NO CAPTAIN ON THE BRIDGE! by Carl H. Gomes. (Alternate title: Sleeping on watch!)
“Captain on the bridge!” That’s a term that all naval personnel will recognise. In the US Navy, as soon as the Captain is sighted entering the bridge, the announcement is made, “Captain on the bridge!” at which everyone on the bridge springs to attention momentarily. This is both a mark of respect and an acknowledgement of his authority on board. This practice is not observed in the Commonwealth navies but the authority of the Captain is still sacrosanct.
The Captain of a warship is the lord and master of that vessel – in the merchant navy he is called the Master. He is required to have a firm grasp of all that is happening on board his ship because everything is done in his name and he is ultimately responsible for all acts of omission and commission. In short, the buck stops with him. He takes the bouquets as well as the brickbats and faces the music and even the noose if something should go wrong even if he has committed no mistake himself. When a ship performs all her tasks efficiently, it is usually said that the captain “runs a tight ship”. To do this he is assisted by his departmental heads and their assistants, to whom he delegates authority. Each of them has some discretionary powers and enjoys full departmental autonomy needed for the smooth and efficient functioning of the ship. This is true whether it is a huge aircraft carrier or a small frigate or destroyer. This allows the captain to concentrate on his main job of navigating uncharted waters, safely negotiating known and unknown hazards and maintaining the fighting efficiency of the ship in order to take on the enemy with all the resources at his command. No departmental head can ever dream of overruling the captain or doing his own thing and all important decisions are usually taken after due consultation. If anyone did so, he would be dumped overboard in a manner of speaking and face swift disciplinary action. The degree of camaraderie and cooperation that exists between the captain and his men depends on his personality but ultimately he is the BOSS!
One would imagine that all this applies to the ship of state too, where the head of state (Prime Minister or President, as the case may be) is the captain and his ministers are the departmental heads. They of course have enormous discretionary powers and wield immense authority because they enjoy a greater degree of autonomy. At the end of the day, they too are accountable to and have to take orders from the PM/President. But if he abdicates his responsibility and behaves like a mouse, it is inevitable that the flunkies are going to roar like lions while he cowers in fear.
That is exactly what is happening in the case of Manmohan Singh in the wake of the 2G scam which happened only because he failed to crack the whip. He was found sleeping at the wheel before as in the CWG case and the rotting food grains fiasco! He has no qualms about passing the buck when caught and takes shelter behind his cloak of personal integrity, as if it absolves him of all responsibility. What he does not realise is that the common citizen (aam admi) knows the emperor has no clothes – even if the media is unable to notice! He holds his tongue when he is on terra firma (mathrubhumi) but waxes eloquent once he is airborne in our equivalent of Air Force One. But now instead of coming out and confronting the opposition, he has other people running interference for him while he hides behind a facade of respectability. But how long can the obnoxious spokesmen and trouble shooters shield him? He should just step out and take it on the chin like a man. If the opposition wants a JPC, give it to them – but governance must not stop. This session of parliament was wasted because of his stubbornness. One gets the distinct impression that there is no one at the helm and that the ship of state is drifting rudderless as the seas get choppier and choppier and the people on board get more and more (sea) sick. The ship is floundering because he is unable to anticipate and avoid the perils despite the warning signs and he is actually putting it in harm’s way as in the case of the appointment of the CVC, who now hangs like a millstone around his neck.
He seems to prefer the company of other captains like Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel, etc., to the bedlam of his fellow parliamentarians because the former shower praise while the latter rains abuses.
So it is pretty evident that the captain is not on the bridge. He is not even in command of his ship!
- C.H. Gomes.
Note: The Bridge of a ship is a room or compartment from where command and control is exercised. When a ship is underway the bridge is manned by an OOW (Officer of the Watch) assisted by an AB (Able seaman) acting as a lookout and at times another junior officer (midshipman or cadet). During critical manoeuvres/actions, the Captain himself will be on the bridge supported by his XO (Executive Officer), an OOW, an AB and sometimes a navigator, if required.
The author is a retired Commander of the Indian Navy.