The conduct of Nirmala Sitharaman—indeed of the entire BJP—becomes understandable
What can our country expect from the Defence Minister who cannot even defend the soldiers who are politically targeted? Well, it is what it is: we have a ruling dispensation which sings patriotic songs all the time, its leaders wear nationalism up their sleeves—and succumb to pressure when they ought to show uprightness. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman surely didn’t show courage when it came to a police complaint against the Army in Jammu & Kashmir.
Typically, it was left to senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy to raise the issue; he wrote a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind over the subject.
Typically, none of the vociferous rashtrabhaktas in the government has raised their voice against Sitharaman who allowed the filing of a first information report (FIR) against Army soldiers for the Shopian firing incident in which three civilians were killed last month. The soldiers had to open fire in self-defence at a stone-pelting mob after its soldiers were badly injured.
As has become the norm these days, it was left to senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy to raise the issue; he wrote a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind over the subject. In the letter, Swamy wrote, “I had demanded the RM (Raksha Mantri) make a clarificatory statement on whether she had indeed given the J&K government the required sanction or nod for this treacherous FIR, which today has demoralized the Army whose jawans and officers are getting killed almost daily in J&K.”
Pointing out a statement by J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti that the FIR was filed with the permission and sanction of the Defence Minister, Swamy questioned Sitharaman’s silence over the issue. The senior BJP member invoked Article 77(1) of the Constitution, according to which all executive actions are made in the name of the President. Swamy has also written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the subject.
Compare the ruling dispensation’s egregious conduct with its strident display of patriotism. It wants to force nationalism on citizens; it wants cinema halls to play the national anthem during every film show; its leaders keep chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Vandemataram’—perhaps as a substitute for steps to strengthen national security. Ultra-nationalists sanctimoniously flaunt their love for their country and loudly laud soldiers.
As if the pointless, endless, and mindless eulogizing of soldiers in speeches, ceremonies, television and radio programmes, etc., were not enough, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has directed all toll operators to train their staff to pay respect to armed forces personnel. The Times Of India (December 14) quoted an NHAI circular saying, “Armed forces personnel deserve the highest regard and should be given due respect at the toll plaza including salute and a standing ovation as deemed fit.”
Against this backdrop, the conduct of Nirmala Sitharaman—indeed of the entire BJP—becomes understandable. Had it not been for Swamy, it would even have gone unnoticed
Imagine the unedifying spectacle we would witness: toll plaza employees, ignoring the queues of vehicles, standing up to salute soldiers. Some of the employees may not know how to salute properly; they may not be properly dressed; they may be in chappals, and awkwardly, wrongly saluting soldiers. Theatrics couldn’t get funnier or uglier. But then this is what happens when governance is confused with a mix of events and rhetoric.
Meanwhile, the allocation for defence in the recent has come down to 1.5 percent, down from 1.8 percent when Modi came to power. This year’s defence allocation is the lowest since 1950. As for modernization and private sector participation in defence production, the high-profile Make in India has been provided—hold your breath—Rs 142 crore.
Neglect of national security has been going on for quite some time. Brig. Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd.), Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses (IDSA), wrote on August 15, 2017, in www.thewire.in that “unless the remaining deficiencies in weapons, ammunition and equipment are also made up quickly, the management of the defence budget improves by an order of magnitude and the defence procurement process is streamlined further, thoughts of critical hollowness in defence preparedness will continue to haunt India’s defence planners.”
In short, the excessive exaltation of soldiers goes hand in hand with political, bureaucratic apathy towards them. Soldiers are not provided high-quality bullet-proof jackets, helmets, etc.; but they are glorified all the time as if glorification would make them safer.
Against this backdrop, the conduct of Nirmala Sitharaman—indeed of the entire BJP—becomes understandable. Had it not been for Swamy, it would even have gone unnoticed.