Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

People in high places defy the law by pulling rank. Witness the disgraceful conduct of V.K. Singh, former Army chief, when a Signal’s Major sent to the General’s residence to remove the telephone exchange allowed him as a courtesy for six months, found himself a virtual prisoner for eight hours.

Remember Vivekananda, Stay Cool

Of godmen, uniforms and India-Pakistan relations. India needs iron governance and a cool temperament.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 14 January, 2013

If there is something India needs to remember at this time, it is the 150th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, that great soul who tried to reinterpret India to itself and rid it of caste and other social blemishes. That is the Idea of India we must never forget but, rather, build on.

One is powerfully reminded of this when one sees sundry current “godmen” and other religious frauds backed by gullible and even fanatic followers spouting nonsense and dividing the country. India is a deeply religious and spiritual society. But some of this religiosity is rooted in medieval-rootedness that is not merely irrelevant but antithetical to our times. Asaram Bapu is one such cult figure who cannot be left to defy the law and the constitution and be allowed to get away with hate speech. These men often get away with such conduct because politicians and other powerful or wealthy persons have been allowed to set deviant standards with immunity and impunity. The rot begins with political parties whose politics is for person and pelf above all else and whose members’ electoral criminality is now well established.

Akbaruddin Owaisi was initially arrested and placed in judicial custody in Hyderabad for his utterly outrageous communal and anti-India rant after days of evasive action and pleading life-threatening illness. Such lies, when exposed, as in this case through independent medical examination, should fetch condign punishment in itself for the person concerned and his family and political protectors.

People in high places also defy the law and norms of conduct by pulling rank. Witness the utterly disgraceful conduct of V.K. Singh, former Army chief, last week when a uniformed Signal’s Major sent to the General’s residence to remove the telephone exchange allowed him as a courtesy for six months - not the telephone connection itself – found himself virtually taken prisoner for eight hours. Both the front door of the residence and the compound gate were locked to prevent his “escape”. The General’s personal security staff and family said they had received no prior intimation of such a visit owing to what an Army spokesperson later described as a mis-communication for which an apology was issued. A simple telephone call to the right quarters by Singh’s family could have resolved the issue one way or the other.

Instead, the media was alerted, admitted into the compound and allowed to chase and harass the Major who was charged by the General’s lawyer with snooping around and seeking to plant a bug in the house as a plot for “something big”. It is not known whether the General was at home or not but there was no word from him then or since. Singh’s rogue conduct both in uniform and out of it falls far short of the norms expected of “an officer and a gentleman”. How can a former Army Chief, who earlier shamefully sued his own government for self-falsification of his age, now formally charge the Army with “snooping” on him and be allowed to get away with it? As before, the Defence Minister has dealt with the matter with supreme incompetence and thereby undermined military discipline and morale.

No nexus is implied, but it is at this juncture that Pakistan for some strange reason has decided to up the ante alongside the LOC and J&K while swearing commitment to the peace process with India for its own salvation. Rather than target India as its permanent enemy, the Pakistan Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, has called on the country to redefine its military doctrine in order comprehensively “to tackle terrorism”. He told the National Defence Institute in Islamabad on January 5 that danger to Pakistan’s national security “stems mainly from “non-state actors who are targeting the State’s symbols and institutions in a bid to impose their agenda”. Political will and people’s support were critical for the success of military action.

Despite reiteration of this new dogma at various levels, General Kayani being first of the mark last April, both political will and public support remain fragmented. The LOC violations in the Uri-Mendhar sectors last week, howsoever triggered - and each side accuses the other for initiating unprovoked action – two matters stand out as undisputed. The first is that the bodies of two Indian soldiers were found mutilated, with the head decapitated in one case. This is barbaric. The second is that Pakistan has prolonged and escalated the crisis by unilaterally stopping cross-border truck movements in the Poonch sector, while previously missing yet another, December-end deadline for granting India long-overdue MFN status on specious grounds.

India’s restraint and offer to hold Brigadier-level flag meetings to sort out matters has been scorned. Instead, Islamabad has suggested investigation of these cross-border incidents by the UN Military Observer Group (UNMOG). This sounds very fair except for fact that the proposal mischievously attempts to revive a dead horse. UNMOG was rendered comatose in 1972 when both sides agreed at Simla to bury the UN Resolutions and settle the Kashmir Question bilaterally. Islamabad is now cleverly trying to resile from the governing Simla agreement and internationalise the matter. As importantly, Pakistan is in flagrant and repeated violation of the UN rulings and resolutions on J&K. Such devious cunning will not work. Kashmir cannot once again become an international football with allies and Islamists playing their own games for their own ends.

It would seem that political will and public support in Pakistan for peace with India is divided. A radicalised section of the Army, the Islamists and jihadis continue to favour a hard line as the recent escalation of cross-border infiltration indicates. Non-state actors are still able to blackmail the state. Even the Army finds it useful to engage with these nefarious elements, some of whom have been raised, trained and funded by it and offer it plausible deniability. Hafeez Saeeds and Salahuddins are still at large and continue to spew venom and hate against India while others talk peace. The 26/11 trial drags on. The separatist Hurriyat is still a prime interlocutor in Pakistan while recently-elected panchayat leaders in J&K keep being targeted by those who fear self-determination.

Yet, the peace process with Pakistan must not be broken. The truly democratic, secular, peace-minded sections of Pakistan, though still small and fearful, must be supported. They exist. The familiar chorus of “denials” from Pakistan must be rigorously exposed so that falsehood does not masquerade as truth. But for this India needs a communications policy. Where is that?

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