Editorial 1/Lacklustre 100
Editorial 2/Heat of a moment
Hardly dressed to kill
Letters To The Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/LACKLUSTRE 100 
 
 
 
 
At a time when the Indian cricket team often fails to make 100 runs, there is something to be said for a government that crosses 100 days. The first hundred days of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee’s current dispensation have seen no spectacular achievements. But that was not the expectation from it. The most important accomplishment of this government has been its commitment to carry forward the economic reforms. This has served to restore confidence among investors and in the bourses. But the enthusiasm generated by this has somewhat evaporated by the government’s failure to grant full autonomy to regulatory bodies. There is the lurking fear that the license raj might make an entry through the back door. But there is something a trifle more ominous in the track record of the government of the National Democratic Alliance. This is its inability to provide leadership. The stamp of leadership manifests itself in a vision for the country and the authority to push forward and implement that vision. The NDA government has been more concerned with staying in power than in putting its own distinguishing mark on India’s future. In this it has been no different from the governments of the recent past. The challenge of governance has no takers. The lack of decisiveness was most evident in the handling of the crisis that followed the hijack of flight IC 814. Similarly, there has been no clarity in India’s handling of the diplomatic impasse arising out of Karmapa’s coming to India from China. The first 100 days should tell Mr Vajpayee that there is a great difference between the diurnal chores of administration and effective governance.

This criticism should not divert attention from the initiatives Mr Vajpayee has taken to preserve the NDA. He has done this by separating the Bharatiya Janata Party’s identity and that of the NDA from the programmes of the more extremist wings of the sangh parivar. This divorce has been driven by the desire to maintain the coalition that rules the country. Mr Vajpayee knows that Hindutva can only divide his allies. Hence the jettisoning of Hindutva from the resolution adopted by the national executive of the BJP at its meeting in Chennai. The priorities of the NDA have diluted the saffron content of the BJP but they have also thrust upon Mr Vajpayee a very large cabinet which serves to expand artificially the scope of the state. The preservation of the NDA has engendered a spirit of bonhomie which has not encouraged the taking of hard decisions. The first 100 days have thus been devoted to the maintenance of appearances. This might satisfy the narcissists in the government but there is more to governance than self satisfaction. The smugness may be aggravated by the complete disarray in the ranks of those who claim to be opposed to the BJP and the NDA. The absence of a vocal opposition should not give Mr Vajpayee sleepless nights but it will be a pity if the absence of real achievements has on him a soporific effect.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/HEAT OF A MOMENT 
 
 
 
 
There must have been a time when the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was a people’s party. But even the most vocal of its supporters would probably hesitate to call it that now. What happened in Kasba and parts of south Calcutta on Sunday was, to put it mildly, violently anti-people. A murder in the middle of an open market early in the morning, a neat escape by the criminals, a rampaging mob, indiscriminate arson and looting, destruction of property and violence against the police add up, first and foremost, to a demolition of the very concept of law or order. Gurupada Bagchi, the secretary of the CPI(M)’s Kasba (south) local committee, was murdered. In retaliation, a mob, allegedly of CPI(M) supporters, burnt shops and a large section of the Kasba market. The logic is clear. Shopkeepers and small traders are not “people”. Besides, if the criminals escape, everyone else should be punished. The police was sorely punished too. It has long lost its credibility, through its corruption, closeness to criminals and to political leaders. In any case, it was totally ineffectual. And government property, of course, is always fair game, whether it is police files or buses and trams. To top it all, a bandh was called in five police station areas in the south to protest against the murder, this anti-people move being much favoured by the left and its supporters.

The niceties of justice or brutality behind the murder make no difference. Just as it makes no difference whether it was a thug patronized by the Left Front’s opposition who had engineered the murder. It has to be recognized that mob behaviour of the kind that took place in Kasba on Sunday has been nurtured by the CPI(M). It might be recalled that the carefully organized, hideous occurrence in Sonarpur earlier this month was hailed as a “popular awakening against crime” by a section of state CPI(M) leaders. Kasba is just another facet of the same dubious phenomenon. It is foolish to boast of indiscipline and violence among ordinary householders. It indicates just one thing, that the law enforcing machinery has failed in every way. And if the ordinary city dweller is ready to behave in the way he has at the sight of crime, and to turn on the police, it is even more foolish to be so sure that his anger is not directed at the political parties in power. There is one thing that the ruling left has certainly achieved for the people. It has made sure that in their awakening against crime, they turn into criminals themselves.    


 
 
HARDLY DRESSED TO KILL 
 
 
BY BRIJESH D. JAYAL
 
 
Public memory being short, few will recall a press conference by the army chief in the midst of the Kargil conflict during which he reluctantly admitted that if a full scale war was thrust upon the country the army would fight with whatever it had. Inherent in his sombre statement was the admission that there was much that the army should have, but did not. During the Chinese conflict in 1962, the army did not even have basics like clothing, gloves and boots for mountain warfare. They made do with vintage PT shoes. During the Kargil conflict Indian troops did not have reconnaissance capability and weapon locating radars apart from appropriate clothing and tentage.

Judging by recent media reports on some major indigenous defence programmes, the armed forces are condemned to repeat these stories into the next century, unless there is genuine introspection and action. Self-reliance has been the bedrock of much of our defence equipment policy and planning for nearly five decades, though its clear definition has never been enunciated. This has made the indigenous defence research and production community cocoon itself within this patriotic doctrine with no fear of accountability.

The bureaucracy, which has the authority to take final decisions on weapon procurements of the services also without any accountability, has been the abettor. The services have not cried foul at being billed unpatriotic and pro-import lobbyists. The result is that every time the services formulate a staff requirement for a weapon system, the indigenous defence agencies get the first choice to respond.

Should they, singly or jointly, claim to be able to meet the requirements — and they invariably do — they are allocated funds from the service budget to design and develop the weapon system. Often reservations of the service concerned on the claims being made are given short shrift by the ministry of defence .

As projects inevitably get delayed, the services have no option but to wait as by now large resources have already been spent towards development. In peace, this void compromises national security and in war, services pay a heavy price. The following examples illustrate that had promises been kept, the Kargil story may have been different.

Remotely Piloted Vehicles through on-board sensors permit reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. The project to develop RPVs along with appropriate sensors for all the three services was given to a defence agency in the mid- Eighties and is already over 10 years behind schedule. Today the army is compelled to go in for import. According to a comptroller and auditor general’s report, the Indian air force had in 1987 asked for the replacement of electronic intelligence equipment on board their special aircraft by 1990 through import.

Overruling the IAF, the claim of indigenous defence agencies to design the system inhouse was upheld by the MOD. The system was developed indigenously, but only through import of most of the critical components. Today the system is still not operational. This has created a deep void in the crucial area of electronic intelligence both during peace and war. The last example relates to the army’s outstanding requirement for weapon locating radars, the absence of which resulted in significant losses in Kargil.

In spite of the army’s reservations regarding the claims made by defence agencies that a system would be made available in three years, the project was awarded to them. The promise has been belied and the army is forced to import.

These examples, amongst others too numerous to be enumerated, have resulted in an operational weakness that had a profound impact on the events leading up to the Kargil conflict. It is the irony of India’s defence organization that those in the decisionmaking chain who ignored the service headquarters are not accountable. The services have paid the price for the nation’s misplaced emphasis on a rather abstract concept of self-reliance.

One hopes that the post-Kargil analysis will not ignore this structural weakness and institutional accountability just as failures of intelligence and the services are being gone into. The story of the Main Battle Tank and of the Light Combat Aircraft are now legendary to the point where they have become jokes in officer’s messes and pilot crew rooms. The MBT project is hopelessly behind time with huge cost overruns. In spite of a majority of imported systems, including the engine, it has failed to meet the army’s requirements. The army is now looking at the import of the T90 tank.

The IAF, of which the MIG 21 fighters should have started phasing out from the early Nineties, was promised the LCA. Over a decade ago, the IAF documented its reservations on the highly optimistic claims being made. They made no impact. That as recently as 1996 the in-service date was being claimed as 2002 speaks of the professional integrity of those responsible.

Today even the Technology Demonstrator has not flown. Recent reports have now indicated that the IAF is not happy with the predicted performance and there is speculation about the programme’s very future. This, after an expenditure of around Rs 2500 crore. The IAF, meanwhile, is left with a rapidly ageing and depleting MIG 21 fleet.

Why is it that in spite of a huge establishment of defence laboratories and defence undertakings, the armed forces today are constrained to import nearly everything from special high altitude clothing to tanks, aircraft and high technology armaments? Why is it that nearly every major indigenous defence project has run into huge time and cost overruns and failed to meet the claimed performance parameters of the services? And why is it that inspite of tall claims being made about self-reliance, almost all systems being developed indigenously have critical components and systems that are imported, contrary to the objective of self-reliance?

For years these questions have not been asked, because of the services’ respect for security and for the effort that the indigenous community was making towards achieving a certain degree of self-sufficiency— not to be mistaken for self-reliance. Today the nation needs to introspect, because three vital issues of security are at stake. First, the nation will be faced with more Kargils. It cannot be found wanting. Second, vital decisions relating to the nuclear doctrine are in the process of being made.

The Indian missile programme has made singular achievements in the face of international embargoes. But with indifferent performances in all weapon systems — where man-machine interface and hence a rigid performance evaluation is possible — what is the level of confidence in the reliability and repeatability of our missile systems, where development testing is perforce limited? Thirdly, the nation is on the threshold of evolving a consensus on signing the comprehensive test ban treaty, based on the confidence of its scientific community that no more tests are necessary.

This confidence must not be found wanting. These seemingly unpatriotic questions need to be asked even as Indian technical and managerial talent is in the forefront of the information technology revolution not only in India, but also across the world.

In the archaic higher defence organization being followed in India, scientific temper and bureaucratic indifference make for a lethargic cocktail. The fault then lies with our institutions and their bureaucratic management style, not with the brilliant scientists and engineers within.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Winner takes all, even the praise

Sir — So the cricket captains of South Africa and England decided to forfeit one innings each after three days were washed out in the final test between the two sides (“Historic pact culminates in thrilling English win”, Jan 19). Does this mean that Hansie Cronje has the greatest heart around? He surely did not deserve praise to the tune of “the South African captain rocked the cricket establishment to its bootlaces with [his] historic innovations”. What of the other captain? What if he had not agreed? In fact, Nasser Hussain deserves more credit. England was already down 0-2 in the series, and if records are anything to go by, South Africa was sure to make it 3-0 with the forfeiture making the test equivalent to a one-dayer. Hussain played the gamble so spectators would have their money’s worth and even wrenched the match away from the Springboks while Cronje walked away with the series...and the kudos. With hardcore professionalism engulfing cricket, such gestures as Hussain’s are becoming rarer by the day.

Yours faithfully,
Ananya Sanyal, Calcutta

Home alone

Sir — “Search for an enabling world” (Dec 2) brought to the fore the appalling condition of the disabled in India, especially the women. The country’s public health infrastructure is in a terrible state with primary and community health centres largely non-functional. This has contributed to the spread of many disabling diseases. The poor condition of the roads and public transport make it difficult for the disabled to make use of whatever health care facilities there are. There is little physical infrastructure for the disabled, like ramps for wheelchairs or personnel who can communicate in sign language or read Braille in hospitals and other public places. Pharmaceutical companies do not spare a thought for the disabled who might not be able to read the descriptions or see what colour the pill or syrup is. The health of the disabled is an issue the family and society largely choose to ignore.

But care has not been taken to ensure that the disabled can understand the propaganda telling people about these programmes. Advertisements on radio and television are of no use to those with impaired hearing and colourful posters to the blind. To improve matters, the government should revitalize health delivery systems, educate health personnel and improve the status of paramedical personnel. Also, given the rapid changes in lifestyle, research needs to be conducted on the effects of pollution on health, industrial and work related health hazards and the slow privatization of health services.

Yours faithfully,
Santosh Kumar Sharma, Kharagpur

Sir — “Eyeless in the driver’s seat” (Jan 9) made me furious and disgusted about the general attitude to disability. Despite the disabilities’ act and countless social organizations for the uplift of the handicapped, the attitude has not changed much.

I was a completely physically fit individual until October 1987, when I lost my right eye and part of my left hand in the Indian Peace Keeping Force operations in Sri Lanka. I belong to the armoured corps where I was taught how to drive every type of vehicle from motorcycles to tanks. Just because I became “visually impaired” I did not forget or lose any of these skills. The Indian army too considered me fit to be retained in service. I was also given two promotions and have successfully commanded an armoured regiment during peace and counter-insurgency operations. I also own two and four wheelers and have driven them — even long distance between cities — without accidents for the last 12 years. The Motor Vehicles Act allows a person to renew his driving licence even if he has one eye, provided he held the licence for five years before the onset of the disability.

A cursory investigation would reveal that almost all accidents are caused by those who have all their faculties intact, and not by the handicapped. Notwithstanding all the editorials and articles professing sympathy for the armed forces, it is obvious that the media does not care much for war veterans who might be looking for work as drivers to support their families. The official in the Punjab government should not be ridiculed for making a typo; instead he should be lauded for helping the handicapped lead a normal life.

Yours faithfully,
Anil Kaul, Shillong

Sir — Amitava Banerjee rightly highlights the anxiety of the parents of disabled children about the fate of their children after their death (“In search of a different kind of digs”, Jan 18). This is an issue that is cause for worry in many families, especially nuclear ones. The solution is for such families to come together to evolve ways of helping their children enjoy the love and security they could with their parents.

Yours faithfully,
Bill Mansell, Calcutta

Not a good neighbour

Sir — The Atal Behari Vajpayee government is at pains to prove that the hijacking of flight IC 814 was engineered by Pakistan. Is this an attempt to rationalize the humiliation that India has suffered following the release of three hardcore terrorists including Masood Azhar? Or is the Centre trying to divert public attention from the failure of the crisis management group to stop the flight from taking off from Amritsar? Or are the people being given signals that the Bharatiya Janata Party led National Democratic government is helpless against the Inter-Services Intelligence?

Meanwhile, Pervez Musharraf, the “chief executive of Pakistan”, is frank enough to state that bilateral relations between New Delhi and Islamabad are unlikely to improve as long as the Kashmir issue remains unsolved. And the main dilemma about Kashmir is whether to allow it to become a part of Pakistan or accept the demand of Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference for more autonomy than that permitted by Article 370 of the Constitution.

Now if national “pride” is hurt at the thought of conceding Kashmir to Pakistan, how can the government countenance the fact that Kashmir enjoys a different status from the rest of the states of the Indian Union? One alternative is of course to win back Pakistan occupied Kashmir by waging war. Is that acceptable then?

Next, the Union foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, admits that taliban fundamentalism is proliferating in Pakistan. But there are many madrassas in this country too and no one restricts their functioning. Finally, it is not enough to ask the West to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. The Centre must set its own house in order so that New Delhi can effectively quell terrorism.

Yours faithfully,
H.C. Johari, Calcutta

Sir — The appeal of the army chief, General V.P. Malik, to the people to be prepared for war against Pakistan is interesting. Repeated attacks on Indian military positions, including the Kashmir secretariat, by Pakistan based militants, is provocation enough for New Delhi. During the Kargil conflict, India demonstrated great restraint and did not cross the line of control. Thus, the Vajpayee government secured support of the international community.

At the same time, if there is a question of war at all, one would expect Pakistan to make the first move. That alone will vindicate the stand India took during the Kargil conflict.

Yours faithfully,
R.N. Roy, New Delhi

Sir — Terrorists and militants who have connections in Pakistan were itching for revenge after the Kargil misadventure. Clearly, the hijacking of IC 814 was the result of this. It looks as though Pakistan is ready to risk even global displeasure in the process of provoking India. The events make it difficult to disregard the possibility of Pakistan’s complicity. After all, the only city within 10 hours driving distance from Afghanistan is Quetta. Unfortunately, the plane was hijacked in the month of Ramzan. So militancy based in Pakistan has forever lost the sympathy of Indian Muslims.

Yours faithfully,
Kingshuk Bose, Jamshedpur

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