Historic mandate will impose more challenges, expectations
Lt General K J Singh
The recently concluded elections are indeed path breaking in terms of magnitude of verdict and have been aptly described as ‘Tsunamo-Plus’. Suffix indicating that while first wave arrived in 2014, current one is not only a magnified repeat, but 300 plus. The polls, de-facto, became presidential in character, candidates becoming inconsequential, overwhelmed by Modi wave. This kind of mandate, initially exhilarating for victors, is double-edged one, imposing additional challenges and expectations. The first and foremost responsibility is to foster inclusivity, in keeping with seminal wisdom of ancient scriptures, raja taking the entire praja along.
The Prime Minister (PM) has made very good beginning in his victory speech and like they say, well begun is half done. We hope, opposition will show due maturity and apply itself to the new role of responsible and constructive opposition. Hopefully, our parliament will discover the art of reasoned debate and opposition in particular, will draw inspiration from parliamentarians of yore like Vajpayee, Lohia and Piloo Mody, compensating insignificant strength of their parties with their reasoned eloquence. Let there be, ‘sabhya samvad, sambhaav, vinod’ – reasoned debate, bonhomie and refined humour.
Even tougher poser is that there can be no justifiable alibi for non-performance. This verdict has been articulated by aspiring and young Bharat, endowed with patience, which can be stretched but to reasonable limits. Their dreams may not be fancy, yet they deserve trickle down benefit of rising economy, correctives in growing trend of disparity, self-restraint in vulgar display of luxury and consumption. They are intelligent and discerning, loaded with native wisdom as they have nuanced their verdict in less than six months in Rajasthan, MP and Chattisgarh. They rewarded Naveen Patnaik in Orissa, but they are also not scared to jettison Naidu in Andhra or even well-entrenched Sikkim Democraic Front (SDF) regime in Sikkim. The unseating of five-term CM, Pawan Chamling, constituent of ruling National Democratic Alliance though with tenuous linkage, is the most under reported story of these elections. It is in keeping with our nonchalant attitude towards remote areas, notwithstanding Doklam sensitivity. Hopefully, next government will redress this apathy by giving further impetus of Act East policy, especially when lotus has truly bloomed across Brahmaputra.
Bharat seems to have shown great maturity in not falling to rhetorical trap of much touted doles like ‘Nyay’. The tough call that government needs to take is to wean Indian public away from subsidies and reservation quotas. All this, when global economic and security trends portend ominous challenges in terms of slowing economy, trade wars, American misadventure in Iran, unresolved Afghan imbroglio and looming shadow of IS and China in our extended neighbourhood.
Recently concluded campaign has brought security debate to fore and while yielding dividends, it imposes consequential additional burden on government. We now have formidable armada of self-styled experts and Twitter/WhatsApp yodhas (warriors), with their own interpretations and jugaads, for sorting out adversaries. Recently released movies on connected themes with patchy narratives have magnified this conundrum. The dilemma is to harness potential of this well-meaning but impatient and ill-informed lot to transform them as citizen warriors. Government should consider meaningfully educating youth and populace on relevant macro issues. Armed Forces must remain apolitical with well-deserved anonymity. It is not to suggest that generals are beyond scrutiny or accountability, but it is pragmatic to give them requisite flexibility, space and freedom to operate. Bottom line is: Have faith, our Forces (duly empowered) will deliver.
The prime issue requiring considered attention is appointment of next defence minister. My first jottings in April 2017 suggested that PM would be the best choice for this onerous responsibility and I reiterate this proposition. A look down google lane would indicate many precedents. PMs like Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, V P Singh, Chandra Sekhar and Narasimha Rao held Defence portfolio and in some cases for up to three years.
However, in many cases, it was stop gap and also in pre-national security advisor (NSA) era, which is game changer in security dynamics. It will be prudent to have two junior defence ministers like Arun Singh and Shivraj Patil in Rajiv Gandhi dispensation, thereby freeing PM from routine issues. NSA could be designated as additional defence minister in Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with clearly defined mandate. It is also time to induct domain experts as junior defence ministers like Dr Raja Ramana, in the genre of Metro man-Sreedharan, to kick-start defence procurement and set up defence production infrastructure. This seemingly impossible objective requires to be tackled in mission mode with direct backing and financial indulgence of PMO. In essence, it calls for unconventional solution, more on the lines of creating an autonomous agency modelled on Indian Space Research Organisation. In case, PM due to his myriad commitments, is not inclined to take on defence, competent senior leader enjoying his confidence and two junior defence ministers with defined charters can be viable solution.
Despite orchestrated angst, veterans have once again sided with BJP, notwithstanding the fact that number of fauji Lok Sabha MPs remains three, much less than film personalities. It is learnt that government is considering 100 or 1,000 days action plan. The latter seems more pragmatic like mid-term review and hopefully will include issues like combined defence service, theatre commands, transformation, modernization, National Defence University, integration of ministry of defence and security strategic review. However, 100 days formulation based on low hanging fruits should include resolving pressing human resources issues like non-functional upgradation, one rank, one pension and emotive one of renaming the road leading to Sena Bhawan as Param Veer Marg, discarding junk-able Krishna Menon legacy.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.