The Tehelka controversy notwithstanding, George Fernandes was easily one of India's best defence ministers.
So says a cross-section of retired and serving soldiers.
One point in Fernandes' favour is that he ran a transparent ministry. He was accessible to all and sundry. Anyone could walk into his home and meet him in person.
Fernandes was repeatedly offered security, but he refused it. His reasoning: better this way than intimidate people.
In fact, Union Home Minister L K Advani had taken up the matter of unrestricted entry to Fernandes' house with him, but the veteran politician made light of the matter.
"I have lived a free man all my life," he told the home minister, "I do not want to be chained now."
Besides his accessibility, Fernandes took steps to cleanse the defence ministry. He put in place institutional safeguards to eliminate the scope of wrongdoing in the arms procurement process. Senior defence officials are unanimous in asserting that there is little or no scope for corruption at the weapons evaluation stage.
Interestingly, many former soldiers and quite a few civilian officers think that the opposition to middlemen of foreign armament manufacturers is misplaced. Much of the corruption at the lower levels was driven underground because of the ban on defence middlemen.
The overwhelming consensus in defence circles is that the cause of transparency would be aided, and not harmed, if the ministry recognised bona fide representatives of arms manufacturers.
Politics of the partisan kind permeates all walks of life in India. Over the years, the national awards for excellence in various fields have been tainted by extraneous considerations.
This year, for instance, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah recommended well-known hotelier Lalit Suri for the Padma Shri. Suri's name was nixed at the Centre.
Another unlucky man is writer Mulk Raj Anand. He failed to make the grade at the initial stage itself.
Most surprisingly, despite his clout with politicians cutting across party lines, another man who failed to get the Padma award was a most powerful industrialist. His name was recommended for the Padma Vibhushan by two state governments. But the plea by the Gujarat and Maharashtra governments did not find favour with the powers in New Delhi.
Maybe the businessman will have his factotums get him one next year. For, governments come and go, but his writ continues to run uninterrupted.
Newly-appointed BJP spokesman Narendra Modi,, who was visited by a group of farmers after he had attended the NDA rally in the capital last Sunday, wasn't ready for the following compliment:
"Modiji, you have done well to appoint General Saheb as the new party chief. General Krishnamurthy will see there is no corruption in the defence ministry."
Simple folks, they had mistaken the 'Jana' in Jana Krishnamurthy to make it 'General Krishnamurthy'!
Foreign hand in Indian money
The Union finance ministry, despite well-argued protests, is about to hand out the lucrative contract to print high denomination currency to a foreign firm, which has tied up with a leading Indian industrial house....
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh
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