The recent Raksha Mantri’s ‘farman’ to open all cantonment roads drew its due share of reactions that any surprise and surreptitious order would. While the RM has to be responsible for her decisions, any experienced decision maker would have involved all stakeholders in the decision making process, where competing interests would expose any hidden agendas leading to a reasoned decision – what ever it be. Demerits of the decision has received due coverage in the media. The malady is deeper.
The appointment of an inexperienced and political light weight to a vital portfolio was no accident, the first among equals would have a majority in the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) without debating the merits of any issue, the NSA who had usurped operational control of the Defence Ministry (Pathankot, surgical strikes) now has a more dejure status via the new defence committees, with the three service chiefs reporting to him (the CDS debate has been nixed). The seasoned bureaucrats running the ministry primarily focus on ‘procurement’ and keeping the forces under ‘bureaucratic’ not ‘political’ control, have a raw Pricewaterhousecoopers executive as their leader. While the Haschke diary is not ‘evidence’ as per our Supreme Court, it is adequate to illustrate the proportion of the perceived importance / cut between the political bureaucratic and military components of the MoD. The last RM did not figure in the list, indicating that alternate channels of communications between the political and bureaucratic elements of the state exist.
The gradual retraction / dilution of the RMs order indicates that once again she had been inadequately briefed and led up the garden path (the first time being by the J&K Chief Minister in filing an FIR against army personnel acting in self defence against stone pelters). The loss is hers, the faceless have no face to loose.
A more experienced grassroots politician would have smelled the mischief or sought to know the forum / agency that brought together MPs and MLAs from diverse political parties, pan India, on a common platform without any representation from the primary residents of the cantonments or their Local Military Authority (LMA). Orchestration of such dexterity that even parliament or its standing Committees have been unable to achieve should have alerted her. But those new to Lutyens Delhi are seldom aware of the termite hidden in the polished veneer before them. They too are capable of surgical strikes on the unsuspecting to further their own agenda.
The above is not just an indicator of a green horn RM but more importantly a display of the ‘powers that be’ and the relevance of the soldier in the Indian state, despite his oath of allegiance “even to the peril of his life”. The modern Chanakyas have learnt some of his stratagems but not the responsibilities enjoined on them by their guru. Illustratively “if the soldier has to look back over his shoulder (simhawalokana) prompted by a single worry about him and his families material, physical social well being……… the day when the Mauryan soldier has to demand his dues or worse plead for them, it will bade ill for Magadha……… and my Load will have lost all moral sanction to be king”. But be that as it may, with most state institutions decaying or being neutered, no savior is likely to emerge. The soldier will have to learn to adapt and survive in the prevailing circumstances. The love of his countrymen translates to little before an insensitive ‘state’ and his own senior leadership will continue to be a product of ‘line of command’ or ‘deep selection’.
The modern political rulers are transactional and understand only ‘note’ (money) or ‘vote’. With the military incapable of producing a Birla – Sahara kind of gravy train, leveraging the latter may be the only option. It may not be the most desirable option, especially to a profession wedded to altruistic values and honour. But it is not an option of choice, but for the lack of it. Due precautions and safeguards against its corrosive attributes is essential. No compromise on the ‘a political’ covenant must be made. Tricky and difficult, but with the state abdicating responsibility what options are left ?
The recent OROP agitation has brought to the fore the potential of the vote, especially in some Northern states. The Punjab CM articulating certain service issues is considered a beneficiary. The president of the largest political party recently started his ‘sampark for samadhan’ with an out of character call on a former COAS. With parliamentary and assembly elections due next year in Haryana, the state with the largest concentration of serving and ex-serviceman, the choice of ‘Machiavelli’ cannot be faulted, especially given the need of the party for a ‘jat’ leader, its Achilles heel in Haryana. Before the last assembly elections the smpark for Samadhan was with Ram Rahim (alias Gurmeet Singh) and the national election campaign was launched from Rewari with another former COAS on stage.
The General will make his own choice. The abandoned soldier / ex-soldier must exercise his franchise wisely. He too is entitled to help from a pradhan and other sewaks. With voting permissible to a soldier at the peace cantonment of his posting, he must enroll and exercise his franchise locally, so that the “peoples representatives” also represent the inhabitants of the Cantt and not just those on its periphery. Only an unexpected and explicit commitment from the political masters can arrest the slide.