Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Army losing its Sheen – Who’s Responsible?

By Karan Kharb
Soldiers in uniform and those who have come out of it are all unhappy.  We hold bureaucracy squarely responsible for all our major troubles. This is evident from the spate of angry mails flying across the Net inventing hard-hitting, even filthy adjectives against the bureaucracy where indeed much dirt, intrigue and corruption lie. To be candid, however, is it fair to always put the blame always on them for all our problems? Honest introspection is needed.
The aam admi on the street had lots of respect for the Army and, tired and harassed under the rampant corruption in the Civil Administration, expectantly looked towards the Army with an abiding faith that someday it would shake its magic wand, cleanse the system and deliver him from the malaise.  Sadly, this faith of the Nation has been badly injured by our very own officers who were entrusted to inspire and lead the fighting units and formations. Scams like Sukna land deal, Adarsh Society bungling, rations and some other supply contracts have torn through the martial embellishments of top military brass, regrettably including three chiefs – two from the Army, one from the Indian Navy. A very highly honoured nonagenarian Gandhian, Shambhu Dutta Sharma ji, one day remarked to me at a meeting in the midst of retired judges, bureaucrats and social activists, “Until now the country had pinned hopes on two institutions that would rescue us - Army and Judiciary – if corruption and inefficiency in our polity and bureaucracy arose to threatening levels.  But today, I’m sorry, Col Kharb, the disease of corruption has infected even these two pillars of our national honour and pride. Where do we go from here?”  Used to hearing only appreciation from civilians, this was the most disconcerting comment for me. Everyone looked at me as if they could reach out to the tainted generals by piercing through me.
 Arun Shorie in his address at the USI had once expressed his anguish at this state of affairs.   “I often hear senior army officers complaining helplessly about the stubbornly anti-military posturing of the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defence.” In somewhat similar words he continued, “Arre Sahb, hamne to yeh dekha hai ki jab koi bhi aaphat bureaucracy ya Civil Administration ke kabu nahin aati to ve sab Army ki madad mangte hain. And lo, the Army has always triumphed over the crises that were insurmountable for the bureaucrats. It is a strange paradox that the most potent power of the Nation should be complaining against those who mostly depend upon the Army to manage their critical situations! Logically it should be the bureaucrats who should be complaining against a bossy Army.”  
Military leadership has failed to assert its rightful position in the role constitutionally assigned to it. Armed Forces have a vital responsibility to the nation, which they must boldly assert on all matters having a bearing on national security environment. Likewise, India’s relationships with her immediate neighbours, border management and strategic options to ensure lasting peace - all call for regular and intimate involvement of the Armed Forces in policy planning processes at the highest level. India’s aspirations to be a global power can neither be fulfilled nor sustained by keeping the Military in darkness.
There is no alternative to creating your rightful niche through simple, direct and determined assertion to reclaim the lost dues. A widely acclaimed adage is: “No one can make you feel small unless you accept it.” Not all generals have been like Thimaya or Manekshaw.  As men of high integrity they had clarity of vision and matching courage of conviction to put their foot down.  Sadly, personal ambitions, greed and post-retirement goodies have taken toll of our strengths.  No Chief or Army Commander level officer has had the courage to resign in protest against the Government’s apathy towards the Armed Forces, which consume the largest chunk out of the national budget. (Much more, though, is needed to make them effective and responsive in the evolving global scenario).  
Interestingly, whereas there has been a spate of sharp criticism of the bureaucracy from serving and retired military officers, often loaded with repulsive abuses and cheap sarcasm – all expressive of bitter hatred, there has been no matching riposte from the ‘dirty lot’ even after Sukna, Adarsh and other scams in our own camp. Nobody has contradicted the fact that corruption is rampant in police, bureaucracy and politicians.  Yet, some strains of great character, integrity and courage can be found even in these corridors of high corruption.  They had no Chetwode to give them a powerful motto to serve the nation selflessly.  Yet the created their own style and changed what we continue to think cannot be changed! Let’s mull over the role of these great bureaucrats:
(a)          TN Seshan was an IAS officer.  Prior to his arrival as CEC, many Election Commissioners thought they were powerless to control booth capturing and violence during elections.  Seshan charged like a bull dog and changed the ways elections used to be conducted in India leaving the politicians crying hoarse.
(b)          Vinod Rai, the present Comptroller and Accountant General (CAG) is an IAS officer too (1972 batch, Kerala Cadre). We hardly know his predecessors who came, served their masters and went. Most feared by bureaucrats and politicians, Vinod Rai is mercilessly charging through the power alleys of corruption and has not spared even the Prime Minister in exposing corruption at the top. He would be remembered as a catalyst for systemic change in the governance of this country. And all this without seeking limelight on himself!
(e)          E Sreedharan, the Metro Man already had rich credentials as a perfectionist Railway Engineer for doing projects always ahead of time before assuming his role as the boss of Delhi Metro. In an atmosphere of cynicism, he not only created history in accomplishing the herculean task but has left behind a rich culture of efficiency, discipline, cleanliness, public safety and security so unique that Metro India is a class different from India outside Metro stations! If it were not for this man, Metro would be just another Railway.
(f)           Kiran Bedi – the Super Cop has been known for her daring to take on the powerful goondas, lawyers and Netas. Resolutely enforcing ‘Rule of Law’ she did not spare even Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s car and had it towed away for violating parking rules. Denied her rightful chance to be Delhi’s DGP, she resigned and without bickering over it dedicated herself to a number of social pursuits empowering commoners. She is currently part of the Anna Hazare Campaign for Lokpal in their bid to end political, bureaucratic and judicial corruption.  
None of them sought any favours, privileges or powers. Obviously, it is not the type of office, cars, flags or perks that get you noticed and respected in modern India.  It's the inner power – your very own guts – that lift you.  We need to introspect and reposition ourselves to be in tune with the current realities. Whereas there is every logic for acceptance of OROP, too much noise on this single point campaign at a time when the nation is crying at high decibel against issues like corruption, callous civil administration, terrorism, communal divide, prices etc makes us appear self-centred unmindful of national problems.
Also, our call or campaign will acquire the right punch if we remain objective in our criticism. The danger of angry writing is that the main issue gets buried under the deluge of emotions and sludge of abuses turning the reader against the writer.  There is need to be guided by our traditional virtues of chivalry, courtesy and decorum.

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