No, minister

The architect of our Constitution, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, warned, “Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul but, in politics, bhakti or hero worship is a sure road to degeneration and eventual dictatorship.” Jawaharlal Nehru, in an anonymous letter in the early Thirties published in the Modern Review, made a scathing criticism of himself.

“Nehru has all the makings of a dictator, vast popularity, intolerance of others and his conceit is formidable. He must be checked. We want no Caesar.” He laid a very sound foundation for democracy in India. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was not only the great integrator of the nation but also a great administrator with a vision.
At the time of Independence, there was a strong prejudice against ICS and IP officers. There was a demand to wind up these services. Patel realised that Independent India needed the steel frame developed during British rule to run the administration at that critical time. He not only did not allow these services to be wound up, but ensured that they retained all their privileges. These officers served the new regime loyally. Their successor services, the IAS and IPS, were given reduced salaries, conforming to the government’s socialistic policy of reducing the gap between the higher and lower government servants. He wanted civil servants to give frank advice, even when it was contrary to the views of their political bosses. Once the latter took a decision, orders had to be implemented faithfully.
Nehru was a great democrat. He decried obsequious behaviour to the extent that he once struck a person trying to touch his feet. He was considered infallible on foreign policy. People were too overawed to present any contrary view before him and this led to the debacle of 1962. The Army leadership of that time must share considerable blame for that disaster. It should have strongly advised him against his defence policy in the Himalayas and, if overruled, should have resigned. Napoleon wrote, “Every General-in-Chief who executes a plan which he finds bad is guilty. He should represent and insist that the plan be changed. If he is unable to do so, he must resign rather than be an instrument for the ruin of his troops.”
Indira Gandhi’s handling of the 1971 war was superb but her home policies were terribly flawed. Her advocacy of a committed judiciary and committed bureaucracy struck at the root of democracy. After some hiccups, the judiciary managed to regain its independence, but the bureaucracy lost its neutrality. Her statement about corruption being a global phenomenon implied permissiveness. She destroyed democracy during the Black Emergency. I was the head of Military Intelligence at that time and a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee with my counterparts in civil intelligence agencies. Civil intelligence assessments praised the Emergency as leading to improved government functioning, a better law and order situation, trains running on time, etc. There was also praise for the leadership and popularity of the then heir apparent. My contribution was confined to military matters and the apolitical stance of the Army. This was important at that time in view of the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family in Dhaka. I was amazed to see how the bureaucracy had lost its spine. Sycophancy was rampant. No wonder intelligence assessments misled Indira Gandhi to go for elections. She and her party were routed in 1977.
I had seen the British administration in India from close quarters. My first few years of service were in the British Indian Army. Although corruption existed at the lower levels, the higher echelons were completely corruption-free. Sycophancy was almost non-existent. An officer could serve with more dignity and self-respect during the British regime than during the Emergency and after. There were, of course, exceptions. Appu, director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy, expelled an IAS probationer for grave misconduct with a lady colleague. The probationer had political pull and got himself reinstated. Appu resigned in protest. Venkateswaran resigned immediately as foreign secretary when Rajiv Gandhi announced at a press conference that there would be a new foreign secretary. I quote, in all humility, my own experience. As
C-in-C Western Army, I was asked by the Punjab government to send tanks to Mehta Chowk Gurdwara to arrest Bhindranwale and his 40 armed men in the Gurdwara. I declined and urged the then chief minister, Darbara Singh, to use his armed police or the CRP as the Army had no powers of arrest. Two days later, I received the Prime Minister’s orders to apprehend Bhindranwale and report completion by next morning. I represented that my troops were 30 miles from Mehta Chowk. Carrying out the operation that night, without daylight reconnaissance, may result in indiscriminate firing and heavy casualties. I again urged that the task be carried out by the police and paramilitary but, if the Army had to do so, we would do it the following night after due preparation. Indira Gandhi accepted my recommendation and revised her order.
Starting from Anna Hazare’s April fast at Jantar Mantar till a day before he broke his fast, the government blundered hopelessly. One does not know what intelligence assessments and advice the bureaucracy gave the government. Perhaps the government was misled, as Indira Gandhi was during the Emergency. It was pathetic to see the party of Nehru and Shastri passing the buck to the Delhi police commissioner. Matters have been resolved for the present, but we must learn from past mistakes. A first step towards the fight against corruption has been taken. We must also start working on eliminating sycophancy. There should be a three-year cooling period, as in the US, before any assignment for a retired official.
The ancient Oracle of Delphi was asked what could destroy Sparta. The reply was, luxury. Today, in India’s context, the reply would be corruption and sycophancy.

S.K. Sinha, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and J&K

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