By B.G Verghese
The new government’s efforts to make a flying start have come a cropper with the effrontery, boorish and indisciplined conduct of one of its Ministers of State, V.K. Singh, former Army Chief. He has rubbished an affidavit filed by the Defence Ministry to damn in the most strident and irresponsible terms the character and appointment of Lt. Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, next in line to succeed his own successor, Gen Bikram Singh, whom he had brazenly slandered. Singh has accused Gen. Suhagof being a criminal protector of murderers and dacoits.
This broadside followed a Ministry of Defence affidavit in the Supreme Court defending Gen Dalbir Singh’s promotion as Eastern Army Commander, categorically rejecting Singh’s earlier disciplinary ban on him while Chief as “extraneous, illegal and premeditated”. The MOD affidavit was in response to an appeal by another general officer, Ravi Dastane, against an Armed Forces Tribunal order clearing Gen Suhag of the charges levelled against him by Singh.
It is after this stinging rebuke by the MOD that Singh tweeted his infamous diatribe seeking to reopen a closed chapter. The public disquiet and anger this clear case of misconduct aroused in the public mind was only partly put to rest by the Finance-cum-Defence Minister, Arun Singh, who told the LokSabha that the Government “fully defends” the appointment of General Suhag. The Defence Minister pleaded that the armed forces should be kept above politics and then argued that Singh’s tweet should not be raised by Members “as it could prompt the Minister (Singh) to defend himself”. Translated, the advice of the Government to the public is “shut up, and sweep the matter under the carpet”.
That is what the former MOD, Anthony did, and fanned the rot in the highest echelons of the armed services; and this is what ArunJaitleyis now advocating, irrespective of its effect on service morale and discipline. In this midst of this flaming controversy of great sensitivity, the Prime Minister has chosen to remain stoically silent, thereby, approving both Singh’s indefensible conduct and ArunJaitley’squestionable response. Is this consistent with Mr Modi’s slogan of less government with more governance”?
Singh should have been censured and dismissed from the Government for stepping far beyond his limits, politicising the armed forces and speaking with a forked tongue. How can he remain Minister for the Northeast after proclaimingGen Suhaga defender of murderers and dacoitsin the very area over which both will have oversight? The man should go. He gave his solemn word of honour thrice to earn his next promotion and broke his word every time, as the Supreme Court sternly noted – to pave the way for preferment for his own kith and kin. And then he had the temerity to defy and sue the previous government while in uniform on a bogus age controversy, something he is venomously attempting to do again as a minister in clear contravention of his oath of office and collective cabinet responsibility.
On the entrance to the Chetwode Hall at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, is emblazoned the armed forces’ hallowed credo:“The safety, welfare and honour of your country comes first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and safety of the men you command come next. Your own comfort and safety come last, always and every time”. Singh conveniently forget his age long back and successively his honour and the welfare of his men, putting his own petty “comfort” first and always, every time. Is this to be the mettle of India’s ministers?
This is too serious a matter to be buried. The incident underlines the importance of appointing a full-time Defence Minister immediately. The Finance Minister is sufficiently burdened and is a stranger to Defence. Less government cannot mean no government. Mr Modi will be making a disastrous start if he does not act swiftly and decisively. Singh is expendable. The honour and prestige of the Army are not.
Another matter that cropped up last week is also a matter of concern. It is an IB report to the effect that the “anti-development” activities of certain foreign-funded NGOS have been anti-national and that their opposition to major nuclear power, mining, railway, dam and infrastructure projects on environmental and other grounds has caused endless delays and cost the country something of the order of two to three per cent of its GDP. This writer has been a long and strong opponent of Ludditism, “nostalgia” and environmental and displacement no-no-ism by the Narmada BacahoAndolan, the anti-POSCO and Vedanta lobbies, the anti-Nuclear fundamentalists and others but has always argued the need for a dynamic balance. Dissent is important and serves as a useful safety valve. It would be grossly illiberal to label all criticism and even opposition to certain development programmes as suspicious and seditious. These NGOs may get foreign contributions but if they keep within FCRA regulations there should be no reason to harass and hound them.
What is particularly worrying is the report that the IB report plagiarises a September 9, 2006 speech of Mr Modi in Gujarat on the occasion of the release in Delhi of “NGOs, Activists and Foreign Funds : Anti-nation Industry”. This reportedly consisted of a collection of articles by RadhaRajan and KrishenKak on the alleged anti-Hindu and corrupt practices of certain NGOs and activists. Is the IB re-activating a private agenda based on old,unproven, partisan prejudices?
This concern is reinforced by other straws in the wind such as renewed calls by right-wing ideologues to revisit history and other textbooks. The withdrawal of certain books, some published long back, on account of “hurt sentiments”, reinforces a sense of liberal disquiet. This is censorship by threat of muscular redress.
As disconcerting is the Chattisgarh government’s plan to deploy more helicopters for logistical use against Naxals in Bastar. This is perfectly legitimate, but will achieve little without reconstructing a broken legal framework under the 5th Schedule, putting in place a proper administrative-cum-delivery cadre, and co-opting the corporate sector to speed, technologically support, manage and market the development effort. Large industries, mines, power plants and connectivity need not be inimical to tribal welfare if put under a strict corporate social responsibility framework, first outlined by the Supreme Court’s Samatha judgement in the 1990s and since further refined.
Meanwhile, there have been some positive developments too. Environmental clearances have been fast-tracked for key projects long stalled and the height of the Narmada dam has been allowed to be raised by 17 metres to the full, project height. This will augment storage four-fold and augment hydro=-electric generation. The argument that the Narmada canal network will take another two to three years to complete and additional storage displacing some 200,000 people is therefore not required, is specious. Raising the dam will increase storage fourfold and augment hydro-electric generation. As for displacement, Madhya Pradesh has no more land to offer. Those displaced, some only partially, will have to accept cash compensation and be aided to settle elsewhere and be trained to take up non-farm occupations. This is increasingly the order of the day as the land can no longer support growing numbers on shrinking holdings.