By B.G. Verghese
The past weeks have seen India repeatedly caught flat-footed, with wrong responses by politicians and the media to national events merely vitiating the atmosphere when the need of the hour is national unity.
The Hyderabad blasts are a tragic reminder of the mindless vocabulary of enemies within. The culprits, motives and mode of operation will be known as investigations proceed. Meanwhile, to call for the Home Minister’s resignation and blame the police for not acting on intelligence alerts without knowledge of the full facts is both premature and unhelpful. The BJP President’s criticism was that the Home Minister did not fly immediately to Hyderabad the vey night of the blast and report to Parliament next morning. Had Shinde followed this inane advice, he would merely have got in the way of investigations, like the Chief Minister did by his evening walk, offered the media some silly photo opportunities and wasted everybody’s time, including his own.
Defaulters and those who failed to join the dots must certainly be held accountable but the initial reaction and coverage showed the kind of irresponsibility that is becoming a reflex action. The National Counter-Terrorism Centre and NatGrid are still on the drawing board because party leaders and CMs are fighting to prevent an alleged invasion of federalism even after some of their apprehensions have been met. The Centre too has been pusillanimous in not proceeding boldly and telling recalcitrant states that if they refuse to go along and prefer to play politics, they must be prepared to fend for themselves and not whine when danger threatens. Just recall that Tamil Nadu declared it could not handle a possible law and order situation if the screening of Kamal Hasaan’s Vishwaroopam was screened.
The same kind of melodrama has been witnessed over the so-called Chopper Scam. All and sundry have been named, not merely as alleged accused but as guilty parties, and harsh action sought against them even as investigations are proceeding, primarily in Italy where the initial cause of action seems to lie. The distinction between being names being investigated and being charged with guilt appears to have been lost. Due process is sought to be abandoned in media trails by kangaroo courts.
The official reaction too has been routinely ham-handed. Lack of coherent and coordinated communication has been a long-standing bane of governance. That apart the government is in danger of being stampeded into cancelling the VIP chopper deal, a somewhat ostentatious civil requirement with more frills than appear necessary to be functional. However, if cancellation of deals, blacklisting vendorsand a refusal to entertain registered middlemen is to be the order of the day, then defence procurement is going to be difficult or impossible, slow and hugely expensive – all at the cost of modernisation and national security. Some of the very best arms suppliers in the world are blacklisted by India today. Where then does one shop: with the second or third best vendors, or not at all?
Middlemen are not an evil. They are an essential and convenient component of marketing. Presidents and Prime Ministers commonly act as super-middlemen for big deals and are not ashamed to do so. The multirole fighter aircraft contract that the French Rafale won had the top leadership of the competing countries unplugged. Olaf Palme canvassed for Bofors, as loss of that contract could have meant closure of that prestigious company and a mighty blow to the Swedish economy. Berlusconi was exaggerating the point but not entirely off the mark when he said that defense contracts the world over cannot be swung without money changing hands.
Rather than allow free-lancing, all middlemen must be annually registered and subject to strict rules made binding on the vendor as well. It is said that calls for registration of middlemen some years ago failed to get any response. If so, those acting without a valid middleman’s license, endorsed by the vendor, should be deported for breach of conduct. Given such an open and transparent regime, most vendors and middlemen would fall in line.
To blindly shut out middlemen would be to risk having them smuggle themselves inside the system. Quattrochi was such a mole. Tehelka’s Westland sting showed how the Defence Ministry can be penetrated. Rather than learn any lessons, the messenger, Tehelka in this case, was persecuted by a now noisily self-righteous BJP.
The best answer, however, would be to go in for indigenisation or collaborative R&D through the DRDO and by tapping the considerable resources of the private sector. Keeping defence production a cost-plus public sector monopoly has been a piece of “socialist” folly. Let DRDO learn from its mistakes rather than allow foreign vendors learn at our expense.
The just concluded two-day nation-wide general strike was an example of irresponsible unions shooting the poor, unemployed and nation in the foot for many underserved demands and others that could have been negotiated. Feather-bedding by unions has become rampant, reaching its acme in Kerala where purely muscular blackmail is practised. Unions seek toprotect historical jobs despite obvious redundancies and not strive to create more productive employment. The labourer is often sadly not worthy of his hire but becomes a burden on society, though not in every case. The governing philosophy appears to be to get more for doing less.
The general strike, not unexpectedly, led to violence and hooliganism as in NOIDA, all this triggered by the usually bellicose “peaceful demonstration”. Millions of poor can only eat at night if they earn something by day. The Unions cruelly deprived themof their daily bread, Apart from the damage and destruction caused to the citizen and shop owners, the cost of two days of economic disruption would be huge. The Unions have achieved nothing. The nation has lost a great deal.
Amidst all this, and with Maharathwada facing a grim famine, a NCP legislator staged a big, fat, hideously ostentatious family wedding funded by a construction company working for the government. A mere apology for this crass vulgarity is not enough. The man should lose his seat in the legislature and made to account for the black money on display. One guest came with aRs 2 crore worth gold plated waistcoat and another wearing gold rings and jewellery of similar value. They should be made to account to the tax authorities for this clearly ill-gotten wealth.
One positive development was the long-delayed notification of the Cauvery Water Tribunal Award. With this now in place, attention must turn to modernisation of out-dated irrigation infrastructure, faulty cropping patters, water pricing and other aspects of demand and water management. The Ravi-Beas Tribunal Award must also be notified and some rationality brought into the Punjab-Haryana water dispute and management systems. Punjab’s agriculture is in decline on account of misuse of water. How long can this continue?