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January 14, 1998


The Rediff Election Special/Lieutenant General K S Brar

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'We need to become a nuclear power'

Apart from the usual aspirations such as -- eradication of poverty, protection of minorities, religious freedom, provision of employment to the underprivileged, improvement of infrastructure -- roads, hospitals, schools, drinking water, there are some other pressing issues which should be high on the priority list.

National security is a very very important issue that has been neglected in the past. It needs high priority. In the last 18 years, we have had a full time defence minister for only 11 years, as a result defence decision making has suffered. Very often the prime minister retains the defence portfolio, but where does he have that much time to concentrate on one such department? There are hundreds of other things that he has to deal with.

This is one Cabinet appointment which must not only have a full time incumbent, but also a very capable one with defence expertise. What's the point in having a defence minister who cannot make the difference between gorilla and guerilla? There are talented people like Jaswant Singh, K P Singh Deo, many generals have joined politics, why not Sam Manekshaw -- if Manmohan Singh could hold the finance portfolio as a Rajya Sabha member, why can't the same be done with Manekshaw?

The need for a National Security Council is well known, so that we have a formally constituted body of responsible people to take decisions on matters of national security and to constantly evaluate the external and internal threats to the country.

The Council was formed in 1990 under Prime Minister V P Singh, but has ended up as a still born child having met only once in these seven-eight years, thus ending up as a farce! The sooner the NSC is revived the better, so that the country is not found wanting in its time of crisis.

Some people may ask, 'where is the need for a NSC when the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs -- CCPA -- is there to take appropriate decisions on national security?' What they don't understand is that besides the fact that the CCPA lacks the inputs and expertise needed, they have hundreds of other issues which take up their time, many of which are mundane and routine in nature.

We also need to exercise our right to be a nuclear power in the wake of the nuclear threat faced from both Pakistan and China. Although China is a declared 'nuclear weapons state,' it is no hidden secret that Pakistan has the bomb too, produced clandestinely with Chinese assistance.

It is not enough for our prime minister to make statements on the floor of the House, that in the event of Pakistan daring to start a nuclear exchange with us, we will retaliate with all our might to the peril of the former. This amounts to saying that we can put the bomb together and launch it, but we are not nuclear!

Apparently, the restraining factor is US pressure. Our next government would do well to place our national interests ahead of external pressure, and to declare our intent of joining the 'nuclear club' because of the existing threats to our security. This would certainly refrain Pakistan from its path of belligerency and the war of proxy launched by that country in Kashmir.

At the same time, we must pledge -- 'No first use of the nuclear weapon' and continue our efforts to achieve global de-nuclearisation. As far as the US and other major world powers are concerned, our government would do well to get them to accept the hard realities through astute diplomacy.

Another pay off in India declaring itself to be a nuclear power would be a possibility of reducing its standing army, which is a heavy drain on her exchequer.

Another issue is the restoration of democracy. The people in this country are slowly losing faith in democracy. In almost all sections of the society there is an eroding of values, more particularly so, at the top level of our political leaders.

What we are likely to see after the election -- even the run-up to the election has demonstrated this -- alliances being formed between political parties with radically opposite ideologies, simply to achieve a majority and form a government.

It is this lust for power which is diluting the value systems built up by those who brought about India's freedom from colonial rule. If we are to rid ourself of this malaise, the next prime minister should accord top priority to 'good governance.'

It is for this purpose s/he must place the country in the hands of honest, educated, dedicated and experienced individuals rather than common criminals and corrupt politicians. We don't want criminals like Phoolan Devi and uneducated people like Rabari Devi. I am happy that Narasimha Rao's name is not included in the first list of candidates released by the Congress.

The prime minister should ruthlessly weed out the undesirable elements from his coterie. S/he should provide leadership from the front, through personal experience, just as a general leads his troops in war.

We should draw a lesson from the how the value system and the leadership thrown up in the United States has provided the country 'good governance' -- their economy is cruising along with an inflation below 2 per cent, the strength of the dollar has put the Japanese yen down. Their unemployment has been brought down to 4.9 per cent, with nearly half a million new jobs being created every month.

In India, our percentage of unemployment is more than 30 per cent. Even a Communist country like China, during the last two decades, has shown what strides can be made through sound policies. To achieve even a fraction of what these countries have demonstrated, our political leadership needs to concentrate on character building.

We need to take a leaf out of Field Marshall Chetwode's dictum -- 'The safety, honour and pride of the country come first: the safety, honour and welfare of the men you command come next: whereas your own safety, welfare and comfort come last, always and every time.' But what we have been seeing is -- 'Party comes before nation; self comes before party, always and every time!'

We even need to build some basic institutions. In doing so, the government may have to take some hard decisions, similar to what we saw during Indira Gandhi's Emergency. It is because some of these institutions which have gradually become corrupt that we simply cannot move forward.

For instance, our academic institutions -- schools, colleges -- need to be in the hands of honest, dedicated teachers if we are to mould the character of aspiring students and inculcate leadership and character traits in them.

The department of education must ruthlessly stop malpractices in securing admissions through money power, thus denying honest and poor students equal education opportunities. Besides, the selection of teachers must be done very carefully so that the youth of this country grow up in a value-based environment.

Pollution control measures also need to be taken up seriously. Heavy fines and penalties should be levied on those responsible for such violations. So much so that even milk and medicines are shamelessly adulterated.

Another institution that should be revived is the judiciary as an independent and clean institution. People have lost confidence in the judiciary, which seems to be influenced by politicians in power. It is rare that one hears of our corrupt politicians who have been involved in major scams being convicted and sentenced to imprisonment.

Parties should also ensure that those elected to power do not take undue advantage of their office.

The former army commander spoke to Archana Masih

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