The Congress' woes seem endless. No sooner had the party
experienced a resounding rebuff in the recent assembly elections
than it had to gird its loins to face a series of unprecedented
challenges from the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. V.K. Singh.
If the party and the government thought that the Supreme Court's
obiter dicta on the age row involving the general had ended the
matter, they were sadly mistaken because the army chief was not
about to go quietly into the sunset. Evidently, he does not
believe that the military, like children, should be seen and not
So, he has turned on its head all the restraint of his
predecessors, who maintained the British tradition of wearing a
stiff upper lip. Whether or not Gen. Singh's garrulity is the
result of the ubiquitous, 24x7 news channels, which weren't there
during the time of the earlier army chiefs, the fact remains that
the succession of "revelations" made by him - the offer of a bribe
to him or about the obsolescence stalking the armed services in a
letter to the prime minister - have shown up the government's
seeming incapacity to govern - a charge which has haunted it ever
since it let former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja run amok.
This impression may have gained ground because of the perception
that neither Prime Minister Manmohan Singh nor Defence Minister
A.K. Antony is the most assertive of men. If the age row had to be
handled by the judiciary - just as it did with the telecom scandal
- the bribery charge remained under wraps till Gen. Singh referred
to it in a newspaper interview. A proactive government would have
acted much earlier.
Similarly, it would not have been seen to have neglected defence
preparedness despite the defence minister's warning in 2010
against the possibility of the country having to wage a two-front
war against two nuclear-armed enemies.
The government as well as the general may now express outrage over
the leakage of the letter. But where the ordinary citizen is
concerned, the real outrage will be over the apparent erosion of
the nation's military strength despite a 17 percent hike in the
defence budget, especially in view of frequent reports about
China's flaunting of muscles on the northeastern border.
The disclosures about a weakened army were all the more
embarrassing when the BRICS Summit was being held in New Delhi and
Chinese President Hu Jintao was in town. The pride of holding a
major international event was marred by the disconcerting leaks
even if the VIP guests were impressed by the vibrancy of the
Needless to say, the revelations were a godsend for the
opposition, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has
always projected itself as a champion of military strength and had
unilaterally opted to showcase India's nuclear capability in 1998
as soon as it came to power at the centre. Now, all that it has
said about the Congress' wimpishness has come true.
There is, therefore, little doubt that the Congress will be very
much on the back foot in the coming weeks since nothing hurts a
party more than the charge of having been negligent in matters of
security. Being accused of corruption is bad enough. But to be
remiss where the stiffening of the military muscle is concerned is
an unpardonable offence in the eyes of the average person.
Not surprisingly, the government's inveterate adversary, civil
society activists led by Anna Hazare, have lost no time in jumping
into the fray by siding with the army chief. Earlier, they had
decided to resume their anti-corruption agitation with the holding
of a token fast in New Delhi and the launching of a jail bharo -
fill the jails - campaign in August if no FIRs are filed against
14 union ministers who are corrupt in their view.
Evidently, Team Anna has not been deterred by their inability to
organise a similar campaign after the Mumbai fiasco last December
when Anna's rally failed to draw a crowd.
However, irrespective of whether the movement fizzles out this
time as well, or whether there is a ceasefire between the
government and General Singh following Antony's expression of
confidence in the three service chiefs, the Congress and the
government will continue to be buffeted by allegations of sleaze
If the opposition hadn't been in such disarray - the BJP embroiled
in factionalism, the regional parties cloistered in their local
ghettos, the Left in a limbo - it would have been nearly
impossible for the government to get off the mat. Even now, the
Congress' seat share in parliament and voting percentage are bound
to fall in the next general election unless there are visible
signs of an increase in military preparedness and the passage of
an effective Lokpal bill to check corruption.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org