Committee on Insecurity
For five years now, UPA 2 has been pilloried for ruining India’s economy, and deservedly so. But what has remained relatively out of sight is the damage it has done by weakening both external and internal security systems. It’s very fortunate, and so is India, that there hasn’t been a major security challenge since November 26, 2008, and we have also had an unusual decade of external peace, only the second in our independent history. That is why the UPA seems to be getting away with the greatest muddle-headed damage it has done. But tragedies like the navy’s earlier this week remind us not to be forgiving.
It is consistent with the UPA’s diminution of the authority of the prime minister, his office and the cabinet system itself, but the really serious harm it has done to internal and external security leadership has severe implications. In our cabinet system, the most important and powerful body is supposed to be the Cabinet Committee on Security, or CCS. It includes the most powerful ministers — home, defence, finance and external affairs, besides the prime minister — but the UPA has reduced it to inconsequentiality. You take a poll even in a college on the UPA’s most incompetent ministers. The winners, and by some distance, will be its home (Sushilkumar Shinde) and defence (A.K. Antony) ministers. One reason Salman Khurshid may not do too well in this vote is that in these distracted times, many may not even be conscious that he is our external affairs minister, and not a sex and virility specialist. He has ably carried forward his predecessor S.M. Krishna’s tradition of reducing this to the office of India’s chief consular officer, who competes for airtime with the ministry’s spokesman any time an Indian student is beaten up in Australia or a maid dares to complain against her boss in an Indian mission.
But think about this. Here are three of the five members of your venerable CCS. One can’t ever take a decision (Antony), one should never speak in public as the republic’s home minister (Shinde) and the third, Khurshid, is inconsequential.
The rot is not personalised, but systemic, institutional and political. From the day the UPA came to power in 2004, it somehow decided to use the CCS as a kind of attic to hide its castaways. Between P. Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee, the finance ministry at least had two ministers who exercised authority. All of the other three ministries were cursed from the very beginning. I have to thank the head of Express News Service, Pranab Dhal Samanta, who is arguably India’s best-informed reporter on politics and governance, for helping me put this embarrassing decade in perspective. The Congress chose Shivraj Patil (can continued…