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Books written by B G Verghese

More worrisome in some ways is the Government’s reported decision to approach the Election Commission to permit it to appoint the next Army Chief to avoid running foul of the CEC’s Model Code of Conduct. The BJP has been demanding a postponement of the appointment till after the close of the elections on May 16 based on specious and dangerously self-serving and slanderous arguments by V.K. Singh

Moving in Circles

It appears procrastination, indecision and status quoism has once again won the day in the twilight of the ballot.

By B G Verghese

Tribune, 3 May, 2014

If news reports are to be believed, the Government after great cogitation has rejected the Chandra Committee’s recommendation favouring appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff or a variant thereof and other proposals such as for amending defence procurement policy. One must await more definitive announcements but it does appear at the moment that procrastination, indecision and status quoism has once again won the day. Some of these recommendations go back over 20 years but, like issues relating to police reform, greater autonomy for the CBI and Prasar Bharati, have been not so artfully dodged.

The Government’s touching faith in the bureaucracy and its own ability to influence or bend it to its will for self-serving purposes has again triumphed. When will we ever learn? Hopefully, the new government will review the issue and take a bolder and more futuristic view. On procurement too, whether of defence or civil supplies, the answer is not more dilatory and frustrating regulation but less, with swift and condign punishment for breaches.

More worrisome in some ways is the Government’s reported decision to approach the Election Commission to permit it to appoint the next Army Chief to avoid running foul of the CEC’s Model Code of Conduct. The BJP has been demanding a postponement of the appointment till after the close of the elections on May 16 based on specious and dangerously self-serving and slanderous arguments by V.K. Singh. Service chiefs are generally appointed anything up to two months before the incumbent officer retires to allow the prospective chief to settle in well before he formally assumes command. This is a matter of prudence and makes for a smooth transition. But with the next-in- line Army Commander by seniority having being charged with serious but unproven offences by a motivated and tainted predecessor now a BJP electoral candidate, the issue has been gratuitously politicised. The implication is that the Congress wants to plant its own Army chief who will do its bidding while the BJP would like to name a Chief who will do its bidding. This is arrant nonsense and suggests a slimy desire to manipulate the Services for party political ends. No one, but no one, should be allowed to play ducks and drakes with a national institution like the Army which has, like the other two Armed Services, served the country with great devotion and distinction, and should not be permitted to be sullied by sly insinuations and innuendo.

Maybe too much is being made of Narendra Modi’s brash flaunting of his voter-inked index finger crowed with the BJP symbol, a lotus, just after he cast his vote in Vadodara. It is sufficient that he be publicly reprimanded for this arrogant violation while voting was still in progress in the city. But the BJP has less to complain about the UPA Government seeking to appoint a judge to head a commission to inquire into Modi’s “Snoopgate” surveillance of    a young married woman architect and similar cases of snooping in other parts of the country.  The BJP protests that the Gujarat Government is already investigating the matter. But the surveillance extended to Mumbai, which is beyond the Gujarat government’s jurisdiction.

The further criticism is “why now”, on the eve of closure of the poll, when the Centre had promised an inquiry commission on December 26, 2013. The Congress reply is that it has taken time to find a judge willing to take on the assignment. But even admitting delay, what is the objection to the pursuit of justice, in respect of which Gujarat’s record under Modi has been  outstandingly poor? Very serious allegations have been made and telephone taps have been published that speak of other than noble motivations of “protecting” the woman (from whom and what?), allegedly at the request of her father.  This evidence has not been controverted and Modi, so loquacious on all matters in and out of season, has been stoically silent. Meanwhile, some BJP adjunct has been circulating pamphlets in Amethi slandering Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi as “foreigners”.

It is this undercurrent of national chauvinism which, among other things, causes one to worry about the BJP-Parivar’s Hindutva underpinnings. This accounts for the overreaction to the Pakistan Army Chief’s statement that J&K constitutes that country’s “jugular vein”. This is old hat and such tired rhetoric needs to be ignored. Instead, to talk of reviewing border policy to include hot pursuit and so on is idle and easily misinterpreted as upping the ante to no gain to national security or India’s international standing.

Yet we must worry about the spate of bombings and terror attacks by Maoists, J&K separatists, Bodos and possible jihadi groups. The Hizbul’s fear of free and open elections and self-determination by the people of J&K through the ballot box is more than evident. The nation must stand united against such mischief. It may not be far-fetched to see a certain nexus between the Bodo attack on Muslims in Kokhrajar, tragically causing over 30 deaths, and Modi’s  fulminations about expelling Muslim “infiltrators” to Bangladesh from Assam and Bengal. This is incendiary and irresponsible talk. And what to say of Jayalalithaa, who has refused Central collaboration in investigating the serial train blasts in Chennai last week. The blasts took place in Chennai but could well have been to have occurred further along the route of the Chennai-Guwahati Express.  Her attitude is utterly condemnable and shows no understanding of national security.

Finally, the contretemps over the so-called “censoring”, or more likely the routine editing, of a Modi interview by Doordarshan. The spat has resulted in the CEO’s charge of the Ministry of I&B curbing Prasar Bharat’s autonomy. Whatever has happened to the Sam Pitroda Commission’s recently-submitted report on autonomy for Prasar Bharati? It appears to have sunk without a trace. Neither the Government nor the Opposition wants broadcast sautonomy and the hapless citizen suffers. National communications policy remains in a total mess.

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