[Reader-list] The Special Case

anupam chakravartty c.anupam at gmail.com
Mon Nov 15 11:32:47 IST 2010



"There’s a compelling reason why the defence establishment — which includes
politicians, bureaucrats and military bureaucrats — needs to stop the tide
of corruption. By 2015, India would have spent Rs. 2.21 lakh crore on what
consultancy firm KPMG terms “one of the largest procurement cycles in the
world”. Leading global defence manufacturers are flocking to Delhi for a
slice of our defence spending. Indian firms too stand to gain contracts
worth Rs. 44,299 crore. The scope for kickbacks and grease money are

Three months ago, Patrick Choy, chief marketing officer of Singapore-based
defence firm ST Kinetics, blurted out what is known as the emerging truth
for foreign defence firms operating in India: “It’s come to a point where I
wonder about ST Kinetics being driven out of the Indian market by
frustration. We cannot simply continue with something that appears like a
black hole.” His firm, reportedly blacklisted during Kapoor’s tenure, was in
competition with BAE Systems for the Rs. 13,289 crore 155-mm gun contract."

On Mon, Nov 15, 2010 at 12:10 AM, Aditya Raj Baul
<adityarajbaul at gmail.com>wrote:

> Dangerous Pedestal
> There is a general consensus that the army is not only special, but
> that it is important that it continue to be seen as special by the
> public at large
> http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?267853
> If I had a plot of land for every instance – on the news, over the
> last few days – that someone has said the military is India’s
> best/most honest/least corrupt institution, and that the ongoing
> Adarsh Housing Society scam is shocking given that the army (the
> army!) is involved; I’d be one of the country’s largest landowners.
> Whether we think corruption in the army is an aberration or an awful
> portent of where India is headed, it seems there is a general
> consensus that the army is not only special, but that it is important
> that it continue to be seen as special by the public at large.
> Anything short of that, and we risk damaging that most precious of
> things: The One Institution India Continues To Respect.
> To which my response is: so what?
> Let me explain: obviously, rampant corruption of the sort that blights
> Indian public life is serious, not only because of the loot involved
> but because of the toll it takes on the credibility of Indian
> institutions in the eyes of the public.  But there’s no reason why we
> should be especially shocked if the army is involved.  If anything,
> the reverse is true: in a democracy, it is the credibility of the
> system’s democratic institutions that is paramount.  We should be
> appalled by the specter of the country’s elected representatives
> feeding at the trough – rather than accepting that as par for the
> course, and reserving our surprise for when other institutions (such
> as the military, the judiciary, or the bureaucracy) are found wanting.
>  Our reaction implicitly testifies to a problem that has bedeviled
> India since independence, and that represents a hold-over from the
> days of the Raj: a deep suspicion of democracy.  Sometimes this
> suspicion expresses itself as a preference for technocrats and experts
> (planning commissions in Nehru’s day; election commissions and special
> advisors from private industry in ours); sometimes as a blind
> celebration of the judiciary (and an amnesia that it is not the rule
> of law that girds democracy, but democracy that lends legitimacy to
> the rule of law); and sometimes as an exaltation of the military.
> Accordingly, the “we” of the bourgeoisie is only scandalized when one
> of these sorts of institutions is found wanting, because it is these
> sorts of institutions that the bourgeoisie not only trusts, but
> entrusts India to; the more insulated an institution from one’s fellow
> citizens, the greater the importance we attach to its integrity.
> Not to put too fine a point to it, but a cult of the military damages
> democracies, neatly summing up many of the bourgeoisie’s anxieties
> about democracy: impatience with its slowness, its sheer messiness;
> concern that our individual rights are at the mercy of fellow citizens
> we do not trust; and disgust at the spectacle of opportunism that we
> feel sullies politics.  Each of these concerns can be lulled by the
> spectacle of military discipline, at once seemingly decisive and
> ordered, and flattering to our self-image (as professionals, or as
> simply good at our work) by its sheer competence.  Taken too far, the
> flirtation becomes a fetish, a lesson India does not need to venture
> too far afield to learn: in its own geo-political neighborhood, the
> histories of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar have been blighted by
> the conviction of various armies – but, crucially, not only their
> conviction – that the military is the guarantor of the nation-state,
> of national identity even.  To take one example, in the case of
> Pakistan the military is only partially to blame for this state of
> affairs: its way was paved by those in the country’s intelligentsia
> and urban middle classes who long for the order and efficiency only
> the boot can provide, who by far too readily into the myth that the
> military is what holds everything together, that the military is what
> citizens must thank day and night for keeping the borders secure.  (I
> use the present tense deliberately: a mere two years after the
> country’s last bout with military rule ended, I have heard far too
> many complaints from urban Pakistanis that begin with an indictment of
> the current government, and end in a desire for the return of military
> rule.)  In India itself, the fondness with which more than one
> Delhiwaala I’ve met remembers Sanjay Gandhi should give us pause.  He
> made the trains run on time during the Emergency (which, incidentally,
> was lifted not so much because of the country’s abiding faith in
> democracy but because of the government’s mistaken belief that it
> would win the ensuing elections; who knows how much longer the
> Emergency might have continued had the government accurately gauged
> the national mood?); but, mercifully, very many of the voters who
> delivered a drubbing to his party in the 1977 elections knew that
> there are more important things to worry about.
> The problem is hardly unique to the sub-continent, and even more
> longstanding democratic traditions risk being compromised by military
> cults.  In the United States, for instance, the quality of public
> discourse has been gravely compromised by socio-political conventions
> that mean any critic of the military has to answer charges that (s)he
> has let the troops down, or is stabbing them in the back in the midst
> of war.  The result is that one can attack politicians on military
> policy (and risk being tarred as anti-military), or perhaps defer
> criticism until the war in question is over (at which point it is too
> late to do anything, not to mention that the critic will be told to
> move on and not dwell on the past).  The wider narrative goes
> unchallenged: crimes by individuals in the military will be punished
> (and the US has a much stronger record on this front than most), but
> only on condition that they are deemed no more than crimes by
> individuals.  Systemic issues – for instance, about the culture of an
> institution that allows certain abuses to routinely occur; about the
> competence of an institution that routinely kills civilians in
> accidents – are all but impossible to get on the radar.  The problem
> is not only never fixed, but is even exacerbated by the fact that so
> many in the public invest the military with the very credibility that
> they deny the political branches of government.  In short, while no
> one is barred from raising these issues, the question implicitly
> becomes, why would you want to?  What sort of person would want to
> undermine the credibility of one of the last remaining institutions
> that works?  Politicians learn the lesson too: not only can you never
> be seen to question the military, but it is best to re-cast a number
> of complicated foreign (and in the case of India, even internal)
> political issues as essentially military/security questions, and hence
> removed from the realm of ordinary politics.  In India, in many ways
> the cult of the military is nowhere near as developed as in the US,
> but the American example holds lessons for citizens of many countries,
> beginning with the need to realize that democracies aren’t only
> compromised by coups.  The most significant systemic issue might well
> be the way in which the military is used to impress the public into
> service, to secure political legitimacy.
> All of which means that the Adarsh scandal – and let’s not forget, it
> is by no means the only one, given the Sukna land scam as well as the
> alleged involvement of some military personnel in Abhinav Bharat’s
> terrorist activities; not to mention frequent allegations of human
> rights abuses, the scandal as to which is that there is no scandal –
> represents an opportunity for more than just hand-wringing.  It
> represents an opportunity to re-orient our expectations from various
> institutions, to bring them in line with our professed commitment to
> wide political participation.  In democracies, pedestals are
> dangerous.
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