Tarun Reflex

December 1, 2008

Time to listen to people, Mr PM

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

I was initially reluctant to write this letter to you. But, since The Economic Times Awards for Corporate Excellence have now been postponed, and your next trip to Mumbai is shrouded in uncertainty, thereby robbing our chance for a brief heart-to-heart, I felt that this would probably be the best way to catch your attention.

With every newspaper leader writer churning out editorials full of admonishment, you might just like to read this column, by way of a pleasant diversion. This column also proposes to provide you with some counsel–unsolicited, as always.

* The first piece of advice for you would be to revisit the sixth pay commission recommendations for the armed forces. This encompasses all associated issues, such as reduction in status as well as disparity in pay scales with civilian counterparts. True, there is some merit in the argument that, as a democracy, India needs to maintain its fine civilian-military balance. It’s our strength and that should be preserved. But, that same divide is now becoming a deep rift and could pose unspeakable dangers.

At a time when the country’s security apparatus is crumbling under the weight of political and bureaucratic incompetence, the armed forces have emerged as the only reliable form of intervention, including providing expert help in pulling children out of wells and enforcing law and order in riot-torn areas. It is also true that the police force needs reforms badly, but till that happens, the military is our only source of hope, as the recent Mumbai attacks have shown.

Therefore, it’s probably time to set right some of the wrongs perpetrated by an entrenched bureaucracy interested in consolidating its hold. And, what better way to do it than providing the soldiers with some dignity and honour through better pay and improved standing. Listen to your defence minister; he seems to understand the issues.

* Talking of the police force, don’t you think now is the time to implement some long-pending reforms, such as appropriate training, modernisation of infrastructure, improved weaponry, practice of proper human relations? Here’s what you could do immediately: reduce the security detail for all ministers, including some of the criminals that the cops would like to see behind bars but have to salute because they’ve become politicians. What an irony! Any police force is raised to protect civilians from these criminals, but by a strange quirk known as Indian politics, the police end up saving the criminals from god-knows-who!

* There’s another security-related issue you must nip in the bud: Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh is using this crisis as an opportunity to create another yet organisation in the state, this time a state version of the NSG. There are already multiple agencies in the state with the mandate of doing pretty much the same job. Before he can fly with his proposal—which is replete with doubtful motives—try to create zonal NSG units which will allow them to reach hot-spots faster, rather than flying half-way across the country. Their headquarters can remain in Manesar, Haryana.

* As a gentleman, it is fitting that you did not make political capital out of ATS chief Hemant Karkare’s death. But, your opponents are made of very different material. The same party leaders, who, till a few days ago, were tearing Karkare’s credentials to shreds in the Sadhvi Pragya case, lost no time in turning him into their poster boy. They are appropriating his sacrifice for their party gains. It’s the most repulsive form of politics and you may need to find a dignified response to this one. But do it fast.

* Your cabinet colleague Shivraj Patil finally had the good sense to resign. But, it might be too late, since you go to the polls in a few months and his resignation can be construed as a tacit admission of failure. There’s also a lesson in all this. If—and this is a big “if”—your party does get voted back to power six months later, even if it’s with the help of the Left Front, you should have some say in forming the new cabinet. I’ll leave it at this for now, since there are too many imponderables to consider.

* Finally, you should get yourself a new speech writer. Till then, like a good editor, wield the red pen mercilessly whenever you see the words “dastardly” and “heinous”. These words have lost all meaning from over-use and misuse. People tend to switch to other channels whenever you utter these words on national television.

Such words now routinely fail to penetrate the desensitised exterior; they bounce right off the skin without touching the right spots.

The time to listen to the people is now. Hoping that you will not bristle at these suggestions, I remain,
The Mocha Master

p.s.: As the country’s CEO, you probably do not see all your emails, much less write them yourself. If you feel agitated, amused or aghast at the audacity of this column, please do reach for the keyboard and write to rajrishi.singhal@timesgroup.com

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