House panels April 20 meeting with the service chiefs is a step in the right direction
Now that the parliamentary standing committee on defence has invited the three service chiefs to appear before it on April 20 to discuss defence preparedness,a much-needed conversation is set to begin. Instead of talking at each other,political and military leaders will,hopefully,learn to talk to each other again. Appropriately,this conversation will take place in the highest deliberative forum where the fundamental democratic principle of accountability of government to the people is also enforced. Such a dialogue needs to be welcomed,given how deeply congealed is the distrust between the military and political establishments.
The meeting between the service chiefs and the MPs is bound to be shadowed by events that began with the army chiefs date-of-birth row spilling into the public domain. The April 20 appointment is itself the fallout of one of the events in an unfortunate series the letter written by General V.K. Singh to the prime minister,cataloguing obsolete defence equipment and underlining Indias alleged defence unpreparedness. The letter became public not very long after the Supreme Court asked the general to withdraw his petition on the date of birth issue. This was after,in an unprecedented step,he had taken the government to court. A probe has been ordered into the leak of the letter,described as an act of treason by both sides. The army chief has also spoken of a bribe offer,allegedly by a former colleague,now being investigated by the CBI.
There is a need to engage with the issues but for both sides to look at each other and the issues in the eye,they must first address themselves to the distrust that has discoloured their relationship. The Indian Expresss reconstruction of the chain of events set off by the unusual troop movement on the night of January 16-17 pointed to this build-up of suspicion and anxiety. The subsequent denials the army chief called the report absolutely stupid, the defence minister called it baseless shed more sound than light in a fractious public debate. Most recently,in an interview to CNN-IBN,Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju admitted that there are protocols that govern the movement of troops,where somebody has to be informed or somebody has to be kept in the loop,but tried to transfer the responsibility of the governments panicked reaction to probably someone down the line who has read too much into it. The April 20 invitation to Parliament provides an opportunity to dispel the fog that shrouds issues ranging from postings to procurements. It is a step in the right direction. For,clearing the air is fundamental to defence preparedness.