Saturday, July 25, 2009

KARGIL AND POLITICAL DEBATES: NAUSEATING INDEED

More than 62 years after Independence, a former Chief of the Army Staff has had the courage to publicly voice what the whole nation has been feeling for a long time and what a lot of citizens and lower ranked soldiers have been saying for years. Taking part in a debate on CNN-IBN on July 24, 2009, on the issue of the present government having forgotten the martyrs of the Kargil War of 1999, General Shankar Roy Choudhary, who is not known for using strong words in a debate, took everyone by surprise by saying something that politicians across parties should be ashamed of.

After listening to a third-rate political spat between Jayanthi Natarajan of the Congress and Rajiv Pratap Rudy of the BJP in which both tried to score cheap political points on Kargil, the General was compelled to say what the whole nation feels: "It is a political debate which must be buried along with political parties...These nauseating, disgusting, shrill, vituperative debates have no meaning for the Indian Defence Services." Ever the officer and gentleman, he later apologised to Natarajan since she took his criticism to heart, but maintained that he stood by what he had said.

It may be recalled that it was Congress MP Rashid Alvi who first gave a sickening political twist to the Kargil victory by saying that it was only the NDA which may celebrate it, not the nation. Minister of State for Home Sri Prakash Jaiswal fuelled the outrage further: he could not even remember when this war was fought and won. Little wonder, then, that for the first five years that it was in power, the UPA government chose not to commemorate the heroes of this war.

This year it has decided to commemorate 10 years of the victory only after intense opposition pressure. That it is a very reluctant honour being given to those brave sons of India who fought for their motherland is evident from the fact that the President, who is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, has refused to travel to Kargil to pay her homage. The Defence Minister too has backed out. That is why General Choudhary was forced to utter the bitter truth that "The soldiers do not think about what the politicians think about their acts. They have been serving their country bravely since 1947". That is possibly why he also called Natarjan's bluff that there were no political reasons for not commemorating Kargil by pointing out that while all heroic acts of the soldiers from 1947 onwards need to be celebrated by the nation, the only day being commemorated is when India's military created Bangladesh.

Something is indeed seriously wrong with India's politicians. And it is getting worse. The amount of energy they spend in trying to run political opponents down and the level that they sink to, to do so, is disgusting and nauseating indeed. They will readily embrace the architect of Kargil, Musharraf, fall into his military commando trap like ignorant fools and nearly get tricked into a shocking deal with him to all but sell Kashmir to Pakistan. But when it comes to political opponents who are Indians, they will behave as if they are dealing with arch enemies who have to be defeated by all means, even if Pakistan benefits in the process. What else can one make of a garrulous politician and security-blind former career diplomat like Mani Shankar Aiyar getting into the gutter to dishonestly defend "his" government's Baluchistan Blunder at Sharm-el-Sheikh by saying that that it would not put it in the dock "unless Mr. Jaitley's government was doing funny business in Baluchistan"?

Politics has now become big business, an easy path to undreamt of pelf for many. It is for this reason alone - forget that deceitful talk of ideology, secularism etc - that political fights have become more and more unscrupulous, vicious and petty. No one wants to yield even an inch to another party out of fear of losing power.

That is why we have this disgraceful response to remembering the heroic deeds of soldiers who died for their country and not for a political party. That is why the only concern about the Baluchistan Blunder is not India's mindless surrender to a focused and aggressive Pakistan, or its serious long term impact, but the possibility that it will give a political advantage to the BJP, however small. That is why the BJP opposed the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, knowing fully well that it would have grabbed it with glee had it been in power. That is why the latest surrender to potentially useful politicians on the issue of the obscene amount of security that they have been given at the tax payers' expense.

Jayanthi Natarajan may arrogantly not want a General Choudhary who, as per her, believes that "every party comes from the gutters", even though he did not say so. Sure some politicians may individually not like the manner in which the political class is collectively bringing more and more disgrace upon itself. But it will be hard to find someone who can place his hand on his heart and say that the General's words were misplaced.

General Shankar Roy Choudhary needs to be complimented for speaking a truth that would have given great comfort to lakhs of serving and retired soldiers who have for long felt that their military leaders have been letting them down since 1947 because of their inability to find their voices when handling politicians and bureaucrats. He has now shown the way with remarkable candour.

The Indian Army is no longer a colonial fighting machine. It is now a people's army. It is also apolitical. That, however, does not mean that its leaders, past and present, should keep looking only inward within the organisation.

In an increasingly vitiated political atmosphere where politicians are behaving the way they are, India's top military leaders who are no longer in service must realise that still they have another big national responsibility. When and where the political leadership errs or fails in matters related to defence, strategy and national security, including aspects of foreign policy that impacts them, they must speak up, educate all Indians and bring pressure to bear upon the government of the day. They owe it to the country. There is simply too much at stake to be lost foolishly on negotiating tables time and again.

The blood of India's sons must not flow in vain.
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A nation forgets? A must read for every Indian. The most powerful words ever written about Kargil and the sons of India whose blood has given us our tomorrow.
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