Monday June 17, 2019
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Integrate the nation’s defenders, don’t alienate them

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An Indian Army Parachute Regiment contingent marches past during Army Day parade in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Gurinder Osan)

  Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi flies from one public-relations triumph to the next in foreign capitals, discerning people back home have an uneasy feeling that they are in a schizophrenic trap. For a nation so resistant to change, India seems to be prematurely donning a mantle that, in reality, remains a distant vision.

Our cities, including the capital, are still choked with slums, garbage, debris and pollution. As industry lags, skilling of youth and job creation remain a chimera. The ‘unorganized sector’ reigns supreme: with hawkers, casual labourers, beggars and the unemployed thronging our streets, seeking a living. Venality and corruption are still rampant – albeit in newer formats – and the powerful cling to their privileges, protected by Teflon-coated skins.

Many pundits say that the NDA government is in its early days and still has 43 months to fulfill its grand promises. Given India’s huge potential as a market and Modi’s assiduous international efforts to garner FDI, one should, perhaps, withhold judgment on the NDA, for now.

However, such indulgence may not be appropriate in the critical realm of the nation’s defence, which brooks no impediments or prevarication. It is here that the NDA government has scored several ‘self-goals’ that are bound to have a deleterious impact on India’s national security.

The first instance relates to the clumsy handling of the military veterans’ demand for restoration of One Rank One Pension or OROP – arbitrarily taken away in 1973. Adopting an ostrich-like attitude, the NDA misjudged the motivation, endurance and campaigning skills of the nation’s military veterans. The prolonged stand-off has embarrassed the nation and hurt the pride of the soldier. Having allowed this sensitive issue to fester, the NDA government has itself to blame if the canker of politicization has irretrievably entered our military.

On September 5, everyone heaved a collective sigh of relief when the Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar, flanked by the three service chiefs, ceremoniously read out a prepared statement meant to provide closure to the OROP imbroglio. However, as soon as he had finished reading, the veterans realized that the government had unilaterally reneged on several issues – diluting the OROP concept.

Moreover, in his statement, Parikkar made a mention of VRS or Voluntary Retirement Scheme, a concept that has never existed in the Indian military. Obviously, a ‘red-herring’ inserted by a mischievous bureaucrat, this rang alarm bells throughout the armed forces; not only because it would affect many serving officers, but because it suggested that the service chiefs had concurred.

Since no government letter or clarification has followed this fiasco, the veterans are convinced that a ‘confidence trick’ was played upon them and the Jantar Mantar agitation continues into its fourth month. The veterans have alleged that a ‘gag-order’ has been placed on media reportage from Jantar Mantar. If true, it adds yet another unsavoury dimension to this confrontation.

The second issue of concern is the fallout of this unending ‘tamasha’ on serving military personnel, as is clearly evident in social media discussions. Mention of VRS is being interpreted as a warning that servicemen seeking ‘premature retirement’ or PR, an entirely different concept, will be denied the benefits of OROP. This retrograde step will affect many in uniform today and demolish all efforts to keep the armed forces youthful and motivated.

Justified or not, a sense of frustration is palpable amongst the younger generation of Internet-savvy servicemen. They are bewildered why the senior military leadership is so helpless in countering the bureaucracy’s malevolent ploys. A frequently cited example is that of ‘non-functional upgradation’ (NFU). This bounty, bestowed by the bureaucracy upon itself, but denied to the military, has led to awkward situations, wherein personnel of support organizations like Border Roads, Military Engineering and Naval Armament Services have overtaken their military superiors in terms of pay-grades.

Which brings us to the third issue of concern: the long-standing, civil-military dissonance that is undermining our national security. The root of this problem lies in the deliberate creation of an asymmetry to ensure that ‘civilian supremacy’, meant to be exercised by the political leadership, is replaced by bureaucratic control of the armed forces. Successive pay commissions, all of which excluded military representation, have been used to reinforce this asymmetry with the politician’s blessings.

Nations worldwide have de-fused civil-military tensions and retained firm ‘civilian control’ over their armed forces, by subsuming them within the edifice of the government. Given the reputation of the BJP as a ‘nationalist’ party, there were fond hopes that it would bring about a dramatic shift from the Nehruvian tradition of disparaging the military and neglecting national security. This government’s inertia, however, conveys an impression that it is either hostage to the bureaucracy or colluding with it, to ‘keep the soldier in his place’.

Whether it is Swachh Bharat, Make in India or Digital India, such dreams can prosper only within the paradigm of a ‘Secure India’ guaranteed by our patriotic and motivated armed forces. A sagacious leadership can kill many birds by grasping this opportunity to launch a bold initiative of undertaking national security reforms, as promised in the BJP’S election manifesto.

However, events of the recent past dictate the immediate implementation of two vital measures: (a) like other democracies, the adoption of an Armed Forces Covenant that recognizes the nation’s moral obligation to the armed forces, and establishes how they should be treated by the government; and (b) integration of civilian bureaucracy and military professionals so that the MoD functions harmoniously to promote national security, rather than working at cross-purposes with the armed forces.

(By Admiral Arun Prakash, IANS)

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The Challenges Ahead of Pramod Sawant, The New Chief Minister of Goa

Sawant also faces the tricky challenge of handling the mining ban crisis, which impacts several hinterland constituencies. He needs to address sluggishness in the administration and decision-making, which had been hampered by Parrikar's long illness. 

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Pramod Sawant
The Chief Minister Pramod Sawant hails from the Sanquelim Assembly constituency. Wikimedia Commons

A touching scene, reminiscent of an episode from the epic Ramayana played out in Goa last week after Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s death.

When his successor, Pramod Sawant, kicked-off his first day in office with a framed photograph of Parrikar placed in a chair alongside, one could draw rough parallels to the sequence in the great epic where King Bharata placed Lord Rama’s ‘padukas’ (wooden footwear) on the throne when his elder brother was banished from Ayodhya.

In Sawant’s case however, Parrikar who died on March 17 after a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer, isn’t coming back. And the crown of thorns, which the new Chief Minister now wears, is bound to test the abilities of the Ayurveda practitioner-turned politician, who finds himself thrust headlong into a vortex of challenges. The first test for Sawant is the clutch of elections for two Lok Sabha seats and three Assembly by-polls.

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It has been unable to restart mining operations for a year, after the Supreme Court banned all iron ore extraction. These are just the issues which Sawant faces at home and the outdoors isn’t hunky dory either. Pixabay

The Chief Minister hails from the Sanquelim Assembly constituency, where he is on shaky grounds and engaged in a turf war with his own Minister for Health Vishwajit Rane, who defeated a municipal panel floated by Sawant last year. Sanquelim is a part of the mining belt in North Goa, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is no longer sure of its footing.

It has been unable to restart mining operations for a year, after the Supreme Court banned all iron ore extraction. These are just the issues which Sawant faces at home and the outdoors isn’t hunky dory either.

Relatively young at 45, Sawant has never been a minister. Now, as Chief Minister his troubleshooting skills will be tested with battle-hardened coalition leaders like Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward. From within the party, challenges could come from Rane and Michael Lobo, who harbour aspirations of being chief minister.

Through swift moves, Sawant, on Wednesday oversaw the merger of two out of the three MGP MLAs into the BJP, thus taking the sting out of senior MGP leader Sudin Dhavalikar, who was also gunning for the chief ministership. The daring midnight split in the MGP provides a new sharp dimension to Sawant’s leadership.

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The first test for Sawant is the clutch of elections for two Lok Sabha seats and three Assembly by-polls. Pixabay

Sawant also faces the challenges of ‘Congressisation’ within the BJP in Goa. This refers to the induction of several Congressmen in its legislative ranks in the recent past, leaving very few legislators that the RSS and the state leadership, in the absence of Parrikar, can really trust.

He is among the few Goa BJP leaders whom party workers can call their own, considering that the party has generally dithered from giving senior management responsibilities to its six Catholic MLAs.

Also Read: Study Claims, China Shifts Away From Coal-Fired Power Plants Due To Environmental Concerns

Sawant also faces the tricky challenge of handling the mining ban crisis, which impacts several hinterland constituencies. He needs to address sluggishness in the administration and decision-making, which had been hampered by Parrikar’s long illness.

Perhaps the most tricky challenge confronting the new Chief Minister would possibly come in the near future when or if Parrikar’s reluctant son and Sawant’s friend, Utpal, takes the political plunge and contests the Panaji seat, which his late father represented since 1994. With Utpal already being talked about as a Chief Minister in the making by the party cadre, whether Sawant will continue or, like King Bharata in the Ramayana, sacrifice his throne so that Parrikar’s legacy continues is perhaps a story for a new contemporary epic. (IANS)