Art of non-governance

Army chief to Anna Hazare,the government’s inaction hurts its image

Written by Uma Gajapati Raju | Published: April 6, 2012 3:29:10 am

Army chief to Anna Hazare,the government’s inaction hurts its image

A consistent talent that the UPA 2 government has displayed is the ease with which it scores own goals. Every crisis that they have faced,political or otherwise,has been aggravated by a refusal to think strategically or be proactive and reach out and douse small fires before they became raging infernos. This is an attitude that can only be born either from a hope that this too shall pass,or from an arrogance that the government knows best.

Whether it was the Anna Hazare movement or the latest case where they allowed an honourable but disgruntled army chief to wreak havoc before he retires in eight weeks,there is a lesson for the Congress party.

In the case of the army chief,he lost the battle to get his date of birth changed and,even if one were to call him a whistleblower,his revelations have the flint of a bogus rage,born out of the fury of revenge. The UPA could have calmed his wrath early on or at least blunted his credibility. If they had had the gumption,the government should have asked him to put in his papers the day he challenged their supremacy and went to the Supreme Court over his disputed age. If General V.K. Singh wanted,he could have fought for his honour as a civilian. But with the government not having had the guts to bloody its hands,we are now witnessing unnecessary sniping with innuendos of dubious arms deals and orchestrated leaks damaging the morale of the armed forces.

All this does the government’s image no good,especially at a time when its credibility is at its lowest ebb. There is already a whisper campaign in the media that the kickbacks referred to by the army chief lead to political bigwigs. By fishing out a letter written not to him,but to the prime minister and the defence minister,and sending it to the CBI for an inquiry,the army chief has further muddied the waters. Using Trinamool MP Ambika Banerjee’s complaint is a clever political move by the general. He desperately needs friends in his battle and is obviously ingratiating himself with the Congress’s latest political opponents.

The important lesson for the government here is that by not having taken decisive action during the early days of this farce,the UPA has allowed the mess to get messier. And the collateral damage arising from these new scandals will continue even after the army chief retires. Many are even willing to bet that the army chief,post retirement,will be the latest Harishchandra to join the Team Anna anti-corruption bandwagon. And in the mudslinging that will ensue,most of the mud will stick to the government’s face.

The paralysis in the government’s decision-making has come to such a pass that,as a senior journalist said,it looks like rigor mortis has set in even before its death. A Wall Street Journal reporter tweeted that during the BRICS summit photo op,Manmohan Singh looked like “a master of stillness”. It is this Zen-like visage shown by our PM and his senior cabinet colleagues even in the face of blazing controversy that many find exasperating and inexplicable. Some UPA apologists argue that this fortitude is actually a sign of political maturity. But the strategy of political laissez faire has meant that the government has had to face one crisis after another. There is a total lack of any dynamic or decisive actions being taken on any emergency. Surely,the wise men in the cabinet know that a government seen to be in a permanent fire-fighting mode cannot evoke much confidence within the electorate. Granted,not all of the crises faced by the UPA are of their own making. Coalition compulsions create roadblocks and allies can be cussed at times.

It is not anybody’s case that a pro-active quality is a big virtue in Indian politics. In fact,the pulls and pressures of Indian politics are such that you are better off constantly rushing to that zone of stillness,to absorb and reflect,before making your next move. But then,governance,and especially political strategy,is also about timing.

Former PM P.V. Narasimha Rao had mastered the art of not reacting to even the most ruthless provocation,to the point that his detractors accused him of sleeping through the demolition of the Babri Masjid,almost as if he wished that disputed structure would somehow vanish, taking with it the communal polarisation it brought in its wake. But the late Rao Garu was shrewd enough to play cards from behind the curtain. His Msachiavellian skills were unsurpassed. It was another matter that when events caught up with the old fox,he was unceremoniously sacked by the people of India.

UPA 2 is hobbling along at the mercy of its intransigent coalition partners. The time has come for the UPA to bite the bullet and take hard decisions. When and if it does will define both its success and longevity. The coming election of the president and vice president will no doubt cramp its options. But if the political strategists in the government reach out to potential allies and shed a little of their haughtiness,they could use both these coming constitutional challenges to their advantage.

The writer is a former member of Parliament,

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