things – the corrupt amongst the bureaucracy, judiciary and industry, including the power brokers amongst the Media. It is no wonder that every baby step of the new government is sought to be criticized and downplayed, even laughed at.

The same people who have ruled  the country for 65 years without living up to people’s expectations are expecting miracles within days from the newbies. They are waiting along the sidelines for them to slip up, so that they can go back to the electorate and say “we told you so”. The degree of urgency for them is rather high in view of the impending Parliamentary elections.

But the people who have elected this promising dispensation to power would do well to be patient and give their representatives time to prove themselves – for their failure would mean a return to the old order, and this defeat would not be of the party or the leaders, but of the people themselves. They will then have to go back to being reconciled with the way things have been done earlier.



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Congress Commission for Women?

As per news reports, the National Commission for Women is sending a notice to Gujarat government on the alleged ‘snooping’ case. The commission is well within its rights to do so, as the custodian watchdog of women’s rights in the country. Having said that, it is also the commission’s sacred duty to act in a completely non-partisan manner. However, the manner in which the National Commission of Women has been selectively picking up cases to take cognizance of indicates otherwise.

The commission did not consider it necessary to send any notice against the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien,  against whom serious allegations of raping a minor exist. It did not even suggest that he step down from the post till the allegations against him are investigated. Similarly, the Congress leader and Rajasthan minister Mahipal Maderna, accused of raping and murdering Bhanwari Devi, did not draw the ire of the commission. Nor did Gopal Kanda, who was implicated in the suicide of a former airhostess and his close associate. Incidentally, Gopal Kanda also belongs to the Congress party. While the commission did not demand a report in any of these incidents, it was prompt to do so in a case involving the death of the maid of a BSP MP, or in the case of the death of a teacher in BJD ruled Orissa.

The selective targeting of cases involving non-congress politicians by the NCW becomes a little clear when we take a look at who is the chairperson of the commission – Mamta Sharma. A congress politician, she has just been given a congress ticket from Bundi in Rajasthan. Amongst the members of the commission is Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar, who was the Congress Mayor of Mumbai, and fought the 2004 elections from Malad on a Congress ticket. In fact she was, at one time, a contender for the post of Maharashtra Congress Chief – apparently has now be rehabilitated in the NCW. Ms Shamina Shafiq, another member is, as per her details on the NCW website, “An academician turned politician having a strong political background…She hails from an illustrious political family with her mother-in-law Late Smt. Salma begum (may peace be upon her) also a veteran Congress leader and member of UPCC and AICC.” She has served as state Secretary UP Mahila Congress and as Member AICC. The packing of NCW, and also of the Delhi Commission for Women, with political appointees and loyal bureaucrats, was commented upon by the Hindu.

Congress is a past master in packing vital institutions with its sympathizers and then using the same institutions for narrow political gains. It has had to face the ignominy of the Supreme Court striking down the appointment (despite a dissent note by the leader of the opposition) of tainted bureaucrat PJ Thomas to the post of CVC as illegal, and of the same Supreme Court calling the CBI a “caged parrot”.

Going by the track record of the Congress, the current composition of the NCW, and the selective manner in which it has chosen to pursue cases with political implications in the recent past, the latest action by the NCW can only be seen as politically motivated.

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Every way you look at it you lose

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This post is not about individuals. It is not about who is right and who is wrong. Enough has been written on this blog about that, right from the inception of this sordid affair. Some extracts are quoted below for context:-

“Today it is not an individual issue at all. It is an issue of the office of the Chief of Army Staff. It is an issue of the image of the Army .…… By polarizing the entire organization into followers of different camps headed by possible beneficiaries of the outcome of this ‘battle’, aren’t you seriously undermining the very fabric of the army?” (From An open letter to the COAS – 1 Jul 2011)

“The fact that some political leaders have made public statements joining cause leads one to believe that their support is being canvassed – something that can’t augur very well for the established fabric of the organization” (From Another open letter to the COAS – 04 Jan 2012)

“It is possible that the General harbors political ambitions, and has used his time in office to set the stage for launching his second career. Viewed against this possibility, his actions suddenly begin to make a lot of sense. Not only has he received more media attention than all the chiefs before him put together, he has also supposedly projected himself as an honourable, fearless and honest crusader against injustice and corruption. Having thus carried out his personal brand building (at the cost of brand Army), it could be a simple matter to step out of uniform and into politics. All will probably be revealed in Act three.” (From Casus Belli Aching – 28 Mar 2012)

 But as I said, this is not about individuals and their follies. It is about the outcome, as it is unfolding now. And the resulting effects on the organization. As per the latest reports, the Army has recommended probe against the actions of its former chief. These recommendations, as per the reports, are based on an investigation headed by the Director General Military Operations (DGMO) into the functioning of a controversial intelligence unit Technical Support Division (TSD) set up by Gen VK Singh.

Since, as forecast, Gen VK Singh has since jumped into politics and joined the BJP, and recently shared the stage with the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, these recommendations by the Army are being viewed as political vendetta by the opposition. The ruling party denies this, even hinting that the actions of TSD under Singh’s command were guided by some political parties.

Taken together, these claims and counter-claims imply that actions taken by the Army under the former chief and the present chief, have been guided by political interests of different factions. Never before in its glorious past has the Indian Army been accused of this. The fact that India can boast of the most apolitical Army, in the sub-continent and also probably in the rest of the developing world, is because politicians and generals have scrupulously avoided involving each other in their respective functioning. That barrier has been breached, and it does not bode well for the future of the Army as an apolitical organization.

The Army, a holy cow for the politicians so far, is now fair game – like the CBI, CVC and all others. And we have seen the fate of those organizations in the hands of an unscrupulous regime. The question is, will the events set in motion by the personal ambitions of some unscrupulous self serving people reduce the magnificent Indian Army to yet another caged parrot?

Irrespective of which side is telling the truth, the implications are ominous. If the former chief and the opposition party is right, and the enquiry report is framing the former chief because of his political affiliations, it implies that the army and present chief are lying at the behest of the ruling party. Conversely, if the report is right, it implies that the former chief went way beyond his mandate and tried to interfere in the political functioning.

From the point of view of the Army as an organization, words from the old Simon and Garfunkel song ‘Mrs Robinson’ come to mind – “Every way you look at it you lose”.


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