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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Nailing the Files

stack-file-folders-10953830That some crucial files relating to the ‘Coalgate’ case are missing is undisputed. These are files that the CBI wants to peruse to investigate and fix culpability in the scam. The government and the opposition are now engaged in an elaborate posturing dance over the issue. Obviously, the probe would be as good as finished without these files, another occupant in the great graveyard of government scams.

The disappearance itself is not surprising. It is not the first time or the first probe in which inconvenient evidence has been conveniently removed. What is surprising is the blasé methodology of removal. Mantralaya_Fire_295x200The least that could have been done was to have a face saving fire accident, like the one at the Maharashtra Mantralya building which destroyed the Adarsh scam files. Doing away with even the thin veneer of plausibility provided by an accidental destruction shows the government complacence in the belief that it can subvert and compromise every single institution in this country with impunity.

What is also surprising is that neither the CBI, nor the opposition are asking the obvious questions. Simple questions that can fix the accountability for loss of the files – and possibly even help miraculously find them. To the uninitiated, a government office would be the epitome of chaos and disorder – where losing a few dozen files would be the easiest task, and ever locating them next to impossible. One only has to see the ‘Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedure’ to dismiss this fallacy. There is a high degree of method in the apparent madness. In 250 pages of pure bureaucratese, the manual gives out detailed instructions on how every scrap of document is created, circulated, preserved, and accounted for in the ministries. Are the CBI and the opposition unaware of the existence of this bible of babudom?

Tracing the files, or fixing accountability for their disappearance is a matter of carrying out a simple audit. Beginning with finding out who the custodian of the files in question was, their movement within and outside the ministry can be traced using the entries in the diaries and registers maintained by each section, as amply explained in the manual. The files are government property, so their loss, by acts of omission or commission, is an offence. The offence gets compounded as they are also evidence in an ongoing investigation. Therefore, fixing accountability and vigorously prosecuting the officials responsible for safe custody of the files is easy enough. It will have the following effects.

The files might suddenly and miraculously be found. Or the officials concerned may start singing to save their own skin, and reveal the actual people behind their disappearance. Besides, it will serve as a deterrent to similar disappearances in the future.

Is the Supreme Court listening?

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Join the army – and die!

bhimpoonchFoot in the mouth disease is a common affliction of the Indian politician. It comes in two basic forms – the ‘shoot and claim misquote’ and ‘shoot and apologize’. Dr Bhim Singh, the minister from Bihar was struck down by the latter when he asserted quite indignantly that “people join the army to die”. Of course, he duly expressed remorse and apologized following a media driven outrage. But the truth is that one is not surprised to hear the attitude displayed by his remarks. Possibly in the throes of the virulent affliction mentioned earlier, Bhim Singh voiced his opinion on the role of the soldiers – that of cannon fodder, paid to lay down their lives for the great nation that the likes of him govern. And while he was castigated for expressing it openly, majority of the political class and a large section of the Indian population share his perception – even though it may be politically incorrect to acknowledge it. They more than display it by their actions.

How often, in his tenure of almost ten years as Prime Minister, have you seen or heard of Dr Manmohan Singh visiting or addressing the troops deployed on our far flung borders? Reviewing the passing out parade of any academy? Address war veterans? These are all things that the President of the United States does on a regular basis. Here is an excerpt from President Obama’s speech at a Veteran’s convention in Arizona

“To all those who have served America — our forces, your families, our veterans — you have done your duty. You have fulfilled your responsibilities. And now a grateful nation must fulfill ours. And that is what I want to talk about today.

As President, my greatest responsibility is the security and safety of the American people. As I’ve said before, that is the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, it’s the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night. And I will not hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests.

But as we protect America, our men and women in uniform must always be treated as what they are: America’s most precious resource. As Commander-in-Chief, I have a solemn responsibility for their safety. And there is nothing more sobering than signing a letter of condolence to the family of servicemen or women who have given their lives for our country.

And that’s why I have made this pledge to our armed forces: I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary. And when I do, it will be based on good intelligence and guided by a sound strategy. I will give you a clear mission, defined goals, and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That’s my commitment to you. (Applause.)

Which brings me to our second responsibility to our armed forces — giving them the resources and equipment and strategies to meet their missions. We need to keep our military the best-trained, the best-led, the best-equipped fighting force in the world. And that’s why, even with our current economic challenges, my budget increases defense spending.”

There are several things here that indicate the sharp contrast in attitude. First is the acknowledgement by the president of a grateful nation, of the debt it owes its veterans, and that the nation is obliged to fulfill its responsibilities towards them. Contrast this with our country, where veterans have to return their medals and burn their artificial limbs Delhito get the government to pay attention to their woes – and yet remain unheard. Next, and specifically relevant in the context of Bhim Singh’s statement, is the acknowledgment that soldiers are a “precious resource” – NOT cannon fodder.

Then is the resolve to provide the best training and equipment for the forces. The tragedy here is that in the absence of any such sentiment amongst our leadership, even the sanctioned amount of the defence budget remains unspent due to the incompetence of the procurement machinery of the government. Thus we have had a situation where the Chief of Army Staff has to write to the Prime Minister to inform him of the critical shortfall and obsolescence of equipment affecting the operational preparedness of the army. Obviously, equipping them well is not of much concern to a leadership that feels it is the soldier’s duty to die for his country.

We have a political class that has, even after six and a half decades of the army’s apolitical existence, a deep rooted phobia against it. And we have a bureaucracy which is only too happy to prey on these fears, and ensure that the generals ‘remain in their place’.  Military advice is thus routed through the bureaucracy. This was the attitude that led to the debacle of 1962, when military advice was ignored and ill equipped and inadequate forces were thrown into battle without adequate intelligence or preparation.

Today, when the nation’s enemies threaten it on its borders as well as from within, it is all the more important to get our act together as a nation. Bhim Singh, and our political leadership in general, would be well advised to learn from what Gen George S Patton said in his famous speech to the 3rd Army – “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You win it by killing the other poor dumb bastard for his country.”

So, if we have to win future wars, we need to ensure our soldiers are enabled and equipped to kill the ‘other poor dumb bastards’.

Posted in Blogitorial, Boundary Dispute, Military, Politics, Values | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments