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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Another urgent and important matter that the Task Force needs to consider is the astonishing and continuing absence of an integrated communications policy in the Government at any time since Independence

Get modern, shed old shibboleths

The tardiness of India’s defence ministry and the government in establishing a sound information policy is proving a detriment to good governance.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 22 January, 2012

It is a pity and highly anomalous that the Army Chief felt he had to go to the Supreme Court to confirm his age at the height of a distinguished career and on the eve of retirement. The matter should have been sorted out by AHQ years ago. Yet it was a mistake for the General to go to court. Both his application forms to the UPSC in 1965 and to the NDA in 1969 gave his date of birth as May 10, 1950. Both were signed by him. This careless error was later corrected by his father and in his matriculation certificate and was so recorded in all subsequent transactions. The Adjutant-General’s branch kept the new date and the Military Secretary’s branch the old. The Supreme Court will now make a determination regarding the true date of birth.

The promotional ladder in the armed forces is steeply pyramidical at the top and after the rank of Lt.Col or equivalent, officers retire every two years from the age of 50 onwards unless they pick up the next rank. Lieut-Generals thus retire at 60. The three Chiefs, however, enjoy a tenure of three yeas or until they become 62, whichever is earlier. The present Army Chief has not completed a tenure of three years and will retire at 62 if his date of birth is taken as May 10, 1950. The General will make his pleadings in Court; but the matter is one of fact and procedure and not of honour.

However, the contretemps offers opportunity to review old procedures, which possibly gives the age-based seniority rule excessive weight. Any officer becoming a Lt General, and then a Corps Commander, PSO at AHQ or even an Army Commander, has enough seniority and experience to be promoted Army Chief on merit and enjoy a full three year term until he turns 62. The US Army, for instance, does not follow the seniority rule in appointing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Something good may yet come out of the current impasse. The Naresh Chandra Task Force on Higher Defence Management, appointed to review the findings of the Kargil Review Committee and subsequent GOM/Task Force recommendations in this regard, should examine this aspect. It will pronounce afresh on the need for an integrated defence structure with a Chief of Defence Staff reporting to the Defence Minister and National Security Council withtout the filter of a Defence Ministry staffed by civilians, who presently have the last word.

Another urgent and important matter that the Task Force needs to consider is the astonishing and continuing absence of an integrated communications policy in the Government at any time since Independence. This includes disregard of the national motto “Satyamve Jayate”. Basic information, as the “ground truth” of good governance and national security, is pitted against the twin evils of mindless classification and cartographic censorship. This writer was commissioned in 2002 by the then Defence Minister, Jaswant Singh to revamp the Defence information structure. His report, “Information as Defence” was accepted by the Minister, three Service Chiefs and all the Secretaries in the Defence Ministry but got bogged down in a turf war with the I&B Ministry on cadre posts and because a parallel report was in the works. It remains classified. It had a philosophy, a structure and an integrated working plan for the instant world created by the communications revolution.

India’s communication policy, however, remains ineffective and fragmented across the PMO, MEA, Defence, Home and I&B Ministries. Witness the communications debacle over 26/11, Indus waters, Kashmir related events, Chinese “encroachments”, “Brahmaputra diversions”, cyber hacking, the circulation of fake currency notes, and the current Army Chief’s age controversy, not to mention the CAG, 2G, Adarsh and other issues. Ministry spokesmen have become silent and invisible and are seldom in the loop. Instead, senior GoM ministers speak from time to time as the country’s first line of information-defence. This is an untidy arrangement.

With geography downgraded in schools and colleges and cartography severely constricted –though satellite imagery and Google maps lay us bare – geo-politics and geo-strategy are poorly understood. We are trying to resolve the Siachen issue with Pakistan without reconfirming and, in fact, discarding the Karachi Agreement of July 1949 that established the cease fire line, now LOC, that delineated the CFL beyond the last demarcated grid-refence NJ 9842 “thence north to the glaciers”. Pakistan, following the US Defence Mapping Agency, has drawn this line northeast from NJ 9842 to a point west of the Karakoram Pass to manufacture a “dispute”. India never protested aganst this cartographic aggression when it was apparent in the early 1970s. The country and Government remain totally uninformed or misinformed on Siachen.

The continued classification of “declassified” official records under the 30 (now 25) year rule, has created another problem. Archival papers pertaining to Kashmir, the India-China border war, the Bangladesh liberation war, nuclear proliferation, Kargil, etc, have been leaked in memoirs or declassified and published by the US, UK, Russians and other powers. A plethora of books on such sensitive issues concerning India have been published by foreign and Indian scholars based on these declassified documents. These sources, with their obvious exernal biases and subjective geo-strategic judgements, are becoming standard references and cited as The Truth. But where is the Indian point of view? Here is a wholesale “WikiLeakification” of India’s foreign and strategc policy!

This happens because we have no communications policy. Do we just say amen or should we do something about the matter as it constitutes the very basis of good governance and national security?

On a different plane, the Trinamool Minister for Railways, Dinesh Trivedi, has sought a bail-out for the Railways in the form of a Rs10,000 crores corpus fund from the general exchequer. India Rail, once the pride of India, is facing bankruptcy because of populist policies: subsidised passenger fares and construction of uneconomic lines to garner votes at the cost of maintenance, renewal and upgradation.

Should the Railways continue the 100 year old practice of having a separate budget in totally changed circumstances? Other public enterprises in the power, oil and gas and minerals sectors dispose of larger budgets today. There is no reason why the Railway budget should not be part of the general budget.

Then again, protests by a section of Muslim Indians decrying “The Satanic Verses” as blasphemy caused Salman Rushdie to cancel his planned visit to the Jaipur Literary Festival last week. Islamist clerics had earlier riled against the revival of cinemas and bars in Kashmir. This is as deplorable as the campaign of the Hindu Right against the late M.F. Husain and others on grounds of religious hurt. Still others proclaim offence to public “sentiment” because of the alleged portrayal of Shivaji or Gandhi in less than a heroic light.

It is time to move into the 21st century and stand up for liberal values.

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