Pratap Bhanu Mehta remains one of those rare public intellectuals in India who, while remaining measured and balanced, still manages to generate light instead of mere heat when it comes to speaking truth to power. Here he is, in today's Indian Express: Hidden in plain sight:
The real battle is among an old elite now in the last throes of self-destruction, where even minimal self-awareness is too much to expect. Much of this fight is a frenzy of rhetorical excess. But alas, most of it will have deadly consequences on the ground.
The latest controversy regarding former army chief General V.K. Singh is an expression of this crisis. Fairness requires that there be no rush to prejudgement. Everyone will take an injured recourse to the truth. But you know an elite has completely lost it when it does not understand one plain fact about truth and power. Truth is not about the facts. It depends on the credibility of the regimes that produce it. None of our truth producing regimes has any credibility left...
...In one stroke, the disclosures and V.K. Singh's response have destroyed the credibility of the democratic process in Kashmir. You do not have to be very smart to recognise that in an atmosphere as conspiratorially thick as Kashmir's, these disclosures are a bombshell, one that may cost both lives and the Indian Union. But there is also another institutional issue at stake. What recourse do people have to defend themselves when the internal due processes of the state are so flawed that there are no proper hearings; where there is no clarity on which matter is actually closed and which is in abeyance? The next time an Indian opens her mouth about the rule of law and due process, just remind her that China just handled even so politicised a trial as that of Bo Xilai with more tact and maturity. Much of what V.K. Singh said about the army's relationship with NGOs and governments in J&K, in an interview to Times Now, betrayed, at the very least, a serious lack of judgement and a general lack of competence. But who is going to decide whether this is injured innocence driven to the wall, or maliciousness now wearing the mantle of upholding national policy?...
...It is often feared that India, impatient with the governance deficit, will veer towards authoritarianism. But perhaps we are misreading this yearning. Our longing for a strong leader may not be so much an anti-democratic longing, the need for dictatorship to keep the masses at bay. The masses will do just fine. Rather, it is a distorted form of self-recognition of an elite that it is no longer capable of self-mastery and restraint. It is the ruling classes yearning for a stout stick. It is the rulers hoping that someone from the inside disciplines them, before the bonfire of credibility turns into a real fire of demagoguery.
Read the full piece at the Indian Express: Hidden in plain sight
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As the Chief of Army Staff General V.K. Singh gets ready to hand over charge to Lt. General Bikram Singh, Outlook's cover story of last year is back to haunt the defence establishment.
In August 2011, Outlook reported on an army court of inquiry (CoI) involving 12 officers and 39 soldiers to verify whether they were guilty of sexual misconduct during their year-long stint, beginning January 2008, in Congo.
Our story then had gone on to point out:
The CoI could prove a tricky issue for the army, as the UN mission in Congo was also commanded by Lt Gen Bikram Singh, the seniormost general in the line of succession to current chief Gen V.K. Singh. If instances of sexual misconduct are found to have occurred during his tenure there, it could become a major blot on his record.
The government had on March 3 announced the appointment of Lt Gen Bikram Singh as the next Army chief.
The Supreme Court later, in April, dismissed a petition questioning the elevation of Lt Gen Bikram Singh as the successor to chief of army staff General VK Singh.
Writing then on the petition, Outlook had pointed out:
The petitioners have also questioned Bikram Singh’s suitability to lead the army in the light of his alleged involvement in a fake encounter circa 2001 to “gain personal advantage”. Seventy-year-old Abdullah Bhat, a civilian from Anantnag, was killed in that encounter and later branded as a foreign militant. His relatives, who have filed a petition in the high court, have alleged that the fake encounter was conducted by then brigadier Bikram Singh and that it was hushed up at his instance by the Army HQ. The case is currently before the J&K High Court. The MoD’s stand was that an internal enquiry had cleared his name. But strangely the details of this enquiry report have not been provided in response to Rathi’s RTI application.
The petitioners yesterday sought review of the Supreme Court’s order, contending that the centre had obtained the court order by "misrepresenting" facts.
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On March 13, rediff.com carried what seemed then to have been an innocuous story,India's elite paratroopers meet their match in fog, traffic during mockup, which talked about the elite Parachute Brigade of the Indian army, based in Agra playing out two different scenarios depicting " the need for a quick operation almost akin to the situations that obtained in Maldives last month and the consequences of the mutiny by the Bangladesh Rifles (now Border Guards, Bangladesh) two years ago:
During the exercise, elements of the brigade travelled by road from Agra to Delhi to link up with the Indian Air Force base at Hindon on the outskirts of the capital, since the recently acquired medium lift transport aircraft, the C-130 Js are stationed there.
Army itself held an official briefing on the subject two days after that—on March 15, 2012—in Agra.
But the innocuous story (along with another instance of troop movements towards Delhi on the same day) found itself featuring in a three-deck, four-byline, eight-column banner headline by the Indian Express today— The January night Raisina Hill was spooked: Two key Army units moved towards Delhi without notifying Govt— to a full front-page story that was authored by none other than the paper’s editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta, jointly with Ritu Sarin, Pranab Dhal Samanta and Ajmer Singh, which, inter alia, also went on to state:
Nobody is using the “C” word to imply anything other than “curious”. All else is considered an impossibility.
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It started with an interview to the Hindu, published on March 26, 2012, with Army Chief, General V.K. Singh alleging he was offered a bribe of Rs. 14 crore and that he had told the defence ministry about it:
The General said the lobbyist offered him the bribe in order to have a tranche of 600 sub-standard vehicles of a particular make cleared for purchase. He said the vehicles, 7,000 of which were already in use in the Army, had been sold over the years at exorbitant prices with no questions asked. He said there was no proper facility where they could be serviced and maintained and yet they continued to be sold to the Army: “Just imagine, one of these men had the gumption to walk up to me and tell me that if I cleared the tranche, he would give me Rs. 14 crore. He was offering a bribe to me, to the Army Chief. He told me that people had taken money before me and they will take money after me.”
The Army chief said the brazenness of the act shocked him out of his wits. “I was shocked. If somebody comes and tells you, you will get so much, what can you do?” He said the man had recently retired from the Army, indicating how deeply entrenched the problem was.
The General said he went straight to Mr. Antony and reported the matter. “I told him, if you think I'm a misfit, I will walk out.” ...
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Cartoon by: Sundeep Adhwaryu
The real tragedy in the Adarsh Housing Society scam in Mumbai is not that land earmarked for a six-storey building of apartments for disabled veterans, war widows and heroes of Kargil was used, in contravention of zoning laws and environmental regulations, for a 31-storey luxury high-rise, out of whose 103 apartments, only three went to families connected to the Kargil conflict, and the remainder went to two retired army chiefs, a former naval chief, four other army officers who went on to become generals, relatives of ministers and top netas and babus.
The real tragedy is not that it involves top officers of the defence establishment who got themselves flats allotted in a building made on land purportedly sanctioned in the name of Kargil widows and heroes.
The real tragedy is not that the 31-storeyed building could provide a potential threat a vantage point over the navy’s air station, INS Shikra, just a kilometre away aerially.
The real tragedy is not that the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, after first brazening it out about his 'distant relatives' — his mother in law, among others — and then offering to return the flats and resign, continues to hold on to his post like a limpet.
The real tragedy is not that the Congress does not know who to replace him with since almost all other big names in contention in Maharashtra Congress are equally tainted (Prithvirak Chauhan and Mukul Wasnik's names are still being talked about)
The real tragedy is not that the silence of the Prime Minister and the Congress President is deafeningly loud and that their fabled 'voice of conscience' is muted or that they are hiding behind the shield of 'due process' in sacking the incumbent CM of Maharashtra, whose involvement in other bigger scams has since come to light.
The real tragedy is not that sycophancy ruled, or that Suresh Kalmadi, accused in the CWG scam, and Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan were among those present, at the AICC meet today where not a word was uttered about any of these scams, while the big honchos held forth on everything else under the sun, from RSS involvement in terror plots to the situation in J&K or that A. Raja, accused in the spectrum scam, continues to be a minister in UPA.
The real tragedy for the ruling government is not just that the various "people in opposition" said to be involved in the Adarsh scam are now with the Congress (Narayan Rane) or UPA (T.R. Baalu). The last elections when Congress bank-rolled the MNS to win, along with NCP, had removed all the vestiges and veneer of respectibility from the so-called 'secular' front and was more a commentary on the state of the decrepit 'communal' opposition -- at the state and at the centre.
All that — and much more — is a given. All that is tragic enough. All that is something that does not shock or scandalise us any more. All that is something we are all inured against.
The real tragedy is that after so many days, of scandalous after scandalous details hitting the headlines, nobody believes that the guilty would ever be brought to book or be meted out any justice — or even that there could be an independent enquiry to bring out the truth.
Which police officer indeed would lodge an FIR against the CM of Maharashtra? Or powerful ministers and well-connected babus and officers?
Indeed, given the political rigor mortis in the present UPA, there seems to be no effective systemic response available. Though CBI is said to be investigating the case, nobody quite knows what it is investigating and nobody frankly has any expectations from its "investigations".
The Congress says its top ministers are investigating the matter. It would be laughable if it weren't so tragic. It is not a matter involving the Congress party's personal property that its trouble shooters — Pranab Mukherjee and St Antony — will do the 'investigation' and then solve it all by simply issuing a firmaan naming who should replace Sri Chavan once Sri Obama has been received and shown around Mumbai.
It is possible, though by no means certain, that the more disciplined defence establishment might actually end up taking some action after a court of inquiry, but what about the civilians — netas and babus and assorted fixers?
It is a clear case requiring criminal prosecution but as Arvind Kejriwal points out in today's TOI, in the context of the CWG, the anti-corruption laws and systems suffer from internal contradictions — the CVC is independent but merely an advisory body, with no jurisdiction over politicians, lacking any powers to take action. And the CBI, which has the power to take action, as stated earlier, is seen to be the government's handmaiden and carries no credibility: Kejriwal goes on to say:
The government has announced the setting up of yet another agency called the Lokpal by December. Again, the government is playing dirty. According to its proposal, the Lokpal would have jurisdiction over politicians but not bureaucrats, as if the two indulge in corruption separately. So, almost every case will be investigated by both the CVC and the Lokpal; the former will look into the role of bureaucrats and the latter will look into the role of politicians. The obvious question is, why can't the same agency investigate both? And the most interesting part is that even the Lokpal is being made an advisory body. It would merely recommend to the government to initiate prosecution against, say, some of its ministers. Is it likely the government would ever do that?
It is time that the media focussed on the critical issues afflicting our anti-corruption systems. Let the media say that unless these deficiencies are addressed, no agency is capable of doing an honest and effective investigation. All of them should be merged into one single agency, the Lokpal. Give it jurisdiction over both bureaucrats and politicians. Give it comprehensive powers to investigate and prosecute the guilty without needing any permission. [Read the full piece at the TOI]
Also Read: an earlier article in Outlook by Arvind Kejriwal
Does any of this even seem feasible? Never mind the war of words between the two political parties, what do you think should be done in this case? Even if all the illegal allotments are cancelled and the building, as has been variously suggested, is razed or sold or converted into a trust for the war widows and heroes, do you think any of those behind the scam would receive any punishment? Should they not? What do you suggest?
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