Monday, September 16, 2013

Corruption in the Armed Forces:

Sort out the Generals First!

by Shailesh Ranade, (27 July 2012)

 The past two years have been a disaster for the Armed Forces, especially the Army. The drubbing they have received is worse than nuclear explosion over Hiroshima during WW II. In five years flat, Japan was up and running and catching up with the developed economies. The Indian Armed Forces are not likely to recover any time soon. In fact, the situation is likely to get worse. This is because the destruction is not of government property like ships, tanks, and aircraft but of the only asset that the military officer has – moral fibre. When the officer loses his moral fibre, he is not in the military anymore. He only dresses like a military officer.

I hear arguments like, “the officers and men come from the same decaying Indian Society. We don’t expect them to be honest, when there is muck all around”. All these arguments are completely flawed. When a person joins the Academy as a Cadet, he is exposed to a culture, which is completely different from the other careers that he can choose. If the same person were to choose Engineering, IT, Medical, Mass Media, Bollywood etc, he is in effect a part of the same decaying, scheming society that is run by the mafia and black money where cheating is the norm.

Everything the military man does is different. He stays separate from civilian populations. His mess is different. He dresses differently. His eating habits are different. He excels in table manners. His hospitals will be of better standards. He has no problem with availability of bread and water. His cantonment will be the most beautiful and cleanest place in town. His justice system is different and more efficient. More importantly, his work is different. Often 24x7x365. He can be recalled from leave if required. In disturbed areas or in times of war, he may not return home to his family. He also gets a gun salute at his funeral and flags will be flown at half mast.

The military man is made of different stuff and needs to be different. How is it that an “honest” Cadet turns into a “thief” General in 30 years? In fact, I am willing to stick my neck out by stating that there are a lot more thieves in the higher ranks than have come out in the media. These are NOT aberrations any more. It is a trend. A disturbing trend, indeed.

The fish rots at the head first. So it is with the Armed Forces. (In this piece, Generals also include Admirals and Air Marshals. There are many more corrupt Generals than the latter two, hence the generalization). To win the war on corruption, the country needs to sort out the Generals first.

Thieving: It is often believed that Generals do not follow the rule book. When an Officer reaches the Flag Rank; he is free to do as he pleases. In fact, it is his privilege, as some of his personal staff will mention. Mess Secretaries will often complain that Generals will take along tooth brush, toothpaste and bath room slippers when they vacate their rooms. When they vacate their houses, they will take along the carpets, curtains, and paintings etc, which have been bought from Unit Funds. If the civilians don’t believe this, just watch what happens when the Flag Officers vacate their bungalows. It is brazen daylight robbery. Most Generals are simply petty thieves.

Punishment: Generals are often not punished for their misdemeanours or professional misconduct. Punishment is restricted to middle levels like Brigadiers and Colonels. Enough cases come to my mind. The loss of INS Andaman and Vindhyagiri in peacetime did not see any Admirals sink. The Kargil War did not see any Generals get the boot. The crash of 482 MiGs over the last 40 years has not grounded any Air Marshal.

ACRs: If a junior officer is ambitious to make it to Flag Rank, only two options are available.  Either he has to be the son of a senior military or government officer or he has to hitch a ride on the shoulders on a General by becoming his Staff Officer or ADC. The other attributes in the ACR do not matter. To have an outstanding ACR, you need to please only one person – your boss. The reviewing officers who “concur” would probably not know the officer on whom the ACR is rendered or he is not being honest. It would be a good idea, to have 360 degree reporting. The men whom you Command should know what kind of a person they are promoting to ‘General’ rank. ACRs should also be publicized. If an officer has done some good work, then the Unit, Division or Command should know about it.

Pay and Allowances: Military is the only career in the world where you can start only at the bottom. A person can never join the military at the level of a Brigadier or a Colonel. The reverse is possible. Enough military men have joined as Vice Presidents, General Managers, and Directors etc. Some have become entrepreneurs. I know of a JCO who is now MD and employs 200 people. A few have joined politics. While a military man can join any profession he chooses, the reverse will almost certainly end in failure. Imagine hiring a Vice President from a top MNC Bank and making him the GOC of a Strike Corps or a Carrier Captain. The poor chap wouldn’t have a clue. The military man, by nature of his training is vastly superior and is often the last resort for any assistance. His pay and allowances, therefore, should not be linked to other sundry and mundane government jobs. If the military needs more pay, just give it without asking questions. Only a fool will chop his right hand. Can our Service Chiefs please speak up and convince the government? Incidentally, anyone ever heard of a Service Chief resigning to uphold the honour of his service or the welfare of his men?

Warrant of Precedence (WoP): Much is said about the WoP. A four star General is currently at No 12. Does it really matter whether he is at 12 or 25? In the US, the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff is at 50. In the UK, thanks to the Royalty, the Chief of Defence Staff is way behind. Since these are only Ceremonial positions, the pay and perks should not be linked to the Order of Precedence. It does not matter whether the General sits in the 1st row or 10th row. If a General who leads a million men into battle feels belittled, he may not attend such a function. But then he may forego his ambassadorship or governorship (next point).

Post Retirement Sinecure: A scrutiny of the list of Governors in India tells one a lot about the kind of people occupying these positions. Are these “gifts” for services already rendered? Frankly would a General really relish the job of a Governor where he is not better than a glorified servant? A few years ago, an Admiral wilfully demoted himself to the level of a lowly Joint Secretary to occupy a position in New Zealand. What happened to the honour code? What hints are the men in uniform getting? And then they have the gall to crib about Warrant of Precedence?

Post Retirement Jobs: Senior Officers are expected to do something respectable once they hang their boots. They are expected to join professional bodies, give opinions, lecture on strategic issues, guide the youth, work for the under privileged etc. Instead we find that they have no qualms about pimping for arms lobbies and all kinds of nefarious activities. Flag Officers should be banned from positions in the Government and Private Sector. Give them a decent pension till they kick the bucket. If they want to make money as honest citizens, please leave the fauj as Colonels.

Land/Estates: Senior Officers have suddenly become dalals when it comes to land deals. The Adarsh, Sukhna land scams are well known. There are other areas too where defence land has been grabbed by private parties only because the lording General was hand in glove with vested interests. Apart from the odd Colonel in Adarsh, all the Officers involved are Flag Officers. In fact, there are 3 Service Chiefs in the Adarsh Scam. “At no time did they know what Adarsh was about” says one Chief. Really? How innocent?  It speaks volumes about their situational awareness. These senior officers had the power to punish and dismiss personnel. Now, they themselves are being marched before a Judicial Commission.

Statutory Complaints and Court Cases: Ask any Major General or equivalent. He will say that the military is a glorious profession. And when he is not promoted further, all hell breaks loose. A glorious profession suddenly becomes the worst profession in town. Generals too miss promotions and choice appointments. What follows is a flurry of complaints and court cases. Why be a bad loser and wash dirty linen? Not getting promoted does not mean the end of life. But it shows our senior officers as selfish, self serving individuals.

Generals are supposed to be held in awe. His every word is a Command. An order may even lead a jawan to death. However, jawans these days are quite news conscious. They see their Generals spread-eagled on the front covers of national magazines. The Generals’ lack of morals greatly affects the morale of his juniors. In the future, jawans may begin to question every word of their senior officers. In fact, the next war may have already been lost. The situation is critical. The next generation of Generals may well imbibe Tagore’s: “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”. Time to forget Chetwode.  

I am sorry if this piece hurts honest Generals. I am sure there would be a few still left.

Monday, September 09, 2013

It’s King Louis’ India

Karan Kharb

India has gone beyond scams and scandals. Stories of politico-bureaucratic corruption no longer make breaking news.  Bapus and Gurus have surged ahead pushing the familiar faces of official crime and corruption behind. Arrogant and audacious as they all are, the ministers are quick to trash CAG reports, hoodwink all processes of law and circumvent Supreme Court directives.  If nothing else works, the files containing clinching documentary evidence are made to disappear as if no custodians were accountable for the same.  The Bapus infuse scare and so subjugate their devotees that they make even children surrender to their carnal lust, even as their well-wishers in power opt to ignore their libidinous escapades.  

India’s present state bears ominous resemblance to the disastrous state France was passing through in the late 1780s. Economy of France was in shambles, food scarce and prices skyrocketing.  That is from the French history, but the same headlines dominate the Indian newspapers even today. Starving French farmers had been crying that they did not have bread to eat. In response, Princess Marie Antoinette had then snapped, ‘why don’t they have cake instead?’ Indian farmers today, starving under debt, are committing suicides. Our politicians, like Marie Antoinette, ridicule them and suggest they could have a sumptuous lunch in Delhi/Mumbai at Rs 5/- to 12/- even as the hawker in the street sells onion at Rs 80/- a kg. Giving such assessment a stamp of authenticity, the Planning Commission says anyone surviving at Rs 32/-. And, in one stroke the population of the poor in India is drastically reduced by millions! That is the state of a rising India poised for a global leadership role in the 21st Century! Untouched by scarcity ever like Princess Marie, Rahul Gandhi sings the same song on different tune today when he says, “There is no such thing as poverty on Earth; it is merely a state of mind”.  

In a way our politicians are not lying; they are just narrating their personal experiences. Most of them do not pay for their meals, or for much of their other joys and wellness, which are serviced and sponsored by well-wishers aplenty. Even at the Parliament House Cafe, where the MPs have to pay, they get Tea for Re 1.00/-, Dal = Rs 1.50, Chapati = Re 1./-, Dosa = Rs 4/-, Biryani = Rs 8/-, Fish = Rs 13/-, Chicken = 24.50.  Outside the gate the MP’s driver pays Rs 55/- for the most frugal lunch while his sahib inside gets a sumptuous delectation at Rs 30/- or less for better service, hygiene and ambiance not available to the former. 

Something very similar was in vogue in France long ago. The monarchy and the nobles were happy, well fed and snobbish while poverty lay prostrate just outside the palace. King Louis XVI would shed crocodile tears on the plight of his subjects but do very little. He would often issue good orders but roll back the same under pressure from the nobility. Like Louis’, the UPA government has the reputation of being a ‘roll back’ government. Louis’ intellectual abilities were widely acknowledged as are Manmohan Singh’s academic qualifications. Louis was weak, indecisive and too subservient to extraneous pressures from the nobles. It all seems to describe Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s DNA! The institutions, clergy and aristocracy were all divided on state matters; they indulged in mutual acrimony and remained stuck without transacting meaningful work – much like the Indian government and our Parliament today.

In the face of these historic similarities between King Louis’ France and Manmohan Singh’s India of today, however, there lies a maze of some contrasting differences too. Anarchy in France led to a decisive Revolution ushering in a change of regime. India is, however, different. It has wandered through a history of much worse anarchic times and tyranny of regimes – indigenous and foreigners alike – but our tolerance threshold has always been so high that the masses have endured all waiting for God to descend in a Krishna like incarnation and fight on our behalf.

But our leaders know it better – God is unlikely to oblige the helpless, for ‘He helps those who help themselves.’ Even though the resentment is widespread and popular anger against the non performing regime of the corrupt, arrogant and inefficient politico-bureaucratic-criminal nexus is already at its bursting point, the rulers and administrators are resting in peace fully prepared with bakshish packaged in cool freebies that would cool down the cauldron of public anger – for the time being at least!.   

The caste, communal divide – a deft handiwork of our ruling class – has compartmentalized the gullible society to such an extent that rather than uniting to fight the malaise together, their responses come from mutual suspicion and distrust. Whereas the innocent suffer most in communal violence, the political patrons consolidate their heinous gains through these acts of violence.  Missing the real target, the gullible violence mongers end up killing their very own brethren who are already victimised.  

King Louis XVI had neither indulged in scams, nor rape nor murder. Yet, he was executed on the guillotine for his failures to deliver as a ruler. Presidents and Prime Ministers have been blown up in their aircraft or hanged to death in India’s neighbourhood in the past. In India, the story is different. Here, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and many more have been assassinated by the terrorists. The Judiciary or the State machinery has never ‘executed’ any of India’s high and mighty many of whom are guilty of crimes as serious as treason, rape, murder and corruption. In our dispensation, even terrorists sentenced to death by the Supreme Court refuse to die for decades. Obviously, there is no question of punishing the delinquent politicians – no matter what the crime. Turning in his grave, King Louis XVI must be cursing why he was not born to rule India instead of France!