Author : Deepak Sinha

Originally Published 2017-08-16 10:04:42 Published on Aug 16, 2017
While in politics, the consequences of loss tends to be temporary, the same cannot be said of in war.
Supine leadership and its consequences

We were recently treated to the theatre of the absurd in the Gujarat Assembly and at Nirvachan Sadan, where the Election Commission is housed, in Delhi. The shenanigans on both sides of the political fence created what can best be termed a tamasha. It would have been amusing if it weren’t so completely facetious and incongruous. After all, it isn’t often that you see senior Cabinet Ministers and former Cabinet Ministers scampering around like children squabbling and ranting over an umpiring decision in a gulli cricket match!

If this is the best of leaders that we can produce, we certainly need to head back to the drawing board because neither our massive population nor our democratic systems are helping us progress. Where have all our good people gone? In fact, we may as well ask the British to come back and run this country for another 200 years. Surely they can’t do worse than this, even with their levels of cussedness and incompetence.

Sadly, the serious business of protecting this country rests on the shoulder of one of these very ministers, Arun Jaitley in his avatar as the Defence Minister. He recently stood up before Parliament to patronisingly hold forth on how “appropriate measures are taken from time-to-time to maintain and upgrade the country’s defence preparedness along the border to safeguard the sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of India.”

One wonders if reducing the defence Budget to 1.56 per cent of the gross domestic product, the lowest since 1962, counts as one of those “appropriate measures”? Surely, he couldn’t be unaware about the utter neglect the military has suffered over the years, including at the hands of this government? The fact that the Air Force is 13 Squadrons short of its optimum strength, the Navy’s submarine arm has been reduced to just 15 submarines, and the Army is woefully short of such basic items as helmets, bullet proof jackets and assault rifles, what to talk of artillery guns, air defence systems or ammunition is all old news.

While weapons and equipment are important, the man behind the gun plays an even more critical part and counts for more. The unprecedented manner in which this government has moved, using the Seventh Central Pay Commission recommendations, to lower the status of the military, is hardly conducive to high morale within the forces.

It has blatantly attempted to equate the Armed Forces with the paramilitary and the Central Armed Police Forces, downgrade the equivalence in ranks of officers to their civilian counterparts and systematically snatch away every perk provided to them by earlier governments, including, doing away with free rations for officers and restrictions on canteen facilities and concessional travel in Air India, though the latter continues to be provided for paramilitary forces.

A result of this concerted effort to lower the standing of the forces has been that it has become much less attractive to the younger generation. Despite the fact that we have huge unemployment in the country, the forces are still unable to fill up their requirements of manpower, especially at the officer level. We thus have a situation where the forces are short of approximately 20 per cent in the officer cadre at the ranks that truly matter, that of the combat leader.

But then what can we expect from a Defence Minister who can travel by an Air Force aircraft to Trivandrum to meet the kin of a murdered Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker, yet unwilling to spare time or effort to meet the kin of late Flight Lieutenant S Achudev who’s fighter aircraft went down in Arunachal Pradesh.

The fact that government facilities cannot be availed for free by political parties for their work, and meeting the RSS workers kin was surely that and that the officers’ father’s residence was in close proximity to the RSS workers family counted for nothing.

The truth is, regardless of what Jaitley or his ilk might say, the Armed Forces only matter when political parties can take benefits from their actions. The manner in which the so-called ‘surgical strikes’ was used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to campaign in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, is a perfect example of this.

The fact that the on-going Doklam stand-off has not yet been used to project Prime Minister Modi as a muscular leader and remind us of his 56 inch chest is only because the government is fearful of the consequences that may lay in wait.

It is high time that politicians stopped convincing themselves that regardless of what they do, the Armed Forces will continue to do their bidding and perform to their fullest. The reason the soldier stands firm has nothing to do with patriotism or other esoteric values.

He does so simply because he doesn’t want to let himself down in his comrades’ eyes and keep the unit flag flying high. That too has limits and the earlier the political leadership comes to terms with this fact the better for all of us.

While in politics, the consequences of loss tends to be temporary, the same cannot be said of in war. It may be worth remembering that Jawaharlal Nehru was at the height of his powers in 1962, but that defeat reduced him to a nonentity in the international arena, something he never recovered from till his death soon after.

This commentary originally appeared in The Pioneer.

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Deepak Sinha

Deepak Sinha

Brig. Deepak Sinha (Retd.) was Visiting Fellow at ORF. Brig. Sinha is a second-generation paratrooper. During his service, he held varied command, staff and instructional appointments, ...

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