|Published: November 2017|
There is an old British saying that the Bureaucracy is a horse a politician has to guide and ride. A bureaucrat is also expected to be neutral as far as politicians are concerned, but he has to deliver on the implementation of an elected government’s decisions.
It is also expected that a politician will not harm a bureaucrat because of his political interests. But once he issues an order, as part of the government, in accordance with the laid down procedure, a bureaucrat also has to implement that.
In most countries, India included, this system of constitutional governance has worked well, except when some elected politicians have adopted aggressive, in rare cases insulting, postures to deal with the civil services. The system then suffers collapse or near paralysis.
This is what specifically happened in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) post the Bofors deal in mid-1980s. There were allegations of corruption, but VP Singh and his cronies also charged, falsely, that the Bofors was a poor quality gun. That was a lie. The persecution of some officers by him led to a kind of paralysis in the Ministry of Defence which in turn blocked the routine of the acquisition process and that in turn led to the shortage of equipment for all the three Services over the last 30 odd years.
It’s not easy now for any government to make up for the shortages in one go, but with some efforts, the pace can be tweaked to set the system to the best possible speed. But a government has to ensure that the cycle of allegations, repeated by vested, vicious or ill-informed interests, those in politics and media included, should have no effect on the routine and time-bound inductions as per the law, and the procedure.
The armed forces should not be hurt.
It is the duty of an elected minister, in-charge of the Ministry of Defence, to take decisions speedily, without fear and favour; every minister actually tries to do so but also gets checked sooner or later when allegations start coming in the media. A three-star officer once told me that just when the Army was about to place the order for a particular system, allegations erupted in the media, and in the process our troops were denied that particular requirement for some time. The allegations of course were found to be lies.
I am writing this as I understand that the new Defence Minister, Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman, has taken upon herself to ask why files regarding many cases have been pending in the ministry, for long, and without decisions. She wants answers, decisions, and their implementation.
The Government’s Make in India programme, beginning with the defence industrial sector, is a great initiative and it is sensible to bring in the private industry for parallel development. The public sector has not been able to do enough although in some cases, as in missiles and space, it has outstanding achievements to its credit.
Public, or private, there is no way to hold back what the armed forces need. Every soldier has to have the weapon which gives him the edge to deter or delete an adversary. Mrs Sitharaman knows this, and deserves full support.
Gulshan Rai Luthra