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EDITORIALS

Letting Hafiz Saeed free
Signs that militants wield power

T
he
request by Pakistan’s Punjab government to the Supreme Court in Islamabad to allow it to withdraw its appeal against the release of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and one of the prime accused in the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, points to the strange mindset of the Pakistan government and to the stranglehold that some terror outfits have on it.

This is Mumbai
Again unprepared for the rains

W
hen
terrorists struck Mumbai on 26/11 and almost every department was found wanting, the excuse bandied about widely was that this was a totally unexpected kind of happening. But monsoon is something which is an annual feature. Yet, every year, the metropolis goes under, causing untold misery to millions of its residents.


EARLIER STORIES

Murder and acquittal
July 15, 2009
Mishap shakes Delhi Metro
July 14, 2009
Focus on food security
July 13, 2009
Blueprint for growth
July 12, 2009
In the dark
July 11, 2009
Zardari speaks
July 10, 2009
Riots in Urumqi
July 9, 2009
Murder of an unknown Indian
July 8, 2009
An ‘aam aadmi’ budget
July 7, 2009
Renewed offensive
July 6, 2009
Left, BJP on a slide
July 5, 2009


Deal with khaps
Haryana must protect individual rights
India
might be living in the 21st century but many of its village institutions nurse a medieval mindset. Khap panchayats in Haryana are notorious for passing diktats that infringe upon individual liberty and are contrary to the rule of law. More recently, khap panchayat at Dharana village in Jhajjar district has ordered that either the marriage of a couple who apparently violated their strict gotra requirements be annulled or the family leave the village.

ARTICLE

Delhi HC on Sec 377
Liberty must conform to decency and morality
by K.N. Bhat
The
Delhi High Court’s ruling in the Naz Foundation case liberating the gays from the fangs of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is timely. The matter is before the Supreme Court now. The gist of the verdict is that all types of sexual acts – carnal and unnatural — done consensually in privacy by adults do not amount to crime. The emphasis was on consent and privacy. Section 377, therefore, is kept alive in respect of those who are incapable of giving consent, like minors or animals.


MIDDLE

Superiority complex
by B.K. Karkra
I
have been a rolling stone all my life and have, thus, seen life from many angles. Of particular significance is my encounter with both the civil and military ethos. I have served in the regular Army, paramilitary forces such as the Territorial Army, the C.R.P. Force and the National Security Guard and even in some purely civilian organisations like the Bhakra Nangal Project and the Income-tax department etc. I, therefore, have a fair understanding of what is going on in the minds on either side of the fence.


OPED

Policies clouded by politics
‘Aam admi’ remains unsatisfied
by Jayshree Sengupta

T
he
Budget 2009-10 is over and the government has made it clear that it wants to emphasise the welfare of the ‘aam admi’. But today the ‘aam admi’ is confronting rising food prices, high rents, lack of adequate water and power and declining incomes. Inflation as measured by the WPI has turned negative but inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index is still high (because it lays emphasis on food items).

What ails the Left
by Satish Misra

T
he
battle in Lalgarh in West Midnapore district in West Bengal between the state police and the CPI (Maoist) has brought contradictions of the Left Front into the open. It has once again exposed the doublespeak of the Left parties and has exposed its ideological shallowness. The over three-decades-old Left Front government is entrapped in its own web, not knowing how to deal with the Maoists.

Golf divides armed forces
by Air Marshal N. Menon (retd)

T
he
armed forces were once known for their prowess in sports and games. Combined Services teams or teams from individual Services stole the honours at national sporting events. In hockey they challenged the might of Punjab, in football they dared teams from West Bengal and Kerala, in cricket they defied the brilliance of Bombay and in the track and field events they overwhelmed the competition.

 


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Letting Hafiz Saeed free
Signs that militants wield power

The request by Pakistan’s Punjab government to the Supreme Court in Islamabad to allow it to withdraw its appeal against the release of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and one of the prime accused in the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, points to the strange mindset of the Pakistan government and to the stranglehold that some terror outfits have on it. It is indeed noteworthy that the reason given by the Punjab government was that the federal government had failed to provide any evidence against him in support of the detention. That this has come on the eve of the meeting of foreign ministers of the two countries which is to be followed by a meeting between the two prime ministers is a reflection on how strong is the clout of the forces supporting terror. If the action of the Punjab government succeeds in casting a shadow on the peace process, the purpose of these forces would have been well served.

Significantly, just a day before the Punjab government appeal, the advocate-general of the province had told the court that there was “confidential evidence” against Hafiz Saeed. The next day saw was a complete turnaround, with the advocate-general claiming that since the federal government had not shared the “confidential information”, it was proper for the prosecution to withdraw the appeal. Evidently, the Punjab government found it expedient to bow to the dictates of the militant forces or those in the Pakistan establishment backing them.

The sincerity of the Pakistan government is indeed on test. If it really means business, it can go ahead with its appeal against Hafiz Saeed’s release despite the Punjab government’s volte face, by dint of being a party to the case. Enough evidence has been adduced against Saeed by India to build a prima facie case. If, however, it fails to act, the conclusion is inescapable that it has wilted under terrorist pressure or unseen influences from within. This does not mark a happy beginning for the efforts to resume a peace dialogue which the people on both sides have been looking forward to.

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This is Mumbai
Again unprepared for the rains

When terrorists struck Mumbai on 26/11 and almost every department was found wanting, the excuse bandied about widely was that this was a totally unexpected kind of happening. But monsoon is something which is an annual feature. Yet, every year, the metropolis goes under, causing untold misery to millions of its residents. This year has been no different, with the much-awaited bounty from the skies bringing life to a halt in the commercial capital of the country. If this is what can happen in Mumbai, one can well imagine the plight of lesser cities and towns. The irony is that the rain so far has not been particularly harsh. Still, this hopeless situation has developed this week in the great metropolis.

Mumbai is battered by torrential rain year after year. Since there is an inevitability about the monsoons – provided the rain gods continue to be kind to the country – suitable preparations have to be mounted in time. Unfortunately, both the government and the municipal corporation have refused to learn any lessons. This despite the fact that on July 26 four years ago, more than 150 people died due to the rain. Frightened people had to make human chains to save themselves. The phenomenon, when Mumbai received 94.4 cm of rain within 24 hours – a record in 95 years – can occur again. But nobody seems to be serious about the possibility.

It is not as if the government does not earmark funds for rain preparation. The problem is that those who show laxity are not held accountable. Prior to a flood, disaster management cells preen that they have made all arrangements, but when the so-called preparations prove totally ineffectual, no heads roll. That is why irate citizens of Mumbai comment that when the rain comes, every promise of the government goes down the gutter, but not the water. The officials owe an answer to the nation as to why they leave the citizens to their own devices at the time of crises.

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Deal with khaps
Haryana must protect individual rights

India might be living in the 21st century but many of its village institutions nurse a medieval mindset. Khap panchayats in Haryana are notorious for passing diktats that infringe upon individual liberty and are contrary to the rule of law. More recently, khap panchayat at Dharana village in Jhajjar district has ordered that either the marriage of a couple who apparently violated their strict gotra requirements be annulled or the family leave the village. This is not the first time khap panchayats have dared to assert themselves. Often these have turned into kangaroo courts and even ordered death of a couple that dared to marry against their convoluted principles of caste and gotra. Demands of khaps have varied from insensitive— asking the couple to abort their unborn baby, depriving another of their eight-day-old infant— to down right ludicrous; beseeching a married couple to live like brother and sister.

While the courts have come to the rescue of victimised couples, the police and the state machinery has been least sympathetic. If the khap panchayats think, they have the “divine right” to meddle, the state and its official machinery has erroneously lulled itself into believing that it has no business to interfere in the social customs of villagers. Never mind that khaps themselves have no legal power. Three years ago, the Haryana government informed the Punjab and Haryana High Court that these self-styled khap panchyats have no legal sanctity. Yet when it comes to taking action the state dithers.

The state government must assert its authority and provide protection to couples as well as their family members. While regressive khaps need to be restrained by law enforcement authorities, the villagers who tacitly approve of their obscurantist edicts have to be educated, as is being done by some social organisations. Marriage is an individual choice and khaps cannot be permitted to frame rules on it and get away with direct challenge to rule of law. 

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Thought for the Day

Winners believe in their worth in advance of their performance. — Denis Waitley

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Delhi HC on Sec 377
Liberty must conform to decency and morality
by K.N. Bhat

The Delhi High Court’s ruling in the Naz Foundation case liberating the gays from the fangs of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is timely. The matter is before the Supreme Court now.

The gist of the verdict is that all types of sexual acts – carnal and unnatural — done consensually in privacy by adults do not amount to crime. The emphasis was on consent and privacy. Section 377, therefore, is kept alive in respect of those who are incapable of giving consent, like minors or animals.

The main legal bases for the judgement are as follows:

lIn the Indian Constitution, the right to live with dignity and the right of privacy are both recognised as dimensions of Article 21 that guarantees life and personal liberty. Section 377 denies a person’s dignity by criminalising his/her core identity solely on account of his/her sexuality. As it stands, Section 377 denies a gay person a right to full personhood which is implicit in notion of “life” under Article 21.

lSection 377 grossly violates their right to privacy and liberty embodied in Article 21 insofar as it criminalises consensual sexual acts between adults in private.

l“Sexual orientation” is a ground analogous to “sex” and that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is equal to discrimination on the ground of sex. Thus, punishing one set of sexually-oriented persons is opposed to Article 15.

In needlessly taking the court through the literature on HIV and AIDS, the Union of India surely was not joking — or was it? The Home Ministry pleaded for retention of Section 377 while the Health Ministry contended for its abolition; and their lawyer had much to say for both.

The court’s concern is apparent, but it erred in starting with the assumption that people indulging in sodomy-like acts are treated with contempt — or denied of the dignity that they claim to deserve — because the law brands their acts as crime. What is true, however, is that those acts have been made punishable because the lawmakers considered them undignified. In other words, unnatural sexual acts are made punishable because they are considered taboos. They have not become taboos because they are punishable.

The right to life and personal liberty is not absolute. Article 21 permits their deprivation according to the “procedure established by law”. As the Delhi High Court has rightly noted, the law that seeks to interfere with life and liberty must be in conformity with other provisions of the Constitution.

“Does Section 377 offend any other provision of the Constitution?” should have been the first question to be answered. If it does not, even if sodomy is part of personal liberty or of life, the same can be interfered with by that provision. Without addressing the basic issue, the court erred in testing whether Section 377 violates Article 21.

Let us test the path pursued by the court. Undoubtedly, “means of earning livelihood” is a part of right to life. In some countries, prostitution joints – euphemistically called “massage parlours” — are permitted by the state as part of tourism promotion and employment generation. In several countries, call girls and gays advertise their services as “Escorts” — all for earning a livelihood. Can Indian laws that prohibit such avocations be nullified on the ground that they interfere with the right to life?

The answer is an emphatic ‘No’ because those laws are in conformity with the other provisions of the Constitution. Consequently, they can deprive the right to life and liberty.

The High Court did subject Section 377 to the test of Article 15 that prohibits discrimination on the grounds among others of “sex”. It held that the IPC provision was not in conformity with that Article. If this conclusion were to be sound, such a law cannot be used to meddle with the right to life or liberty.

The judgment has read the word “sex” in the Article as “sexual orientation”! This interpretation is opposed to the plain words of the Article and also to the context. Further, Article 15 applies only to “citizens”. So, while Indian gays cannot be punished under Section 377, the foreigners may be prosecuted. To be safe, the concerned may keep their passports handy.

Reference was made to Article 19(2) that permits the legislature to make laws in the interest of public decency and public morality among others. The lawmakers have the power to decide — subject to the last word by the courts — what is in the interest of public morality or decency. Section 377 is one such pre-constitutional legislation that is continued and can continue to the extent it does not offend any constitutional provision.

Without doubt, right to life and liberty can be interfered with by laws like the IPC and the Cr PC if they satisfy the other constitutional provisions. Does Section 377 satisfy the other provisions?

The Law Commission had opined in favour of Section 377. Leaders of all religions have openly opposed the High Court ruling on grounds of morality. The IPC was enacted in 1868 barely a few years after death sentence for buggery was abolished in England; but abhorrence towards perverse sexual behaviour was intense.

According to the basic tenets of all religions, sexual satisfaction is not an end in itself, but subordinate to the institutions of marriage and family. A plural society of India lived with Section 377 for nearly a century and a half – 60 years of it after the Constitution came into force. Any deviation demands strong reasons and justifications.

In the context of an orderly society, views of religious leaders do matter on what is moral or otherwise; they have a role in setting the moral standards for the community. The liberty that one is entitled to is subject to restrictions imposed by laws that conform to the test of decency and morality, “judged from our community standards”.

The grievance that the police is abusing Section 377 for extortion needs to be addressed. Perhaps the solution lies in making this section a non-cognisable and bailable offence in line with the other fearsome offences of bigamy (sentence up to seven years) and adultery (sentence up to five years) by amending the Schedule to the Cr PC.

This will keep the police away and save society from the spectacle of same-sex “marriages”, the burden of making laws for legalising the relationship and for their separation, maintenance, inheritance and the like. Retention of a non-cognisable Section 377 will rid us of the nuisance and keep the saints and sinners alike happy or at least less unhappy forever.n

The writer is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court, New Delhi

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Superiority complex
by B.K. Karkra

I have been a rolling stone all my life and have, thus, seen life from many angles. Of particular significance is my encounter with both the civil and military ethos.

I have served in the regular Army, paramilitary forces such as the Territorial Army, the C.R.P. Force and the National Security Guard and even in some purely civilian organisations like the Bhakra Nangal Project and the Income-tax department etc. I, therefore, have a fair understanding of what is going on in the minds on either side of the fence.

I think that the worst agony is somebody being denied the bliss and comforts of  family life. The soldiers do get occasional peace postings, but most of the time they live a separated life and their tenuous link with normal life is just their leave.

Free rations and special Army pay that they get, barely compensate them for having to maintain two establishments and not for the emotional stress and high occupational hazards. For this, they need a special consideration from the nation in some visible form.

My civilian friends, however, feel that all this happens to them because they, in any case, were unfit to come good in civil careers. So, they chose the next best option, the Army life. Sadly, it is hardly ever appreciated that some sons of this nation must come forward to defend our soil if we are not to again end up as some sort of ‘White Man’s Burden’. Soldiers produce that precious wealth of peace without which our dreams of development and material prosperity can simply end up in smoke.

Once I tried to bring home to a young police officer what it meant to lead a thousand men in battle by a Colonel. He told me rather innocently that he had often handled up to four thousand men placed at his disposal in his police lines to deal with the law and order situations in his district.

I had to tell him plainly that handling was a lot different from commanding. An Army major with twice his service just about commanded a hundred men. But when the occasion came he could move his men over minefields against the enemy machineguns spitting fire.

Again, in a social gathering, an Army major tried to speak to the local Deputy Commissioner on equal terms. The D.C. who did not take very kindly to it reminded the major that he was placed somewhere in between his brigadier and major-general and he should be spoken to accordingly.

It is really here that the shoe pinches. Why should a civil officer with six years of service or so take precedence over an army brigadier with over twenty years of standing, especially when he has picked up his rank after undergoing two selections? Is the Army meant to be a subordinate service? Even the British who ruled us largely through their D.C.s and S.H.O.s had assigned precedence to the D.C.s outside their districts below the Lieut- Colonels.

All this leaves me wondering if it is really this that goes by the name of civil superiority in our democracy.


 

Policies clouded by politics
‘Aam admi’ remains unsatisfied
by Jayshree Sengupta

The Budget 2009-10 is over and the government has made it clear that it wants to emphasise the welfare of the ‘aam admi’. But today the ‘aam admi’ is confronting rising food prices, high rents, lack of adequate water and power and declining incomes.

Inflation as measured by the WPI has turned negative but inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index is still high (because it lays emphasis on food items).

There are fears of job losses and if a person is in business, there is a fear of slack business and slow turnover. Basically the ‘aam admi is insecure and far from optimistic.

In fact, the pace of manufacturing growth has been alarmingly slow though there has been a 2.7 per cent growth in industrial production in May. There is also an encouraging double digit growth in consumer durable industries. But industries producing non-durable consumer goods have been contracting for the last six months.

Private investment is critical for industrial growth, especially when the growth stimulus has been coming from private investment in the past few years. If private investment is clogged, then industrial production becomes uncompetitive. It is in this area that disappointment has been felt by industry in the last Budget. Some sops have been given to certain industries but many feel these are not enough.

For private investment, interest rates are very important. If the government is going to go in for heavy borrowings as outlined in the Budget (fiscal deficit at 6.8 per cent), the fear is that interest rates would rise by 1 percentage point. How not to crowd out private investment by its huge borrowing programme has to be on top of the government’s agenda.

In agriculture, many incentives for greater accessibility of credit have been given to farmers by the Finance Minister but as always, there is a problem regarding who gets the benefits. Besides, basic things like water, fertilizers, seeds, storage are most important to farmers and there has to be an improvement in the availability of all these.

If there is drought, all calculations can go awry and the government may be faced with a special situation in which more relief measures and more money would be needed. There is a serious threat of rainfall deficit this year in many wheatgrowing areas that could lead to high prices. The government has already banned wheat exports.

India’s own demand is big enough to absorb the rise in industrial and agricultural production even when exports face a grim prospect for some more time. In the current global crisis, big economies have been faring much better than smaller economies dependent on exports.

With a big boost ( Rs 16,883 crore) to government employees’ incomes, thanks to the Pay Commission awards, a rise in consumer demand is likely, soon.

Though protectionism has been decried in the recent summit of G8 in Italy, most countries are resorting to protectionism and are imposing higher taxes on imports. The Obama Administration is discriminating against US companies that are outsourcing their business processes to countries like India.

In the case of Indian industry, many cheap imports, especially from China, are hurting our own manufactures but duties have not been raised. For example raising the duty on edible oil imports would have brought in a lot of revenue and would have protected oil seed farmers also.

The government is fond of putting more money on schemes which have fancy names but no one knows whether they are wholly successful with the exception of NREGA. On a visit to any village, one is shocked to see school dropouts loitering around without work or working in temporary unskilled jobs.

There is also much corruption in the admission of students in technical/vocational colleges and schools, and the high handedness in every bit of official money doled out—be it a stipend or a scholarship, puts off the ‘aam admi’.

Most small enterprises have to pay high interest rates on borrowings to run their businesses and the conditions of work are often quite appalling and the workers are routinely paid below minimum wages.

All these problems of governance are there at the ground level where a village BDO or panchayat is all important. The problem is that the government involvement at the state level is very different from the grandiose announcements by the Finance Minister in Parliament in New Delhi.

Again in every Budget, including the last one, more and more money is doled out for primary health care and for preventive medical care but it has not made a dent on the rural population as is evident from the crowds that crave for the attention of doctors at public hospitals every day.

Most people do not need to crowd city hospitals if primary health care was available in the villages or small towns.

Similarly, despite huge sums being pumped into primary education, basic facilities in most village schools are lacking and absenteeism among teachers forces children to drop out and become farm labourers.

India’s problem of malnourished children is a shameful blot on its glorious 9 per cent growth. This year the announcement of the availability of 25 kg of wheat of rice at Rs 3 per kg for the poor is indeed a hope for the army of malnourished children. But again the earmarked foodgrains could be hijacked and diverted to the open market and life would remain dreary for the poor.

Similarly, the power situation is always a critical element in India’s growth. There has been a huge gap between the power requirement and its generation and supply — the government fell short by 70 per cent of the target to set up new power plants in 2008-09 and there are frequent voltage fluctuations and power cuts.

The sooner the problem of power shortage is handled efficiently, the better it would be for providing jobs in small towns and villages which will have to be connected by a network of good roads.

So where should the priority lie in selecting the areas of focus for a huge country like ours? Unfortunately, priorities seem clear but policies are clouded by politics. It is all about making the right ‘noises’ (disinvestment for example) so that no partners’ feathers are ruffled.

India is fortunately not in a deep crisis situation like the western nations — widely acknowledged now by the World Bank and the IMF, and even if there are no foreign investment inflows, our own high savings rate at 38 per cent (of the GDP) can sustain growth of about 7 to 8 per cent. What remains important is to encourage private initiative and investment and the proper implementation of projects funded by public spending.

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What ails the Left
by Satish Misra

The battle in Lalgarh in West Midnapore district in West Bengal between the state police and the CPI (Maoist) has brought contradictions of the Left Front into the open. It has once again exposed the doublespeak of the Left parties and has exposed its ideological shallowness. The over three-decades-old Left Front government is entrapped in its own web, not knowing how to deal with the Maoists.

While on the one hand, the Left Front government is exploring legal avenues to deal with the Centre’s ban on the Maoists in West Bengal, the CPM’s political response is that there is no need to ban the outfit and the Maoists should be fought “politically”.

Why have the Maoists not been fought politically till now? This is a question that the Left parties in general and the CPM in particular need to answer. The Left parties are possibly presuming that people at large are ignorant about the Maoists’ existence in West Bengal.

The West Bengal government had made a request to the Centre to send the central forces to meet the Maoist challenge. If the Left parties and the Left Front government were capable of fighting the Maoist “politically”, then why has it not been done till now and what was the need for the central forces?

If the CPM is so ideologically convinced of fighting political outfits politically, then has why the Left been demanding a ban on right-wing outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajarang Dal and even the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh?

The Left’s stand on the Maoists and explanations for its worst-ever electoral defeats in recent times show that the Left movement in the country is groping in the dark for a strategy to recover its lost ground and regain confidence of the people.

Both the CPM and the CPI have held deliberations but there appears to be no sign that factors for the electoral defeat have been identified and a revival plan has been readied for implementation.

While the CPI leaders have been saying that the withdrawal of support on the nuclear issue was one of the prominent reasons for the electorate’s alienation from the Left, the CPM has stubbornly stuck to its stand that the withdrawal of support on the N-deal issue was correct and justified.

CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat lacks the courage to admit his own role in the worst-ever electoral performance and has sought to hide behind the façade of unity.

Similarly, it has been said that the Left was not able to advertise its achievements during over four years of the UPA government when it was giving outside support. The Left leaders are also found claiming that but for them global recession would have hit India much harder.

They also pronounce that capitalism is facing its worst crisis and days of state control over levers of economy are back with a bang. Unfortunately, there has neither been a serious analysis of the international situation nor a deep introspection of the domestic political reality.

An honest analysis of the electoral performance and the political situation prevailing in the country would have offered enough clues for regaining the confidence of the people.

The Left could remain relevant till poverty, inequality and disparity exist but if the present Left leadership, particularly the CPM, sticks to its “fundamentalist” path, then its reach is bound to become limited.

But what prevents the Left-of-Centre parties from playing a role in national politics which they should be playing? A mixed set of misplaced priorities, a mistaken notion of their strength, superiority complex and a skewed understanding of the emerging middle class prevents them to assume a role that is due to them.

The Left leaders would have to accept that crucially important defining characteristic of capitalism, particularly global capitalism, is its capacity to adapt and then to mould according to the changing operational environment. Capitalism, unlike communism, does not waste time to change its direction or course if there is an objective need.

The Left leaders are not even ready to have a relook at Karl Marx who gave them an empirical model to comprehend the changing socio-economic and socio-political realities.

But what the leaders of the two main Left parties need to do is to realise the significance of the time-trusted saying of “Divided we fall, united we stand”. Should the Left leaders, particularly of the CPM, not admit that a united communist party would ensure greater degree of credibility among the masses?

For achieving unity, the Left leaders must indulge in a serious introspection to understand why the communist movement was split which resulted in the creation of the CPM. The leaders, whether of the CPM or the CPI, must admit mistakes of the past to pave the path of Left unity.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

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Golf divides armed forces
by Air Marshal N. Menon (retd)

The armed forces were once known for their prowess in sports and games. Combined Services teams or teams from individual Services stole the honours at national sporting events. In hockey they challenged the might of Punjab, in football they dared teams from West Bengal and Kerala, in cricket they defied the brilliance of Bombay and in the track and field events they overwhelmed the competition. Officers and men bonded together in a fusion of spirit and skill with their strategies and tactics leaving the spectators spellbound and awestruck.

That was then, but what is it now? Services teams struggle to find a place in the higher leagues at city level, the medal tally has plummeted at national events and the officer class refrains from participating in contact games due to the fear that an injury would result in a career setback. Many reasons are attributed to this dismal state of affairs but one factor not talked about is the adoption by the officer class of a game called golf. The game golf has been elevated to a cult status in the armed forces and entry into this cult fraternity is restricted to the officer cadre. The exclusion of the majority has had its own negative dynamics.

Golf is a game in which individuals pursue objectives for their individual gain and profits increase if the others playing the game trip or get stuck. This concept, arguably, may be relevant in some fields of human endeavour but is a complete anathema to the psyche of the armed forces. In the fighting forces mission accomplishment through team effort and coordination is the overarching objective and individual brilliance must harmonise with this objective or else is rejected.

Football, hockey and cricket are excellent examples where the spirit of the game is congruent with the essence of the armed forces. Golf stands in stark contrast with its objectives militating against everything that the forces want to instil in their personnel. And the unfortunate part is that golf has succeeded in driving every other game into the background.

Golf made its silent entry into the armed forces in the early 1970s, spread its tentacles in the 1980s, lured the younger lot also in the 1990s and in the first decade of the new millennium has become a symbol of ‘having reached it’ for the officer class. All this has happened at the cost of the other traditional games.

Scarce resources have been allocated to golf to the detriment of other games. And these other games are played by personnel below officer rank (PBOR). Cricket grounds have been converted to golf greens, trees have uprooted to create fairways and vast tracts of defence lands have been reserved as golf courses. The oddity in this state of affairs becomes evident when one realises that commissioned officers, for whom all this has been done, constitute less than 4 per cent of the overall strength of the fighting forces.

It is not unusual these days for itineraries of senior officers visiting lower formations being structured around senior officers’ golf preferences. Does the senior officer wish to ‘tee off’ early morning or later in the day? No problems, the rest of the visit or inspection can be fitted into the remaining part of the day! The outcome is that the dignitary does not get an opportunity to interact informally with the men.

The golf culture has also spawned a parallel HR system in which young officers seek postings and placements of choice or redressal of personal problems. Bypassing the laid down channels of communication or redress weakens the entire system and dilutes military authority.

Golf has not been good for the armed forces. It has driven a wedge between officers and PBOR. It will be an uphill task to reverse the trend but a beginning has to made. Traditional games must be encouraged and young officers discouraged from playing golf. Subsidisation of the golf culture should stop and the senior leadership, on whom rests the well-being of the fighting forces, ought to take the lead in bridging the golf divide.

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