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Faith and Security: History Repeats Itself

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
03 Oct 2022
Finally, the government appointed Lieutenant-General Anil Chauhan (Retd.) as the new CDS. Of course, the government had amended the rules whereby a person of the rank of Lt.-Gen could be appointed CDS provided he fulfilled a certain age criterion.

War is not new to India. Soon after it attained Independence, it had to face the organised intrusion of what is called “tribes”, which was a bold attempt by Pakistan to snatch the Kashmir Valley. They were driven out even before they could grab the Srinagar airport. 

If the Indian Army was not able to reach the airport and safeguard it, the Valley could have been lost forever. Even before India could tackle the challenges of development as a sovereign, independent nation, China attacked her in 1962.

Every Indian citizen’s wish was that the result of the war was different. India was not prepared to face such an onslaught even before the pangs of the Partition could be kept at bay. Nonetheless, we as a nation overcame the challenge, though our pride was a little hurt.

The 1965 war taught the Pakistanis a lesson that it could meddle with India only at the cost of its integrity. The 1971 war marked the founding of a new nation — Bangladesh — and the end of the two-nation theory. For once people knew that language and culture were more cohesive than religion.

Then there was the Kargil war, which was a treacherous attempt to destroy the communication link between Leh and Srinagar. The Pakistanis had the advantage as they were ensconced in their trenches on the hills but that did not prevent the Indian forces from driving them out and re-capture the hills.

What is noticeable in all these wars is that there was never a crisis at the leadership level. The Army, the Air Force and the Navy complemented one another, especially during the 1971 war. Of course, there were the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister the service chiefs could look up to in case they needed political support or guidance.

One reason why there was no one overarching leader to control the armed forces was the fear that it might lead to military coups. Along with India, many other countries also won independence, many of them in Asia and Africa. Most of them came under military rule.

In our own neighbourhood, the military crushed democracy in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, to name just three. Thanks to the growth of social media, military coups are no longer fashionable. Even in Pakistan, the military no longer wants to rule directly. It would like to hold the remote controller with a puppet regime, ostensibly in control.

As a party, the BJP has been obsessed with security. In fact, security has been an obsession for Indian rulers. Another obsession is faith. Though 75 years have passed since India attained Independence, we consider it easier to blame the British for all the ills India suffers from.

China does not blame Mongolia for terrorising the Chinese to such an extent that they were forced to build the Great Wall of China. Nor does Japan blame the Americans for dropping atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima during the Second World War.

They are today the world’s second and third largest economies. But everyday our leaders like Narendra Modi and Shashi Tharoor blame the British for their loot. India was always a rich nation but the people were always poor. Why?

Visit any town in North India, be it in Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh. You will find large forts. Enormous sums of money were required to build them so that the ruler and his or her retinue could live in comfort and security. Millions of people had to sacrifice their health to build these edifices which had nothing to do with the common people.

Similarly, huge sums of money were spent on temples, mosques, temple gates, gardens and mausoleums like the Taj Mahal and the Humayun Tomb. In other words, money that should have been spent for the welfare of the people was spent on non-essential items. Is it any wonder that the people remained poor?

The situation is much the same now. Ten percent of the people own more than 50 per cent of the wealth while 50 per cent of the people own only 10 percent of the national wealth. The disparity has been widening.

The BJP is one party which wants to spend a lot of public money to promote faith and security. As mentioned earlier, it is obsessed with security. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to power, he wanted to have a Chief of Defence Staff but for one reason or another, it did not fructify.

When Modi became Prime Minister, the proposal was suddenly revived. Because of turf wars and other reasons, he also could not do much. Finally, he took the decision in his own hands and he announced from the ramparts of the Red Fort that India would soon have a Chief of Defence Staff. No, he was not bluffing!

General Bipin Rawat was appointed as the first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The government spokesmen justified it on the ground that in situations of emergency, the CDS alone could take prompt decisions. He was the chief coordinator for all the three defence forces. The post was touted as vital for the security of the nation.

Unfortunately, General Rawat died in a helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu in December 2021. If the post was so vital, the government should have been quick to appoint his successor. True, General Manoj Mukund Naravane was appointed Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, a post that used to exist. In the past, the service chief who was senior held this post.

Finally, the government appointed Lieutenant-General Anil Chauhan (Retd.) as the new CDS. Of course, the government had amended the rules whereby a person of the rank of Lt.-Gen could be appointed CDS provided he fulfilled a certain age criterion. The post of CDS is for a maximum period of three years.

Lt.-Gen Chauhan would certainly be fulfilling all the amended criteria. Now, the question is why a retired person should be found to be CDS. As CDS, he will be secretary to the government of India and will head the Department of Military Affairs.

The Armed Forces everywhere in the world are status conscious. Rank is of the essence in the services. To bring home the point, a staff nurse in the Army is given the status of a commissioned officer but she is not entitled to receive salute from the soldiers. Nor do the nurses get the salary of the commissioned officer. Then, why is the status of a commissioned officer given to her? “Otherwise, the jawans will not obey her”. Imagine the scenario when a retired Lieutenant General is commanding serving chiefs of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy!

Will the CDS be able to get the respect as he failed to make the grade to the service chief. The delay and selection expose the government’s claim that CDS is vital for the security of the nation. Had that been the case, it would not have created the present situation.

In any case, the BJP is obsessed with retired persons. In fact, it can be called a party of retired people. If anyone who knows the situation in the country is asked the question, “who is the most powerful person in the government after Modi and Amit Shah?” he will immediately answer that it is National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval.

All the dye in the world cannot hide the fact that he is now 77. It was on the ground that L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were above 75 that they were not given a place in Modi’s Cabinet in 2014. If the cut-off age is applicable to them, why is it not applicable to Ajit Doval?

He retired from the government one-and-a-half decade ago and was looking after an NGO associated with the Sangh Parivar when Modi appointed him to the post of NSA. Today, Doval enjoys Cabinet rank. There are innumerable stories about his sleuthing capabilities like the stories taught in government schools in Karnataka that while Savarkar was in the Cellular Jail in Andamans, he used to fly like a bird to the mainland!

NSA and CDS are American-style posts. As I mentioned, the BJP is obsessed with security. When Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, he felt the need to have an NSA. He had a “very powerful” Home Minister in Advani. So, he looked for a person who could fill the post.

And he found one in Brajesh Mishra. He was from Madhya Pradesh, which is Vajpayee’s own state. He was the son of D.P. Mishra, former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, who was considered a Chanakya in Indian politics. It is a different matter that all Brahmin leaders were vested with this title.

What was indigestible was that Mishra was a diplomat, who was overlooked for the post of Foreign Secretary. In other words, a person who was not found competent to be FS and who had retired from service was appointed as the first NSA. As NSA, Mishra enjoyed more power than any Cabinet Minister as he had the ears of the Prime Minister.

The Congress government which succeeded Vajpayee's government carried on with the post of NSA. It also found retired persons like J.N. Dixit, M.K. Narayanan and Shivsankara Menon to fill this post. Doval takes the cake, as he is now pushing 77 in a government where officers retire at 60. Nobody can question the incongruity of retaining him in service when he has the support of Modi who is not just the Prime Minister but the uncrowned king of India.

The BJP’s problem is that it does not have any icons. The one and only icon is Savarkar, who wrote the book Hindutva, but the problem is that every time his name is mentioned, people remember the series of clemency letters he wrote to the British government to seek mercy when hundreds of freedom fighters — Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs — preferred to die than be the bootlickers of the alien rulers.

So, what the party has been doing is to include into their pantheon leaders who had nothing to do with Hindutva. For instance, Swami Vivekananda was one who never showed sectarianism in his writings or speeches or conduct. Yes, he was a Hindu but he did not hate Muslims and Christians.

On the contrary, the BJP has been promoting him as a Hindutva icon. Swami never even knew the word Hindutva which was coined long after he attained samadhi. A new icon in the BJP pantheon is Netaji Bose.

Bose differed with Nehru but they remained friends. There are innumerable letters and correspondences which bring out the esteem in which Bose held Nehru. The BJP thinks that Bose was a negation of Nehruism. He was a socialist who could not stand obscurantism and over-religiosity unlike the BJP leaders who shout Jai Shri Ram even in Parliament, forget the public square.

The other day while renaming the Chandigarh airport after Bhagat Singh, Modi showered praises on him. Does Modi and Co. know that Bhagat Singh was an atheist, an intellectual whose slogan was “Inquilab Zindabad”? He said that “any man who stands for progress has to criticise, disbelieve and challenge every item of the old faith”. Far from that, Modi has been reinforcing old faith.

Another icon the BJP has is Sardar Patel, who was born a Congressman, lived a Congressman and died a Congressman. He was the one who first banned the RSS. Patel was an organisational man, unlike Nehru who was a people’s man. Patel was always conscious of his limitations. Yet, Modi built the tallest statue for Patel little knowing that the US government did not spend a single penny on the Statue of Liberty in New York. It was built with the money Pulitzer’s newspaper raised from its readers.

In the “glorious past” the Indian leaders squandered money on building magnificent temples and mausoleums while the people remained poor. Today, Modi’s government, too, spends money on temples and temple corridors, statues and central vistas while the poor are becoming poorer and the rich are becoming richer. Yes, history repeats itself!

ajphilip@gmail.com

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