Friday 14 January 2011

Army Chief appears before MPs committee (PO)

M D Nalapat

Although romantics stress the “closeness” between India and Pakistan (especially when they go armed with candles to the Wagah border crossing),the reality is that the two countries have evolved on entirely different trajectories. For the people of Pakistan, the special privileges given to those professing themselves to be Muslim are as natural as they are in Saudi Arabia.In India, the laws mandate that all religions should be treated equally. However, because of the effort of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to make Muslims feel secure in India after the bloodbath that followed partition, the minorities have been given privileges denied to the majority (Hindu) community. For example,schools and other educational institutions run by minority owners are exempted from most of the severe laws that are applied on those run by Hindus. And while almost all big Hindu temples are (mis)run by the government, the religious institutions of Christians and Muslims are free of state control.There would be an outcry if the many beautiful mosques and churches of India were to come under bureaucratic control,the way Hindu temples are.Interestingly,even while the so-called “Hindu” BJP was in power ( 1998-2004),it did nothing to free temples from state control.Clearly,the advantages of having wealthy temples firmly in the government grip outweighed the pull of ideology.In India,’Sabse Bada Rupaiya”. Money trumps all.

However,the advantages given to the minorities and the equality of status they enjoy in India are a far cry from the privileged position of Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, two countries that are increasingly being linked together by a common socio-religious culture. When Muslims from India go to locations such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and see the way the faith they love has been given a privileged status in these two countries (as indeed,in Malaysia and in the entire GCC Group), some get upset that a similar high pedestal is not provided for them in India. However, most are happy at being part of a secular society, although this makes them different from the populations of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan,two religious states where a single faith rules. However,the difference between India and Pakistan excludes the economic elite. Those who are super-rich are the same in any part of the globe. They drink the same brands of alchohol and favour London and Paris as holiday destinations rather than Shimla or Murree. When they meet each other,their common values ( centred around their money) ensure smooth interaction. So while there are huge differences between an average Pakistani and an average Indian,there is almost no difference between a super-rich Pakistani and a super-rich Indian. Such closeness gives an illusion that the entire society is similar,when in fact it is not.

A huge difference between India and Pakistan is the difference in treatment given to the Chief of Army Staff in both countries.In Pakistan,where the army flowered at a time when Washington saw those in uniform as better bets than those in civvies (a trend that is still followed by the US in the case of Pakistan), the Chief of Army Staff is given greater attention by the US than the President of Pakistan,whereas in India,it is the civilians that control the Ministry of Defense.Indeed,this has been carried to ridiculous lengths because of the legacy of Indira Gandhi and her father Jawaharlal or””Pappu” as she affectionately called him). Both the Nehrus distrusted the military,and even refused to staff the Ministry of Defense with specialist administrators,the way the ministries of Finance and External Affairs are manned (or more appropriately,”womanned”,considering that the Foreign Secretary is the charming Mrs Nirupama Rao ). The conseqence is that Defense is looked after by administrators who do not know the difference between a camera tripod and an AK-47,and yet are asked to decide on weapons systems. Such ignorance is perfect for the international arms merchants and their many sayisfied Indian agents,who regularly palm off substandard equipment on the armed forces at huge cost. The case of Russia is illustrative.In the past,China used to be an important market for Moscow,but since Hu Jintao came to power in 2002, that country has become a technological giant,so that Beijing needs to import less and less from Russia. These days,the Chinese are even on the cusp of producing their own Stealth Fighter Aircraft (which they will surely share with Pakistan),while India is yet to deploy a Light Combat Aircraft that is an amalgam of several foreign concepts.

India is the only major democracy where the armed forces are given next to no voice in key decisions involving their ability to defend the country. While some official can come direct from the Sports or the Food Ministry into the leadership of the Defense Ministry,there is nobody from the Army,Navy or Air Force who has been seconded even as a Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Defense. Indeed,those in uniform are kept far away from the cobweb-filled,monkey-infested corridors of the Ministry of Defense in Delhi, much to the detriment of rational decision-making in the Ministry.Thus far,no one has dared to challenge the Nehru legacy of ignoring the vast expertise of those in unform in matters relating to a ministry that they ought to play the biggest role in. All this is of course in contrast to Pakistan,which has gone to the other extreme of military officers having control of sectors that have no relationship with Defense,including several times control of the entire government,as took place when Pervez Musharraf (who had been legally dismissed by an elected Prime Minister) was in charge of the country.

Although the top rungs of the US military regularly appear before the US Senate and the House of Representatives,in India the armed forces have thus far not appeared before committees of Parliament. Dr Murli Manohar Joshi of the BJP,who is Chairman of the powerul Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, has broken this convention by asking the Chief of Army Staff to appear before the PAC to discuss about the functioning of the Canteen Stores Department of the army. There have been several complaints from troops about the supply of dry rations to them,and several have contacted their families,who have in turn got in touch with their MPs about the matter. To the credit of Chief of Army Staff General V K Singh,instead of refusing to appear before the Committee,he immediately agreed,and came before the PAC on January 12,together with the Chief of Air Staff ( Air Marshal P V Naik) and Vice-Chief of Naval Staff V K Deewan. The hearings were marked by cordiality and at the end of the process,the Chiefs went back with a bagful of suggestions from the MPs about the best way of running this important department. For it needs to be remembered that “an army marches on is stomach”.

Overall,the armed forces in India are one of the most efficient and honest arms of the government. However,lately thee have been a curious series of negative reports about the army,navy and air force,seeking to paint all three as cesspools of corruption,when in fact it is those out of uniform who are the real wrongdoers.This (apparently organised) campaign against the Indian military is similar to what was seen in Sri Lanka for more than a decade before Mahinda Rajapaksa took over as President in 2005.There too,the army,navy and air force were vilified by several media outlets, so much so that they became demoralozed.It is to Rajapaksa’s credit that he got this campaign of slander reversed by highlighting the quality and role of the Sri Lankan military. Indeed,for years afterwards,a favourite jingle for the answering tones of mobile phones was a ditty that celebrated the army! The better morale was instrumental in defeating the LTTE in 2009. India is still in what may be slled the “Ranil Wickremasinghe” phase, where the military is being abused by some NGOs and media outlets in a way that may demoralize the troops. Each country needs a military,and India more than most.

By conforming to traditions that are commonplace in the US but unfamiliar in India,the Service Chiefs have unconsciously brought two future allies - the US and India - closer. Hopefully,the Defense Minister of India, A K Antony,will borrow a leaf from the Pentagon and give those in uniform a greater voice in decision-making than they have have had since the Britush left India in 1947.

No comments:

Post a Comment