Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Caught off guard

A Latin phrase comes to mind, given the sudden mushrooming of chowkidars across the land: ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ Its closest English translation is, ‘Who will guard the guards?’ To put it in our context: Who will keep watch on our self-declared political chowkidars?
The phrase, attributed to Roman poet Juvenal, has come to be used in the context of policing a tyrannical government or demanding accountability of those in power.
PM Modi, who is very good in capturing narratives, has given his chowkidari a neat twist: Instead of accountability for the acts and omissions of his own government, he says his chowkidari is directed at the malfeasance of governments  past.
Accounting for the performance of the old watchmen is important, but surely, it is more important to know how the current lot is performing. There are charges that they allowed high-profile corporate crooks like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi to escape. Indeed, our political chowkidars pushed out the real ones, RBI Governors Raghuram Rajan and Urijit Patel, who had presented a list of high-profile fraud cases and non-performing assets to the supreme chowkidar, Narendra Modi’s office.
Then, there is the Rafale deal. Even now it is not clear as to the circumstances in which the old deal for 126 aircraft was scrapped and one for the off-the-shelf purchase of 36 came about. Junior chowkidars like the CAG have not covered themselves with glory by accepting the dubious accounting through which the deal is being made to look cheaper. 
All democratic polities have watchmen—the police, Parliament, civil society groups, RBI, CAG, Central Information Commission (CIC), National Women’s Commission (NWC), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the media, and so on.
 In the watch of our self-appointed political chowkidars, police malfeasance has reached new heights. The CBI Director and Special Director slugged it out for months before the chowkidars woke up. The charges that have been flung against the top-most officers of the CBI and the CVC will put ordinary criminals to shame. 
We have seen how the RBI has been undermined, the CIC, too, has been rendered toothless; CAG has bent with the wind; and the National Statistical Commission (NSC) defenestrated. Key appointments have not been made to the NWC and NHRC.   
But thievery is not just about money and valuables, it is also about depriving the people of good governance, justice and national security. Here, our self-declared political chowkidars have been found wanting. Their wanton decision to demonetise the currency brought untold hardship to the entire nation, especially the poor.
Political chowkidars have always been quick to claim credit and wrap the tricolour around themselves on national security matters. But a closer accounting shows their conduct has been less than satisfactory. On their watch, J&K has seen a sharp rise in violence leading to an increase in the deaths of security personnel. Worse, indiscriminate and disproportionate violence has led to the rise of local recruitment. Alarmingly, the Pulwama bomber was a local.  
Pakistani raids across the border in J&K and Punjab continued unabated despite the so-called surgical strikes of 2016. But we cannot forget the grossly incompetent handling of the Pathankot attack earlier. Despite prior information, the response was so messed up because the chowkidars in New Delhi insisted on handling them by remote control. It took four days to put down the attack by some four attackers with the loss of seven security personnel. And despite the strikes, attacks from across the border continued—Nagrota 2016, Pulwama 2017, Sunjuwan 2018, and then earlier this year again in Pulwama.
The recent events relating to Balakot and the aerial clash, too, does not quite jell with the excessive self-praise that the chowkidars have heaped on themselves. While the Air Force strike was well conceived and executed, the aerial encounter was hardly an Indian victory as is being made out. We lost one MiG-21 and an officer prisoner to the Pakistanis, and another Mi-17 helicopter and six personnel aboard to what was probably friendly fire.
 Now in the fog of war this happens, but not the fact that the Indian fighters lacked the equipment or weapons to deal effectively with the Pakistani challenge. Who can we blame for this, if not the chowkidars who said they would be guarding the national turf better than the team before them?
Perhaps the most pernicious action of these watchmen has been the manner in which they have systematically undermined the status of the real chowkidars—Parliament, police, civil society, autonomous institutions like CAG, NHRC and CIC.
Civil society groups have been systematically targeted and neutered because of their critique of government policies in the name of curbing foreign funding influencing policy, yet the chowkidars had no hesitation in allowing anonymous foreign funding for political parties to come in.      
The respected chairman of the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, Maj Gen BC Khanduri (retd) was replaced in 2018 because of the devastating report on the sorry state of our defence system. Murli Manohar Joshi has been denied a ticket for the Lok Sabha elections because the Estimates Committee chaired by him had questioned the government’s performance on job creation.
So, what have political chowkidars achieved in the past five years? Seeking accountability from the earlier chowkidars is needed, but it is not as important as getting an accounting of the performance of our current ones.
Tribune April 2, 2019

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