Tag Archives | Indira Gandhi

Happy 63rd Republic Day

“We the people of India”

Indian Republic is in danger. It is is not in the danger of being killed by a military coup or a Tahrir Square type revolution. It is not even in the danger of going into coma for a few years as it happened under Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the 1970s. Entering its 64th year, the Indian Republic has gone well past that stage.

The danger to Indian Republic comes from being bled to death by a thousand cuts. Every single day it is stabbed, jabbed and knifed — in seen and unseen ways. Some of these wounds are superficial. They heal quickly. Others need more care. Sometimes when they heal, they leave permanent scars. At times, some wounds don’t heal fully. They continue to fester, weakening the body and soul of the Republic.

In an ideal world, the Republic either would never be hurt or would have the capacity for self-healing. In a real world, it is a constant process of getting hurt and healing. That healing touch and care for the Republic, in the real world, is provided by democracy. Democracy means that it is “We the people of India” who will help the Republic recover once it is hurt. No messiahs are going to alight from a different planet to take care of our Republic.

That is the reason on 26th of January, 1950, it was “We the people of India” — not the Queen of England or Mahatma Gandhi or Dr. Ambedkar — who solemnly resolved “to constitute India into a Sovereign, Democratic Republic”. It is our Republic… of We the people of India. We need to look after it. Happy Republic Day everyone.

Related Posts:

I want my constitution

Differentiating between the Independence Day and the Republic Day

Let us stop this jamboree of a Republic Day Parade

Republic Day parade in the 1950s

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Two tales for the Vijay Diwas

On Manekshaw’s offer to resign and the War memorial at India Gate

As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the birth of Bangladesh — midwifed gloriously by the Indian armed forces — here are two tales from that era. The first one from a few months before the war, and the second, a month or so after the victory.

The first story pertains to the April 1971 meeting of Indira Gandhi’s cabinet where Sam Manekshaw offered to resign. The offer was declined. And the rest is history. In Sam Bahadur’s own words:

The grim Prime Minister with her teeth clenched said, “The Cabinet will meet again at four o’clock”.

The members of the Cabinet started walking out. I being the junior most was the last to go and as I was leaving, she said,”Chief, will you stay back?”

I turned around and said, “Prime Minister, before you open your mouth, may I send you my resignation on grounds of health, mental or physical?”[IEB]

No one could have done better than Sam Manekshaw. Read the complete anecdote here.

The second tale is about the war memorial at India Gate in Delhi. Originally constructed by the British in the memory of those who died in the First World War, it was  inaugurated as National Memorial to India’s War Dead, of all wars, on January 26, 1972 by Mrs Indira Gandhi. Mr MS Gill recounts that tale:

All this happened 36 years ago, and the National War Memorial is a long-established sacred place, at the heart of the Capital. The story of World War I, and the British War Graves Commission is dead and gone. We are a free people, and the India Gate is ours. I made some comment then, which needs to be repeated, in the hope that somebody will take some notice. Governments normally never do. The memorial was patched together in a great hurry, on January 24 and 25, 1972, so that the Prime Minister could inaugurate it on 26th.

The architects did not get the time to plan the suitable integration of the plinth, with the flame, into the Lutyens’ Arch. The symbol of a helmet on an inverted gun is hackneyed. An almost identical memorial arch, which perhaps provided the inspiration for the India Gate, exists in the shape of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Underneath that Arch at ground level is buried an unknown soldier of France. Over his head, shaped like a sun made by placing swords in a circle, with hilts lying inwards, burns an eternal flame.[Tribune]

We should have done better than this. Read the full story here.

To paraphrase Churchill, “Before 1971, we never had a victory. After 1971, we never had a defeat.” Happy Vijay Diwas, everyone.

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One PM, two chiefs

Even if there is no connectivity gap, a cultural gap between the civil and military leadership can lead to strategic and political failures.

When Mrs. Indira Gandhi completely trusted the then army chief, Sam Manekshaw in 1971 and went solely with his advise, it led to creation of Bangladesh and her being hailed as Durga. When the same Mrs. Gandhi again trusted another army chief 13 years later during Operation Blue Star (if P.C. Alexander’s account is to be believed), she ended up paying the ultimate price herself and the nation suffered the horrors of Khalistani insurgency for another decade.

In both cases, an apolitical, professional army was completely trusted by the political leadership and unlike 1962, with no unnecessary civilian meddling in military matters. There was sufficient degree of engagement between the political and military leadership and at no stage did the political leadership improperly restrain the army during the operations. So, was it a mere tactical military failure in 1984 and nothing more than that.

Perhaps not. Because while the civilian and military leaderships engaged, the quality of debate between the two was abysmal, if not non-existent. It was manifested in the political leadership’s failure to understand the  limitations of using military force in an operation like Blue Star and the military leadership’s failure to understand the political consequences of their actions. This can be directly attributed to the vast cultural gap — the difference in culture, norms and values — between the military and civilian worlds, which continues to this day in India.

While most commentators on civil-military relations in India — especially in the wake of the Pay Commission debate — focus solely on the connectivity gap between the civil and military leadership, the real challenge is to bridge the cultural gap between the two domains — to bring about meaningful dialogue and mutual understanding between them. This requires a paradigm shift in the approach and attitude of the civilian and military leadership over many years.

A practical, short-term solution is for both military and civilian elites — especially those involved in higher defence decision making — to jointly attend specialised training programmes, which emphasise military-strategic thinking, political philosophy, public policy formulation, governance and civil-military relations. There is no better way then but to immediately start with a programme — with compulsory attendance — for the military officers posted at service headquarters, civilian bureaucrats of the defence ministry and political leadership involved with national security, including the members of the parliamentary committee on defence.

Sounds like a pipe dream. Perhaps it is.

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An Aesop’s tale

…and lessons for the Indian government.

In his speech during Zero Hour in the Rajya Sabha, Jaswant Singh asked the government to “consider very sympathetically and attentively the questions that have been raised or the aspects that have got underscored by the Sixth Pay Commission’s treatment of the Services”. His opening gambit in the speech, however, was a tad out of tune with his image of a perspicacious statesman.

…it is unusual for the Chiefs to have gone to the extent of voicing that discontent in public. It is an unusual step, but it is an unusual circumstance that has compelled them to do so…

“Unusual circumstances” can not justify this public display of disaffection by the service chiefs. The same excuse was put forth by Mrs. Indira Gandhi to impose emergency and military chiefs in Pakistan — from Ayub to Musharraf — have also taken recourse to this weather beaten alibi to justify their military coups.

Simply put, this sets a wrong precedent in this country. The excuse of “unusual circumstances” can henceforth be conveniently exploited by any military leader to defy legal and constitutional orders of the government. The recent actions of the service chiefs need to be condemned, not condoned, and their renegade tendencies nipped in the bud.

If this sounds overly alarmist, it is time to remember the moral of this parable in Aesop’s Tales — The Thief and his Mother.

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