Saturday, January 17, 2015
Deciphering India's unique bureaucracy and statecraft
Reference TOI dated 14 December 2014 'deep focus' twin write-ups.
The first write up, about the present government's calibrated inaction on the repeatedly promised a proclaimed acceptance of a 30 year old and fully justified demand of Indian ex-servicemen for one rank one pension. The articulation of the government's stance of 'pay or play’ through an 'it says all' caricature of an oversized bureaucrat sleeping on a heap of OROP files and the cachet of associated funds surrounded by dwarfed, fatigued, toothless but still yelling, dawdling 'old fogies' type retired army officers with walking sticks in shaky hands, 'to return' medals and visibly shrunk moneybags is absolutely apt. Mr Mehta and the cartoonist deserve kudos at a national level, besides the gratitude of the defence fraternity that they have already earned in abundance. At least someone had the time and intent to correctly portray the omnipotence of India's bureaucracy which has earned a unique and topmost place on a global scale for having succeeded in reducing the ex-soldiers of the world’s third or fourth largest armed forces to virtual beggars. This feat has no precedence anywhere. Who is bothered if suitable Indian human resource refuses to look at an officer’s uniform in India's Armed Forces as a first career option?
Indian Armed Forces, despite a burgeoning Indian population, continue to put up with a shortage of more than 16,000 officers. The new Defence Minister explains," the MoD is seized of the problem". The Minister also says that, "the government is seriously considering implementing the one rank one pension policy and the announcement will be made in 4 to 8 weeks". Simultaneously he also has serious misgivings vis-a-vis hundred percent implementation of OROP, as the requirement of funds, as per bureaucrats, is enormous.
Straddled next to this write up, coincidently or by design, also a part of ‘deep focus’, is a neighboring write-up titled ‘from victim to survivor’. It highlights the changed manner in which Indian women are dealing with rape and its aftermath. Indian woman, having accepted the perpetuated reality of rape; what with Indian male gone berserk, has finally decided to traverse the ‘hum ladenge’ route. It is an unfolding story of a newfound pluck. In short, the victims have accepted the system i.e. Indian male’s character having touched an all-time nadir coupled with somnolent policing and complete lack of deterrence. They have also accepted that neither this system nor this India shall change. Hence the only way forward for Indian womanhood is through transition from victim to survivor. Is there a parallel in both the write-ups? Take Indian Armed Forces; reduced to a second-rate service, no maai baap, a bureaucracy with all the power of ignorance and means to inflict wounds, chiefs virtually de-prioritizing ESMs, politicians only giving lip service to improve their TRPs, Indian apathy for her soldiers and now even frontline soldiers being told to defend India with their hands tied, again, for political brownie points etc etc. This is the system and needs to be accepted as final reality to propel a shift from being victims to survivors. Women cannot stop being women during transition to survivors. Similarly ESMs cannot let go of their value system, ethics and integrity during a similar transition.
A barrage of carpet bombing full of promises and more promises is the only change in the political scenario. As far as bureaucracy is concerned one can chronicle episodes of frustrations if one has dealt with bureaucracy of MoD. I, for one, have dealt with them at length. I have had four tenures totaling 12 years of my service career with my memory bank full of unbelievable episodes. Hopefully, these would be scripted one day. To prove my point I shall briefly narrate only two incidents. Both have linkages with Embassy of India Moscow.
I was posted as the Deputy Naval Attaché in our embassy at Moscow from 1979 to 1982 as a Cdr. Late Shri IK Gujral was the ambassador. Once he was on leave and the senior most IFS officer was officiating as the ambassador. Coincidently, I was officiating as the Naval Attaché. There was some naval signal from NHQ about which this officer wanted me to brief him. I went to his office and started briefing him. He interrupted me and the conversation went something like this, “What entry are you in the Navy”? “I am an ex-NDA”. “I’m surprised because you have not used the word ‘Sir’ even once”. “Mr---! What entry are you in the IFS”? “What the hell do you mean?” “If you were not a backdoor entry, you would have offered me a seat to start off with. Besides, you should’ve known that if you wanted me to use the word ‘Sir’ you should be wearing naval uniform with more stripes on your sleeve.” I walked out of his office. Later on our Ambassador did support my stand. In fact we became good friends. The second incident says all about the MoD bureaucracy.
One joint secretary from the Department of defense production came on an official visit to USSR. He was trying for a meeting with the Soviet Minister for shipbuilding industry. All his efforts yielded no results. Eventually Mr Gujral called me to his office and requested me to help this gentleman in meeting the Minister. This particular Minister was quite fond of me and was a lively company despite having crossed the age of 70 years. The meeting was arranged and the Minister received us in his chamber with full protocol of champagne and chocolates. I introduced the joint secretary to the Minister and also agreed to act as the interpreter, as the Soviets conducted all business in Russian language. The conversation went something like this. “Mr joint secretary, what exactly are you responsible for in your Ministry?” “I look after the production of all hardware and weapons for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. This includes tanks, guns, fighter aircraft and warships.” “That is a huge responsibility. And how long have you been shouldering such heavy responsibility”? “I’ve been in the job for about one year”-------“I have been the Minister for shipbuilding industry for the past 10 years prior to which I was neck deep in actual shipbuilding for about 20 years. I still feel that I am unable to do justice to my job due to lack of knowledge. You have to be a superman to be able to do so much without any field knowledge. When I visit India I would like to make a request to see the school where they train such supermen”. I told the joint secretary in Hindi that he should join the Minister in the toast that the latter was raising, say polite thank you and scoot. The glint in the eyes of the Minister said all that was to be said.
Nothing has changed and nothing will change. If we had professional officers in the IPS, Indian crime scene and the rape scene would be history in about one year’s time. Similarly if we had good officers in IAS, India’s so-called ‘achchey dins’ would not be continuously beyond the horizon and Indian corruption would be a past tense ASAP. This would be possible even if 20% of the bureaucrats were trained for the job.
Transition of extremely well trained soldiers and officers in uniform to veterans was painful. Transition of veterans to victims has been traumatic. Transition from victims to survivors can, perhaps, be rewarding. It is in our DNA to survive and hang on to our core values. India may not be willing to know us but we know that India needs us as a very valuable human resource. All we need to do is to chart a correct course to be able to contribute in that direction. Quo vadis ESMs?