'The standing committee on defence was flagging what the services had said.'
'As a soldier, General Khanduri might have felt that it was his duty to point this out in the greater good of India,' points out Aditi Phadnis.
Parliamentary Standing Committees were introduced in 1993 to ensure legislative oversight over the executive functioning of each ministry.
A minister is not eligible to be a member. Committees such as home affairs, finance and external affairs are customarily chaired by a member of the Opposition.
Seats on each committee are allocated to parties in proportion to their strength in the House.
The chairs of the committees are appointed by the Speaker or Chairman of each House on the recommendation of the party.
Chairmen (and members) of the Lok Sabha standing committee retire automatically at the end of the five-year tenure of the House.
No chairman of a Lok Sabha Standing Committee has been replaced in recent memory unless he has become a minister, or has resigned/been expelled from his party.
In this context, there is no room for doubt about the intention of the Bharatiya Janata Party when it informed Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan last month it was replacing the chairman of the Standing Committee on Defence, General B C Khanduri (retd), with senior MP and former minister Kalraj Mishra.
This Lok Sabha has six months to go. General Khanduri would have retired any way. So the objective of replacing him cannot be anything but to punish/humiliate him.
A bit about General Khanduri. He was the road-building man in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government, the architect of the famous Golden Quadrilateral that is now counted as one of the most important achievements of the government.
A Sapper (engineer) in the Indian Army, he retired and joined politics but never ceased to be a soldier.
"My chief has told me to build roads. So I will build roads," he once told me, confessing readily that he had demolished gurdwaras, mosques and even temples if they were unauthorised and came in the way of making a road.
General Khanduri used the same approach when in 2007 he was sent as chief minister of Uttarakhand, his home state. He was caught in the vortex of a factional caste war and the bluff, undiplomatic approach didn't work so well.
The BJP lost the 2012 elections badly and it happened on his watch. But General Khanduri contested and won the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Garhwal and became an MP.
It was widely expected that he would be made minister though he himself scoffed at this, citing the age bar.
Instead, he was appointed chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence.
In March this year, the Standing Committee tabled a report. The highlights of the report were that the funds allocated to defence were so meagre they would not support the 'inevitable needs' of the army.
'The allocation of Rs 21,338 crore for modernisation is insufficient even to cater to committed payments to the extent of Rs 29,033 crore, earmarked for 125 ongoing schemes, emergency procurement of armaments and weaponry for 10 days of intense war and other Director General Ordnance Factories requirements,' the report observed.
The purpose of the report was to jolt the babudom in the ministry of defence and the ministry of finance to wake up and smell the coffee.
It said that the increase of only 2.84 per cent in the navy's budget 'would not even cater to the inflationary pressure. Matters such as maintaining the requisite armament level as well as emergency procurements would indeed require more funds'.
'The current position in the Indian Army reveals that 68 per cent of equipment is of vintage category, just about 24 per cent of the current category, and only eight per cent of the state-of-the-art category', the report said.
The army itself had deposed before the Committee that 'the budget for modernisation has to be anything between 22 to 25 per cent of the overall budget' but it was 'a mere 14 per cent of the allocation, which is grossly inadequate'.
So all that the Standing Committee was doing was endorsing and flagging what the services had said.
And as a soldier, General Khanduri might have felt that in his new oversight role, it was his duty to point this out in the greater good of India.
Instead of acting on the message, the BJP shot the messenger.
In a recent newspaper article extolling Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, BJP President Amit Anilchandra Shah reflected on the PM's credentials as an institution-builder.
'Organisations and institutions are, at the end of the day, manned by people who put their shared vision above individual interest,' Shah observed.
He might have been describing General Khanduri. And look what happened to him, in a regime of institutions-builders!