By B.G. Verghese
The crisis deepens. The resignation of the Naval Chief, Admiral Joshi, last week, accepting moral responsibility for an eighth naval accident in months, is in keeping with the finest traditions of service and honour. But it only unmasks a horror story. The Navy, like the Army and Air Force, are operating below strength in personnel and materiel owing to yearsof procurement delays, faulty defence planning and management placing precious lives and national security at risk. Ministerial and bureaucratic responsibility has once again been evaded.
Committee after committee has reported on structural reforms, modernisation and defence reorganisation to come up against endless delays and a failure to take and abide by bold decisions. Though India is the world`s largest arms importer, many leading military suppliers stand blacklisted and foreign deals have an unconscionable back-and-forth time that has resulted in cost escalation, deficiencies and frustration. Indian manufacturers have been barred from defence production until recently and even now the terms of foreign collaboration are grudging.
The Defence Minister, an honest man, is by now of proven incompetence in the critical portfolio he holds. Bureaucratic hurdles and indecision are the rule. The DRDO has not had the backing it deserves. Nobody is accountable. And all this while, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and National Security Council have been supine. The causes and implication of the Naval Chief`s resignation were cursorily settled in hours by the Defence Minister after talking to the PM. The Defence information and communications system remains dated and inefficient as does the national communications philosophy and structure in a world of instant information and disinformation. When was Defence last debated in Parliament in any serious manner other than in rival political bashing over alleged scams? There has been a terrible systemic breakdown and dependence on muddling through.
The same dilatory, confused and weak-kneed policy was followed over the controversies raised by Gen. V.K. Singh over the fatuous issue of his age that fetched him a reprimand from the Supreme Court. He should have been cashiered as soon as he took the Government to Court while still in uniform, meanwhile playing to the gallery and making bribery charges that he himself did not follow up. The exposure of a “routine exercise,which looked like a march on Delhi by military units the day before he went to Court, caused alarmat “the highest level”. The incident was blandly denied, but has now been confirmed by the then DGMO and former Air Chief. The General, now with the BJP, then defied the J&K Legislature`s summons to answer a charge of privilege for bad-mouthing the State Government and Ministers as corrupt bribe-takers. And he has now called the Indian Express that exposed these matters a “presstitute”!The matter demands an inquiry and appropriate action. Such matters cannot be swept under the carpet.
The Congress too has hurriedly conceded the long-standing one-rank-one-pension demand. Is the military, ex-servicemen included, now being seen by leading political parties as an electoral constituency to be wooed and won on dubious appeals such as beingmore “nationalist” and ready to give the “enemy” a bloody nose. This is dangerous blather. Ex-servicemen are fully entitled to exercise their civic rights but should there not be a well-defined cooling off period for military and civil officers before they join politics or take up assignments that could entail a conflict of interest?
Meanwhile, every political action is being driven by petty electoral considerations. The Telangana formation was bungled by the Congress. In the fall out, statehood for Gorkhaland and Bodoland is being pressed and Bihar is demanding it too be declared a special category state .There is much to be said for smaller sates, but ad hoc, panic decisions without due consideration of side effects and consultations can only buy trouble.
The BJP is riding high, confident of electoral victory under Modi. Rajnath Singh, the party president, addressing his party`s minority morcha, said the Party was willing to apologise for any (past) “mistake”. He was obviously speaking from a lurking guilt complex as the reference was clearly to Gujarat 2002 as he dilated on Modi`s”exoneration” by the court. “Try us once”, he pleaded. But Modi has never once expressed remorse, let alone apologised for 2002. His administration continues to thwart due process.
The RSS is now openly helping organise the BJP`s election campaignwhose Hindutva characteristics are barely concealed behind the statements of the Parivar. Addressing the Assamese and other Notheasterners recently, Modi attributed unemployment and backwardness in the region to illicit immigration from Bangladesh. He argued that Hindu migrants who were fleeing persecution must be accommodated but Muslims and Christians must be sent back. Likewise, “persecuted” Hindus in Fiji, Mauritius and the U.S should enjoy the right of return to India. The reference is always to Hindus and not to Indians. Meanwhile all but Hindu voters marked as “doubtful” in Assam`s electoral list must be forthwith removed from the rolls.
Matching that tirade, Ashok Singhal, the VHP leader, has pleaded that all Hindus should have at least five children to retain India`s Hindu majority and combat conversions!Further, a uniform civil code must immediately be introduced. This is something the BJP has steadfastly demanded but refused to enact though the States are empowered to do so and there is no constitutional bar on so doing as it entails no impairment of constitutionally guaranteed personal laws. The Hindutvadissimply do not know the Constitution.
In Ayodhya, 20 years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and damage to 22 other mosques and shrines by karsevak frenzy, none has been repaired apparently under VHP and Bajrang Dal pressure. Locals do not object, but the VHP has resolved that no new mosque be constructed (or repaired) within a “cultural boundary” of 272 kmsmarked by the 84-Kosi Parikramaperformed in 2013. The administration denies any orders to this effect but the fact is that even the maintenance and repair of mosques, dargahs and kabristans is being prevented. What is the Samajwadi Party doing, apart from giving succour to Subrato Roy of Sahara, an absconder tycoon in judicial custody for allegedly massive industrial fraud?
Wendy Donniger`s “On Hinduism”, published by Aleph, an affiliate of Rupa Publications, now on the market after her earlier book “The Hindus” was withdrawn and pulped by Penguin. This volume is now under attack. The same Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti is up in arms and has given the publishers a week within which to withdraw the book. This diktat must be resisted. The Indian mind cannot be controlled by right-wing fundamentalist thugs.
Finally, as old supporters desert the Congress and new anti-UPA formations are being forged, there are signs of unrest among the Party`s old guard against Rahul Gandhi`s erraticways. The latest is his attempt to enact the Public Grievances Bill and the Prevention of Corruption Amendment through Ordinances before the election code becomes operational. The President is reportedly wary about such irregular and immoral haste. But senior Ministers have been sent to parley with him, in itself an unprincipled move. Whatever the final outcome, the Congress seems willing to abandon all standards?