Many a tricky query…
GIVEN the huge importance attached to prestige, protocol and status (pique too), the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament asking the Service Chiefs to appear before it in person is decidedly unusual, and is likely to cause much misgiving in the military community. For while the “army” has always extended full respect to parliamentary institutions, it does not hold individual MPs in equal esteem ~ so the Chiefs being quizzed by politicians (generally perceived in poor light) will hardly be appreciated. Hence it would be appropriate for the PAC to spell out why this time around it deviated from the norm of the Defence Secretary and the Vice-Chiefs assisting its inquiries. Surely the PAC must be aware that the Chiefs have no personal or direct role in procuring rations. Was it because, as some reports suggest, the Service Headquarters had not responded to its queries based on the CAG’s observations on foodstuffs supplied to soldiers? In that case the MoD too could be faulted for not keeping the brass in line and responding on the military’s behalf, as has been the practice. But what causes disquiet even beyond the military are suspicions that the government is asking the Chiefs to go before the Committee as part of a strategy to accord exaggerated status to the PAC only to negate the Opposition demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the 2G Spectrum scam. That would be dragging the Services into the murky arena of politics, and merits the most severe of condemnation. Yet if the CAG can be slammed by UPA-II, what’s to prevent it from sacrificing the dignity of the Chiefs when covering-up its shortcomings? If the Chiefs feel they are being thus misused they must place the honour of the uniform above all else and make their unease known to the Supreme Commander ~ the President. A major precedent is being set, all implications must be duly weighed. Never before ~ not after the 1962 debacle, Bofors or the IPKF misadventure ~ were the Chiefs personally queried by a parliamentary panel. The defence minister/ministry was “answerable” to the legislature. Why the change?
This complex “development”, however, ought to generate deep introspection in the military, veterans included. For it is a reflection of how recent involvement of senior defence officials in a series of unsavoury activities ~ corruption, sexual misconduct, dereliction of duty, fake encounters, land scams and so on ~ have corroded the aura of probity that once shielded the military from normal public scrutiny. Who would have dared “summon” a Cariappa or Manekshaw?
PAC and The Chiefs