By B. Raman
There are 35 substantive paras in the Independence Day address of our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, from the Red Fort on the morning of August 15,2012.
Two of these paras relate to internal security, two to the Armed and para-military forces and one to the measures for the eradication of corruption and the improvement of governance. There is no reference to foreign policy and our relations with our neighbours. The remaining 30 paras are related to the state of our economy and bread and butter issues of the common man.
One can understand the over-riding preoccupation of the address with economic issues. The economy is in a bad shape. The monsoon seems to be deserting us. All sections of our society—-the rich, the middle class and the poor—have been affected by the economic downslide, which he has attributed to global factors without admitting any policy deficiencies. Having been an economic expert all his professional life with very limited exposure to issues concerning national security and foreign policy, he feels more comfortable speaking on economic issues rather than on national security.
The country has been passing through unusually difficult times marked by growing disenchantment of different sections of the population with the seeming drift in policy-making and implementation, with the lack of sincerity and seriousness in dealing with corruption and with the lack of a robust leadership in steering the ship of State.
The events of the last one year were crying out for indications—however remote— that the Prime Minister is aware of the seriousness of the situation confronting the country, that he has noticed the mood of desperation of the people and that he has been trying hard to find answers to the hopes and expectations of the people. Such indicators are sadly missing from the address. It is an “as usual” address which would totally disappoint the people and bely their hopes and expectations.
It is an address full of generalities and lacking in specifics in matters relating to national security and governance. The three most worrying internal security issues the nation has been facing are terrorism, insurgency and communal violence. Insurgency and communal violence have been touched upon in a general way in the context of the recent outbreak of violence in Assam and the continuing Naxal activities. There is also a passing reference to the improvement in the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East. In terms of policy response, the address is silent except a reference or two to the action taken by the Government for the economic development of the affected areas.
There is no message of solidarity with the police and para-military forces fighting valiantly against insurgencies of various kinds. There is no reference to the actions that the Government intends taking to improve our counter-insurgency capabilities. The address is silent on how the Government intends moving forward in respect of the report of the special interlocutors on J&K.
Surprisingly, there is no reference to terrorism anywhere in the address as if terrorism as a threat has disappeared. There is no homage to the memories of those—-civilians and security forces—who died at the hands of the terrorists— and no reference to the contempt and indifference with which Pakistan continues to ignore repeated Indian requests for action against the Pakistan-based conspirators of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.
Even his passing reference to the recent explosions in Pune seem to have been carefully sanitised in order to avoid evoking in the minds of the people images of continuing terrorism. His reference to the recent Pune incidents says: “The incidents which occurred in Pune in the beginning of this month point to the need for much more work to be done in the area of national security. We will continue to do this work with sincerity in the future also.”
The exercise to strengthen our counter-terrorism capabilities has come to a screeching halt due to differences between the Centre and some States on the creation of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC). One would have expected a strong message of co-operation with the States in dealing with internal security in general and terrorism in particular. Such a message has been missing.
Even his references to the Armed Forces are lack-lustre. The usual tribute to the sacrifices made by the Armed Forces is there. So too a reiteration of the Government’s determination to modernise the Armed Forces and cater to their welfare. As in the case of internal security, in the case of external security too, there are no indications of likely policy responses. The Government knows best how to deal with national security and will take the required measures. The people should leave it to the Government and the Prime Minister without asking questions and without expecting details. That seems to be his attitude.
Last year, the Prime Minister took an excellent initiative in appointing a blue ribbon Special Task Force headed by Shri Naresh Chandra, former Cabinet Secretary, former Ambassador to the US and present Convenor of the National Security Advisory Board, to make a comprehensive review of our national security mechanism and come up with concrete recommendations for modernising our national security architecture.
Its report was submitted to the Prime Minister on May 24 last. It is now under vetting by the Ministries and Departments concerned before releasing to the public salient points of the report and taking up the accepted recommendations for implementation.
This is an important exercise in our efforts to modernise our national security machinery. It would have been unfair to expect the Prime Minister to discuss the salient points of the report in his Independence Day message, but a reference to this significant exercise and how the Government intends carrying it forward would have reassured the people that national security has been receiving adequate attention from the Prime Minister. But the Prime Minister chose to keep quiet.
His casual reference to public concerns over corruption and what the Government intends doing about it shows an unfortunate absence of a sense of gravity over the feelings of desperation and anger of the common man on this issue. One cannot imagine a more indifferent and insensitive approach. All that the Prime Minister said was: “The Lok Sabha has cleared the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill. We hope that all political parties will help us in passing this Bill in the Rajya Sabha. A number of other Bills have also been presented before the Parliament. The Cabinet has cleared a Public Procurement Bill. We will continue our efforts to bring more transparency and accountability in the work of public servants and to reduce corruption. But we will also take care that these measures do not result in a situation in which the morale of public functionaries taking decisions in public interest gets affected because of baseless allegations and unnecessary litigation.”
I had stated this often in the past. I repeat it again on the basis of my limited experience in public service. It is important for a public servant from the Prime Minister downwards to maintain continuous communication with the people through various conventional and modern means of communication available. The Prime Minister has to jump out of the well in which like a frog he has got stuck and interact vigorously with the media and the people through the various means available. The media and the people have a right to ask him tough questions and expect honest answers. By continuing to take shelter behind the Great Wall of his well, he cannot win the confidence of the people and remove the prevailing mood of desperation and anger.
In response to my past articles on the Prime Minister’s style of leadership —or the lack of it— I was in receipt of innumerable comments from my loyal readers saying: “ You are wasting your time and energy in your old age and in your state of poor health raising such issues with the Prime Minister. Nothing is going to have an impact on him.”
What they say may be true, but I refuse to give up. I am writing one more time hoping that least this time I can make the frog jump out of the well and show some vigour and activity.
Annexed are the relevant paras from his address which have been discussed above.
EXTRACTS FROM THE PM’S INDEPENDENCE DAY ADDRESS
“The incidents of violence which occurred in Assam recently are very unfortunate. I know that these incidents have resulted in the disruption of the lives of a large number of people. We fully sympathize with those families which have been affected by the violence. We are doing everything possible to provide relief to them. I also promise to you that our Government will make every effort to understand the reasons behind the violence and work hard with the State Governments to ensure that such incidents are not repeated in any part of the country.
“We have achieved success in many areas of internal security. In Jammu and Kashmir, people participated in large numbers in the Panchayat elections. There has been a reduction in violence in the North Eastern States and we are engaged in dialogue with many groups there so that they can join the mainstream of development. We have initiated new schemes of development in areas affected by naxal violence to ensure that the grievances of the people residing there, especially our brothers and sisters belonging to Scheduled Tribes, can be removed and their lot can be improved. However, we need to be constantly vigilant as far as internal security is concerned.
“Communal harmony has to be maintained at all costs. Naxalism is still a serious problem. The incidents which occurred in Pune in the beginning of this month point to the need for much more work to be done in the area of national security. We will continue to do this work with sincerity in the future also.
“We have seen a lot of discussion in the recent months about the role of our armed forces and their preparedness. I would like to emphasise here that our armed forces and paramilitary forces have defended the security of our country both during war and peace with valour and honour. Our soldiers have made the biggest of sacrifices, whenever needed. Today I would like to reassure our countrymen that our armed forces and paramilitary forces are prepared to face any challenge. The Government will continue to work for modernizing these forces and providing them with the necessary technology and equipment. Today, I would like to thank our security forces, who are guarding our frontiers bravely, from the bottom of my heart. We will continue to make efforts for their welfare.
“Our Government has set up a committee to examine issues relating to pay and pension of armed forces personnel. This committee will also look into matters concerning pension of retired men and officers and family pension being paid to their families. We will take prompt action on the recommendations of the committee, once they are received.
“Our commitment to make the work of the Government and administration transparent and accountable stands. On the last Independence Day, I promised you that we would take many steps for this purpose. I am happy to state that during the last 1 year we have achieved good progress in this area. The Lok Sabha has cleared the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill. We hope that all political parties will help us in passing this Bill in the Rajya Sabha. A number of other Bills have also been presented before the Parliament. The Cabinet has cleared a Public Procurement Bill. We will continue our efforts to bring more transparency and accountability in the work of public servants and to reduce corruption. But we will also take care that these measures do not result in a situation in which the morale of public functionaries taking decisions in public interest gets affected because of baseless allegations and unnecessary litigation.”