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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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PM Narendra Modi: Government bringing Stringent Consumer Protection Law

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Prime Minister Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a speech. IANS

New Delhi, October 26: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the government was in the process of enacting stringent legislation aimed at protecting consumers along with setting up a Consumer Protection Authority (CPA).

“Consumers’ protection is this government’s priority. We are in the process to bring a new law on consumer protection keeping in mind the need of the country and business practices here,” Modi said at an International Conference on Consumer Protection for East, South and South-East Asian Countries.

“We are in the process of forming a Consumer Protection Authority, which will have executive powers, for immediate redressal.”

The rules were being streamlined to solve consumer problems in less time and at less cost, he added.

“The stress is being given on consumer empowerment. Strict provisions are being contemplated against misleading advertisements,” Modi said.

He said India was among the few countries which had enacted a law a year after the UN adopted guidelines on consumer protection in 1986.

The Prime Minister also said the prices of commodities were set to go down and consumer protection for their interest effects due to the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Due to the GST, the competition among companies was going to increase. So prices will go down. It will help consumers from lower middle class and poor sections,” Modi said.

“Earlier, transportation by trucks would take five days but it has come down to just three three days now as checkposts on borders have vanished after the GST. It means transportation cost has gone down. This is going to be transferred to consumers,”

Taking a dig at those opposed to the GST, he said: “Some people may be taking advantage of the lack of awareness. However, the benefits will be transferred (to consumers) in days to come.”

Talking about the conference, Modi said: “It shows how seriously we take the needs of our citizens and how we strive hard to solve their problems”.

“It is the first conference in the region, where everyone is trying in their own ways to save the interest of consumers. However, we have to keep in mind that the world is going towards a single market,” Modi said.(IANS)

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Tillerson’s Visit to India Highlights Strong Emerging Alliance

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting at the Prime Minister's residence in New Delhi. VOA

The United States pledged its commitment to deepening strategic ties with India as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders in New Delhi during a visit that highlighted their strong emerging alliance.

Combating terrorism and expanding India’s role in helping Afghanistan’s development were key issues discussed by Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Tillerson, who arrived in the capital city after stops in Kabul and Islamabad.

At a news conference after the talks, Tillerson extended an assurance that “in the fight against terrorism, the United States will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with India. Terrorist safe havens will not be tolerated.”

The top U.S. diplomat visited the region after the Trump administration unveiled a new South Asia strategy calling on India to play a larger role in Afghanistan’s economic stabilization and on Pakistan to take more action against militant groups based in the country.

Indian foreign minister Swaraj said President Donald Trump’s new strategy for the region “can only be successful if Pakistan acts decisively against all terror groups without any discrimination.” New Delhi has long blamed Islamabad for supporting insurgent groups that carry out terror acts in India.

Tillerson, who last week said that he sees India as a key partner in the face of what he considers negative Chinese influence in Asia, reiterated that India could play a wider role in the region. Analysts say Washington’s overtures for closer ties with India are prompted by the need to counter China’s rise.

Tillerson told reporters “the United States supports India’s emergence as a leading power and will continue to contribute to Indian capabilities to provide security throughout the region.” He said Washington was willing to provide New Delhi with advanced technologies for its military modernization.

“We also look forward to further cooperation in the broader Indo Pacific region as we both promote a rules-based approach to commerce and a transparent and sustainable approach to economic development,” he said.(VOA)

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BJP to Celebrate November 8 as ‘Anti-Black Money Day’

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Anti black money day, Demontisation
Demontisation ousted one thousand rupee notes in India last november. Pixabay free

New Delhi, October 25: In a bid to counter the opposition campaign, the BJP will celebrate November 8, the day high-value currencies were demonetized last year, as “Anti-Black Money Day” across the country.

Announcing the party’s decision to counter the opposition plans for observing the day as “Black Day”, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday said all prominent leaders, union ministers, state ministers and office bearers will participate in programmes across the country.

On November 8, the party will organize programmes highlighting all the steps the government has taken against black money. He said since the government was formed in 2014, from day one it had taken steps against black money.

“There was a parallel black money economy in the country. When the NDA government came to power (May 2014), Prime Minister Narendra Modi took steps to minimise and end it. On November 8, the BJP will celebrate ‘Anti-Black Money Day’ and mobilize people in favor of the steps taken against black money,” Jaitley told reporters here.

The special investigation team (SIT) to go into black money, which was directed by the Supreme Court in 2011 and was not acted upon by the previous UPA government, was formed by the NDA, the Finance Minister said.

Jaitley also hit out at the Congress over its plans to observe the day because the demonetization decision was “ill-conceived”.

Apparently referring to the opposition criticism, Jaitley said it was normal for political parties which had a number of opportunities to be in power earlier not recognize that the squeeze on black money and the other steps cannot be achieved through baby steps.

The Finance Minister said the BJP would carry forward the debate by the opposition to polarize people against black money through its own campaign.(IANS)