humour mk kaw
Of Netas, Babus and Jarnails
Over the years, astute observers of the political scene in and around us have commented favourably about the Indian situation. They are slightly puzzled why despite the many similarities among the countries of South Asia, our histories have traversed totally different trajectories. The specific bewilderment arises from the fact that the Indian Chiefs of Staff have been behaving differently from their peers elsewhere. This is stated as if there is something destined about this scenario.
People may be mystified, but only because they are not prepared to wrack their brains to crack the mystery. And if some offhand remarks are offered, you find vague, inane observations about the political leadership provided by people like Patel, Nehru and Indira, the strict training imparted in the NDA, the tough stand taken by the Supreme Court on critical constitutional issues, the deliberate distance maintained between religion and the State. They are not prepared to give credit where it is due.
This is the position even when a Jarnail V K Singh makes overt gestures of revolt.
The real key to the mystery lies in the fact that there has traditionally been a distance between the Chiefs and the political executive. The much-reviled bureaucrat has acted like the Queen in a game of chess. He did not permit the military to come anywhere close to the King. The question of any infiltrator shouting ‘check’ did not therefore arise.
It is not that there have been no ambitious Chiefs in the Indian Army. Cariappa, Sundarji and Maneckshaw were outstanding examples of Jarnails with swollen heads. But the babus led them through such a merry dance that they did not have any energy left by the time they reached the netas.
Into this salutary state of affairs, entered two jokers in the eighties: Arun Nehru and Arun Singh. Both were close to Rajiv and played upon his ignorance of the way in which the games were played out in the Indian administrative system. Arun Singh proved to be the deadlier of the two. He established a false notion in Rajiv’s mind that the Jarnails were professionals, while the babus were generalist amateurs, trying to poke their nose into matters of which they were wholly ignorant.
Thus, it was not difficult to persuade Rajiv to issue orders equating the three Chiefs to the Cabinet Secretary in the matter of pay. In his naivete, Arun Singh did not understand the logical corollaries of this seemingly innocuous decision of the Government:
- The Chiefs took it that they were now equated to the Cabinet Secretary.
- The Chiefs now refused to attend meetings called by the Defence Secretary, but deputed their Vice-Chiefs instead.
- The Vice Chiefs were unable to provide a definitive input about the views held by the service headquarters.
- The matters remained undecided and took time to get crystallised.
Imagine this is the situation to which we have been reduced just by the issue of one Government Order. What will happen if tomorrow someone decides that the Chiefs of Staff should not even be equated to Cabinet Secretary, but should rank higher.
The Chiefs will then not attend the coordination meetings called by the Cabinet Secretary. They will insist that they will speak only to the political executive. Then the final buffer between the jarnails and the netas will disappear and there will be no difference between the Chiefs of India and the Chiefs in our neighbouring countries. That is the time when India will be ripe for its first coup d’etat! g
(MK Kaw is former secretary, Government of India )