Monday, August 4, 2014

The Devil’s Advocate

By Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi
(Former Vice Chief of Army Staff)

A number of recent articles by well known writers continue to be in the Modi-worship mode! They have penned down all the good decisions taken by the new government in the last two months, with nary a negative word. Such propagation of one-sided views fools no one. Similar complimentary words had bloated the egos of worthies in the previous government and look what happened! Therefore, it is good to have a Devil’s Advocate!

The stunning victory of the BJP and the Modi Wave that brought it to form an extremely strong government, unfettered by any ‘coalition dharma’, is losing its lustre because of inadequate responses in different fields. While the ‘party-wallas’ are still singing paeans of the new government, large segments of the polity are getting disillusioned. The media is holding back, hiding the bad news in the inside pages, but some have started voicing their concerns. Many examples come readily to mind, like how badly the ruling party has fared in the local elections in Uttarakhand, where the bulk of voters continue to be serving military personnel, veterans and their families. Their about-turn needs to be noted.

Then there are the obnoxious antics of the MP’s of the ruling party’s electoral allies at the Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi, who should have been thrown to the wolves, but have been rewarded instead by bringing in a team of special cooks from Mumbai. Would the government do the same for the soldiers fighting on the borders?  The increasing numbers of communal incidents, some instigated by the ‘Hindutva Brigade’, are also being talked about adversely. Let us not forget the peanuts or rather ‘rotten-chhannas’ doled out to the defence sector in the budget, very similar to what was done in earlier years. Many more negative issues can be cited, but I am sure the reader is getting the drift.

            What the lay reader does not understand is why the apple-cart is toppling in such quick time? There may be many reasons, but the most important is the inability of the new government to tame the bureaucracy. Actions like punctuality in government offices; keeping offices clean; shunning golf and leisurely lunches ; and getting rid of old files will hardly make a dent to the rapacious appetite of the bureaucrats to hold on to power and pelf – their ‘mantras’. Hence, while the bureaucrats nod their heads to all the missives emanating from the PMO, it is actually business as usual for them. The one sector where it is easily discernible is the defence sector, where the veterans certainly and the serving personnel too are yet to see Perestroika!

It is my firm view that the scams; excesses; free-for-all corruption; side-lining the military; and permitting the bureaucrats to rule the roost and make merry at the expense of all other organs and institutions of the state, as well as the hapless citizens, were the real reasons for the colossal defeat of the previous government. When elected representatives abrogate their powers to a self-serving bureaucracy in a democracy, they should be prepared for the deluge that will inevitably follow. Please also note that while the Congress Party and fellow travellers have received the drubbing of their lives, the villains of the piece - the bureaucrats have emerged unscathed from this extraordinary melee! The scientists say that it is only the roaches that have this kind of staying power!

Let me now move to some specifics.

In the field of foreign policy, only three examples should suffice. These are firstly our inadequate and incorrect response to the continuing blood-lettings in Iraq and in Gaza, notwithstanding the safe repatriation of some of our citizens. In one case we could have exerted actively in acting as honest brokers; and in the second case the merit lay in remaining ambivalent.  Secondly, the recent BRICS summit and our losing out to China in the location of the proposed BRICS Development Bank is a failure of our clout and diplomacy. That the banks’ first head will be from India is hardly a solace. Thirdly, the proposed visit of the foreign secretary to Islamabad for re-commencing the dialogue with Pakistan, despite the latter’s continuing intransigence, frequent cease-fire violations and not allaying any of our concerns, is premature. With the Vidhan Sabha elections coming up soon in J&K, this is hardly the time for pushing the peace agenda forward. But then, I am not a pundit of the elite foreign office, only a military man and that too a veteran, but a realist!

The internal situation in the country is getting dismal too. The deteriorating law and order situation, including the increase in heinous crimes like rapes and murders, is worrying indeed.  Ineffective and inadequate policing continues unabated and has in fact become a major problem for the citizens. The usual excuses trotted out about security being a state subject no longer cut any ice, as they are the same that were articulated during the earlier dispensation. In tandem, some leaders of the ruling party and their partners have become ‘loose cannons’, who are trying to whip up parochial issues, resulting  in communal disturbances, curfews, killings and destruction of public and private property.

In the economic field, while some increases in FDI’s have been announced, they are nowhere near the expectations. One wonders how much capital will be pumped in by the measly 49 per cent FDI in defence; major high-tech foreign companies are unlikely to bite unless the percentages are substantially higher. The safe thinking of the bureaucracy is discernible in such actions, as they are excessively cautious. While one must not take unduly high risks, unless bold and calculated decisions are taken, nothing will be achieved.

Let me end this piece by highlighting the ire of the military, especially the veterans, who are livid at the government for going back on its promises and delaying the grant of One Rank One Pension (OROP). Over the last three decades, political leaders of all hues and colours have accepted that it is a legitimate demand of the military, as it is a compensation for forced early retirement of all ranks before reaching 60 years of age, which is applicable for all other government employees. However, on every occasion the bureaucracy had scuttled it. Finally, in February this year the UPA Government and later the present government sanctioned it, but highly inadequate funds have been allotted. Homilies and promises continue to be made, but there is an apparent freeze on funds, but only for OROP. What has hurt the veterans immensely is that while funds have been sanctioned for the unjustified Non Functional Financial Upgrades (NFFU) and for medical treatment abroad for the Civil Services, funds cannot be found for the highly justified OROP!

The crowning glory of the government’s largesse and partiality is that now the pension of the MP’s is being hiked by 75 %! Yet there are no funds for the OROP! As one wag has stated – “Halwai to Mithai Khayega Hi; Fauji kya Khayega – Goli Bandook Ki?”

Prime Minister Modi is no doubt a visionary, an icon of hard work and efficiency, who understands the use of technology and the part the social media plays in this age, but he seems to be helpless against the wily bureaucrats. You need to become adept at ‘taming the shrews’ Sir, if you want to stop the drift.

This article was published in The Citizen on 1 August 2014. Please see http://www.thecitizen.in/the-devils-advocate/  

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