28 Dec 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) On Chief of Defence Staff: Decisive shift
- The government has acted with reasonable alacrity to create the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), who will head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA).
- It was only four months ago, on August 15, that the Prime Minister stressed the importance of creating this post, whereas two Defence Ministers came and went after Manohar Parrikar promised that this move was very much on the government’s agenda.
- To be fair, the delay has been more a result of fears in the minds of the three services - the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force - of how such a development could impact on the role and functioning of the three arms of the armed forces, in terms of curtailing or inflating their importance.
- There must have been a parallel thought in the bureaucracy how such a shift would affect them too. This move will install the CDS, in the rank of a four star general, as Secretary, DMA.
- There is no doubt that the job of the CDS will be exceedingly challenging, a task which is easier set than done. The job calls for total transformation of traditional military mindset.
- The CDS has to restructure the military commands into appropriate theatre or joint commands for which a critical prerequisite is ‘jointness’ - a term that envisions the various arms of the armed forces working in unison towards a goal.
- This is a very tall order, considering India’s experience. Since Independence, the armed forces have been working separately, with no concept of jointness.
- The only jointness that comes into play effectively is when officers of the various services go to courses in, say, Wellington, at the Defence Services Staff College, or at the National Defence College, Delhi.
- All that will have to change, and change quickly, for a variety of reasons, not least the security environment in the region, with the Americans preparing to move out of Afghanistan and the restiveness consequent to the dilution of Article 370.
- According to the cabinet release, the new incumbent will have three years to achieve this. It flows from this urgency therefore that the name of the next CDS will have to be soon announced.
- It is also necessary that the first incumbent is given a term of three years so as to be able to carry the ambitious vision laid out in the cabinet note through to its conclusion.
- The job is strategic, requires personal supervision, and cannot be left unfinished for the successor to finish. Given the challenges and the limited time-frame within which to accomplish it, allowances will have to be made for attendant hiccups.
2) On Cabinet announcement on NPR: Fuel to the fire
- The Union Cabinet announcement on Tuesday that the National Population Register (NPR) would be updated across the country, barring Assam, at an expense of over ₹3,941.35 crore.
- It would have been considered a routine administrative measure but for the myriad concerns among the public about the government’s intentions.
- The announcement on the NPR came amid continuing protests against the recent Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, in many parts of the country and lingering uncertainty regarding the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC), on which senior government functionaries have given conflicting statements.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that the NRIC had not been discussed in the government, but that did not mean that it would not be taken up.
- His assurance that no Indian of any religion will be adversely affected by the controversial CAA rings hollow, when the government has not cleared the air in unambiguous terms that it has no plans for an elaborate plan to tabulate citizens.
- The NRC, as it was rolled out in Assam, puts the burden of proof on citizens to establish that they are indeed citizens. The undocumented and the poor will bear the brunt of this approach.
- The proposed format for enumerating the NPR only exacerbates this concern and adds a third axis to the ongoing confusion and turmoil. It is correct that the NPR is not about citizenship but only about residency.
- However, when additional questions such as “place of birth of father and mother”, etc are being proposed for the forthcoming exercise, the concern that this may be a prelude to the NRIC is logical.
- Instead of coming clean and reassuring the public on its plans, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sought to muddle the debate further by pointing out that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had prepared the NPR in 2010.
- It is nobody’s argument that the state should not enumerate the population or collect data on the people - which are all essential for providing good governance.
- Never in the past, including when a part of India broke away as Pakistan on the basis of religion, did the prospects of a religious test for citizenship appear even remotely in this country.
- In 2014, the BJP election manifesto explicitly stated that India was a natural homeland for “persecuted Hindus”, and Mr. Modi made the now-familiar, and extremely problematic, distinction between “infiltrators” and “refugees”.
- With the passage of the CAA, and the announcement of the NRIC, there is enough factual basis for doubting the government’s claim that the NPR has nothing to do with the NRIC.
- In the current climate of panic among a significant section of the country’s poor and the Muslim minorities, the government, at the highest levels must speak up to bolster their confidence in India’s constitutional democracy.
- Equivocation, and polarising grandstanding on the CAA, the NRIC, and now the NPR, may yield political dividends for the government but at a very high cost to the nation.
- The burden of proof must not be on the people to prove their citizenship. This is the time to douse the fire, not add fuel to it.