Friday, December 4, 2009
One of them occupies the pivotal post of Military Secretary. The MS is one of those who reports directly to the Army Chief and is a Principal Staff Officer (which allows him to interact with various ministries on behalf of the Army). Moreover, his office is responsible for all the postings and transfers in the fauj. If the person at that post is facing inquiries, how is he supposed to inspire confidence in his choice of postings and transfers? Moreover, if reports of an officer approved to be the Deputy Chief, which is also a PSO appointment, besides a Corps Commander are under a cloud, it can be averred that there is need for greater scrutiny for appointments to top jobs. The two Deputy Chiefs are responsible for systems, training and acquisition of military equipment. Imagine, some of these are people who have commanded corps headquarters, which are the highest fighting formations.
Most Army officers are quick to defend their brother officers facing inquiries. The other day in a discussion on CNN-IBN news channel, where I too was invited, a senior army officer said that this particular case was an isolated one and the situation was far worse in the civil. Undoubtedly, if you compare the forces with the environment around them and other services, their credibility is still phenomenal. But, then, if you compare the armed forces today with what they were four decades back, their credibility has taken a nose dive over the years. And it is this reputation and ethos that the armed forces, which are the last instrument of state policy, should be concerned about.
The question often asked is: how has the credibility taken a nose dive over the years? Besides issues within the armed forces, apathy on the part of successive governments on their pay, perks, and status has affected the morale of the rank and file. Armed forces are not attracting the best talent to the officers’ cadre. Defence officers have started looking at other ways to either enrich themselves or seek after-retirement jobs. The latter appears to be the case here.
What needs to be done? One, there is need, as I said, for greater scrutiny for appointment to higher ranks. Two, greater empathy on the part of the government to the requirements of the armed forces. This will ensure that their morale remains high. Three, the stipulation of the two-year cooling-off period after retirement for taking up any civilian job, should be strictly enforced. This should apply to even the Army Chief and also government jobs such as ambassadors and governors. This will ensure that they have nothing but the wellbeing of the armed forces in mind while they don the uniform.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The reported move to revert to the Chief Commissioner system in the Union Territory of Chandigarh is a retrograde step. That it should be linked to the recent controversies relating to the Chandigarh Administration would be missing the bigger picture – like the proverbial wood for the trees.
There is little doubt that some of the controversies are the result of a faulty system of administration in the city. You have an Administrator for
But does that mean that UT should go back to the Chief Commissioner system? Certain people with lack of basic understanding of governance have been pushing this concept. Where on earth is a bureaucratic system the answer? Remember the days when the city had Chief Commissioner…. status quo prevailed for nearly three decades. And there were no dearth of scams (remember the infamous lottery scam?), despite there being only a handful of media persons around then to unearth them. Do we want that? And should a Chief Commissioner not work out, would you bring in a Police Commissioner?
The need is correct the fault lines in the system by bringing in a more democratic system. The Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, despite its lack of powers, has shown that the City is now ready for a more vibrant democracy – like
Of course, since
The system of governance in
Sunday, May 31, 2009
While two years ago, it was Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda which was at the centre of the controversy, this time it is the 109-year old Dera Sachkhand Ballan. The provocation for the violence in Punjab was the armed attack on the dera head, Sant Niranjan Dass and his deputy, Sant Ramanand in Vienna (Austria) on May 24, 2009. The two leaders who were in Austria to conduct a special service were attacked by persons reportedly affiliated to another Sikh gurdwara in Austria. While Ramanand succumbed to his injuries the following day, Niranjan Dass is recuperating from gunshot wounds in a Vienna hospital.
Though full details of the incident and details of the identity of the attackers is not known, the incident does reflect a failure on the part of the Indian diplomatic mission in Austria, which should have been alive to the simmering differences between Sikh groups in that area. Moreover, in the wake of the possible fall out in Punjab, it should have sounded an alert back home as soon as the incident took place. Had the Government in Punjab been alerted well in time, the people could have woken up on Monday morning with curfew in the affected areas. Failure to do resulted in government property running into several crores having been damaged in Punjab alone.
Although the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, who founded the Khalsa, having included all sections of the society, including the Dalits into the Sikh fold, sectarian divide is most pronounced in Sikhism today. There are more than two dozen sects and nearly a 100 deras in the region, who owe allegiance to Sikhism in some form of another, but have their own distinguishing characteristics. Many of them have living Gurus, which is anathema to mainstream Sikhs, who consider the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru ordained.
One such sect is Dera Sachkhand, which was originally called Dera Shri 108 Sant Sarwan Dass Ji Maharaj Sachkhand. Its followers (Ravidassi Sikhs) adhere to the teachings of Sant Ravidas, a 15th century untouchable preacher, whose “bani” (teachings), like that of many other preachers cutting across different religions of that time, form a part of the Guru Granth Sahib. Yet, when discrimination against the dalits continued in Sikh gurdwaras, separate Ravidas gurdwaras started surfacing in the middle of the 20th century, where portraits of Guru Ravidas are also displayed. According to one estimate there are as many 75 gurdwaras of Ravidassias abroad.
Mainstream Sikhs, especially the radical elements among them, are piqued with Dera Sach Khand on a number of counts. Most Ravidassias, who don’t sport a turban, refer to most of their religious places as “gurdwaras”, where the Guru Granth Sahib is worshipped. The first time, tension between Ravidassias and others cropped up was in Tallan village in Jalandhar district of Punjab in 2003.
Earlier, ideological differences cropped up when dera followers started believing in a living Guru - Sant Niranjan Dass enjoys that status now – an issue on which Sikhs are extremely touchy. Earlier, differences with Dera Sacha Sauda came to the fore when its head, Ram Rahim Singh was accused by Sikh groups of trying to copy Guru Gobind Singh in dress and form.
Incidentally, the mainstay of most of the other deras and sects that have cropped up in Sikhism are either the dalits or the poorer sections of people. Dalits form nearly 30 per cent of the population in Punjab. Among the reasons for mass appeal of these deras are the charitable institutions like hospitals and schools being run by them. Since these deras also lay emphasis on education of children and condemn child marriage and drug abuse, they are seen by the poor as a panacea for their misfortunes. Properties of these sects dot not just Punjab but almost all states in North India. Moreover, they are liberal on the form of Sikhism that they practice.
Political observers in Punjab feel that the recent incident should act as a wake up call to the government and religious organizations like the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) to not just take remedial measures but start the process of social reconstruction in the state. If today it is Dera Sachkhand that is at cross roads, tomorrow it could be another sect.
Sikh scholars for long have argued on the need to take all sects into the wider fold of Sikhism. However, there were few takers on his advice. Later, when the Nirankari sect clashed with the Sikh groups in late 1970s, efforts were initiated to bring about reconciliation. But these efforts did not fructify.
SGPC has been cagey on initiating reforms for the fear of drawing flak from the radical elements. Also, SGPC leaders feel that any relaxation of norms on Sikh identity and form could weaken the identity of the Khalsa and would result in more people opting out of the form of Sikhism as ordained by the 10th Guru.
Another underlying reason for the SGPC dillydallying on introducing reforms and providing acceptability to other sects is the fear that it could drastically alter the power equation within the SGPC, which is acting as a handmaiden of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) in Punjab. In this they see power slipping out of their grips. SGPC is already out of reckoning in the Sikh gurdwara politics in Delhi and the demand to have a separate gurdwara body in Haryana is growing. As Sikhs settle down in different parts of the world, independent streaks are becoming more pronounced. For example, a gurdwara in Europe has decided to make alterations in the ardas (daily Sikh prayer), which is being resented by the SGPC leaders.
Another factor which could further widen the schism is continuing separatist tendency among powerful sections of the Sikh Diaspora abroad. In many places abroad, especially Canada, gurdwaras are controlled by radical Sikhs. Some of them left the Indian shores long ago and have failed to keep track of developments back home. Many left Punjab at the height of militancy when there was a crackdown by the security forces, forcing them to seek political asylum abroad. This includes a number of countries in Europe. This has a great destabilizing factor, especially when there is comparative peace back home in Punjab, as in the recent case.
Fortunately, Punjab has come a long way since the earlier phase of violence when politics – both at the Centre and in the state – added fuel to the fire, unmindful of the suicidal consequences. Now, the Congress/ UPA Government at the Centre and the SAD/BJP Government in Punjab appear to be wise to the dangerous consequences if they play with fire.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
In our context, the anger of any and every community which feels wronged is justified – it is the Sikhs on 1984 anti-Sikh violence, the Muslims on Godhra in Gujarat and so on. The anger is against the system – or a lack of system – of the Rule of Law not being followed for years. If you don’t follow the Rule of Law, the anger – justified or not - will manifest in various ways – as has been happening in our country and globally. It is in this context that the Sikh anger against the Congress should be seen. This is irrespective of the incident involving the shoe being hurled – an issue on which as a journalist I have different and strong views.
The community is angry because of the way the Congress has conducted itself. In the case of Jagdish Tytler, the party has not only given him a ticket all these years because of the “winnability” factor but also given him ministerial berths. Since this happened when he was facing inquiries, this obviously gives the impression to the community that he is being protected by the party. The timing of the CBI clean chit is also very odd – why could the CBI not give its report a few months ago or a few months hence? This gives the impression to an aggrieved community that the party is deliberately rubbing salt on their wounds. I would say that since the Election Commission has been pulling up various state government, ministers and officers, it should even look at the prosecution powers of agencies like the CBI and the state vigilance commissions in the run up to the polls. It is another matter that in this case the whole game plan – if there was one - appears to have boomeranged.
I am not sure if the BJP can claim much credit either on the issue of violence against Sikhs in 1984. The party did initiate some fresh inquiries but in concrete terms ended up doing little to take the guilty to task when in power. Mind you, the incident is 25 years old. Isn’t it a shame on the Rule of Law that we claim to profess and practice? BJP also has much to explain on Godhra violence in 2002.
On Tuesday evening, I was invited to a panel discussion on CNN IBN, where Sagarika Ghosh, who was anchoring the programme, asked me how felt on the shoe throwing incident. “Do you see yourself as a Sikh first or as a Journalist first,” she asked? I told her that I saw no contradiction in being a Sikh and a Journalist at the same time. While giving my view on the anger of Sikhs against the Congress, I told her that I strongly disapproved of the shoe throwing incident. Undoubtedly, journalists are mirror images of the society to which they belong and in which they live and on which they report, but they have a medium to express themselves. They can’t and should not take advantage of the ring side view of the events – howsoever, painful the events are. If they do that they would lose the special privileges they enjoy in the performance of their job. Besides, they lose credibility.
While there is onus on the journalistic community to ensure that its brethren conduct themselves professionally, the governments are bound by the Constitution to ensure a Rule of Law, which is unsparing, transparent and time bound. Tuesday’s incident reflected a failure of both.