Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It takes all sorts to form a nation

Increasingly there is a tendency among various sections of the Indian society to acclaim their own and at the same time belittle the others’ contribution to building and preserving this country. The executive, the legislature, the judiciary, the press and the civil society – each one of them is known to be enamoured of its own importance and to be looking down upon the others. It is also the centre-states divide, Hindi against regional languages, cities versus villages, metros vis-a-vis small towns, Mumbai against Delhi, the agriculture pitted against the industry and the services against them both. But today I am going to focus on the growing disconnect between the serving or retired defence services personnel (for brevity I will call them “military”) and the civilians.

The military quite naturally dislikes the habitually indisciplined civilians and their usually shoddy ways of doing things. It claims that the politicians and bureaucrats first mess up the things and when the situation becomes desperate they call in the military to control it and bring it back to normalcy. It could be the army, on the state governments’ failure, having to call the tune in the declared “Disturbed Areas” of the North-East and Jammu & Kashmir, all the three wings of the defence forces coming to the government’s help in its fight against the floods and other natural disasters, and only a couple of days back the army being called to save the Commonwealth Games in Delhi from their inept and blundering organisers. The military concedes that it is not free from individuals’ greed and corruption but then avers that their incidence is much lower than in the civilian wings of the government and that it moves very fast against allegedly corrupt officers and others and has instituted courts of inquiry, even court martial proceedings, against lieutenant generals who are equal in rank to the secretaries of the Union government; whereas in the government the big fish are always allowed to escape. But the issue which has aroused the military’s greatest anger against the ruling politicians and bureaucrats is the denial of ‘One rank, one length of service, one pension’ to the retired military personnel.

I find merit in all above claims of the military and consider it the final bulwark against disorder in the country and one of the strongest glues - like the judiciary, railways and telecommunication - to hold it together. But it does not mean that the other components of the state are not important. The much maligned police has its own role to play, what it does to maintain law and order can be appreciated only when the policemen go on strike and the goons and criminals have a field day. We may remember that it was the Punjab police, of course ably assisted by the army and the para-military forces, which crushed separatism and terrorism and brought the state back from the precipice. Other departments of the government too make their singular contributions, be it the food and agriculture, income tax, customs and excise, education, health, public works, external affairs, environment and forests, et al. In their own fields they are irreplaceable.

Certain degree of rivalry and competition to out do the other is welcome between the military and civilians, but care has to be taken that it should remain within the safe limits and should never come down to the level of mutual recrimination. Just as the rest of the nation needs the military to safeguard the country’s borders and be the ultimate security against internal disorder, the military needs the rest of the nation to feed and arm it. In my ideal scheme of the things I will have the military and the civilians racing each other in having more honesty, professional competence and commitment to the nation.

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