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Friday, March 7, 2014

Battleground India!


Tuesday, 11 March 2014 | Ashwani Lohani | in Oped
The Navy chief’s resignation after a series of accidents at sea will mean nothing unless the Government takes — and the people insist that it does — corrective measures
The recent catastrophe on the INS Sindhuratna and the subsequent furore over its batteries have brought out two things clearly: The first is the exemplary conduct of former Navy chief Admiral DK Joshi in resigning and taking full responsibility for the tragedy. How rare indeed is such conduct especially in the current age when the ruling classes cling to their jobs at any cost. Admiral Joshi's resignation reminded one of the resignation of Lal Bahadur Shastri from the plum post of Union Minister for Railways over a railway accident almost 50 years back. It, therefore, gives satisfaction that providence has a way of throwing up individuals even in the sarkari tantra, individuals who take the buck even when things go horribly wrong, besides not being enamoured of the seat of power. The second is that the processes in the Government machinery, be they decision-making or contractual, are inadequate to meet the needs of the nation and have, therefore, been failing us with astonishing regularity.
A lot of water has since flown since that famous tryst with destiny in 1947. The high ideals on which we all piggy-backed to independence have almost evaporated — ‘almost’ because at times people like Shastri and Admiral Joshi do emerge from the shadows in absolute variance with the prevailing conduct of the ruling classes. The incessant clamour for power that the nation witnesses in its two most powerful tribes — bureaucrats and politicians — lies at the root of the problem.
Power is always meant to be wielded for the good of the society and not for self-gratification. Yet invariably the ability to ensure self-gratification and self-perpetuation has emerged as the reason for the incessant battle for acquiring power and, therein, lies the great tragedy of this nation. In over 67 years of self rule, the populace has merely witnessed aspirations for occupying high chairs. After all the realisation that a post is only a means to serve the society, and not merely to satisfy one's own ego, does not seem to be dawning on the tantra.
And now about the batteries of INS Sindhuratna: We now know that the batteries did not cause the fire. Instead, burnt or damaged cables in the mess deck resulted in the accident. Still, that does not change the fact despite repeated reminders, new batteries never surfaced — old (but usable) ones were borrowed from another submarine which is under refit. It leads one to ask why the officers manning INS Sindhuratna were not empowered enough to be able to purchase an item as routine and petty as batteries. The answer lies in the complexity of our procedures and a total reluctance to delegate, perhaps in the mistaken belief that simplification and empowerment would lead to increased cases of graft. This is a classic example of not having faith in your own men.
The practices that the British created for ruling over the ‘natives' being wrongfully continued in a republic speaks volumes of our maturity as a free democratic nation. Sometime back we witnessed anarchy in the garb of winds of change. India is indeed desperate for change and reform, but that change can only be brought about by men of integrity with deeply rooted convictions and a thorough understanding of the way the machinery works. Change can only be brought by those who realise that nation-building requires the toil of generations spread over years, if not decades. A casual approach directed at short-term impacts (not gains) is going to take the nation anywhere but forward.
Our biggest tragedy is that the nation, despite being a regular witness to scams and catastrophes, merely agonises. It does not take measures to remedy the disease. Unless we learn from every catastrophes — and scams are indeed the major ones — and take corrective steps, we will never move forward.

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