The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, July 29, 2001
Speaking generally

More of sound & fury, less of focus
Chanchal Sarkar

WHEN I borrowed Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat’s book Betrayal of the Defence Forces from my club, the librarian politely reminded me that the book was in great demand, which was a gentle hint to tell me I should return it as quickly as I could.

One pities the former Admiral for his whining tone
One pities the former Admiral for his whining tone

In retrospect, I think the ‘demand’’ was an expectation that fizzed and didn’t flare up. I have rarely come across such an incoherent and ill-planned book. Chapters are sometimes of one and a half pages, and are often of no importance whatsoever to the theme of the book. This is a great pity because the Admiral does have something to say. I am not referring to his dismissal, that is a bizarre story of so much conspiracy, manipulation, backbiting and rule-bending that one tends to be frightened for the future of India’s armed services. It is incredible for a country which dreams the pipedream of becoming a great power. The story is so unbelievable in parts that one wonders why half-a-dozen libel suits were not slapped on Admiral Bhagwat, beginning with a kingsized one by George Fernandes. This absence of libel blames is surprising because Admiral Bhagwat has named names and made sharp accusations.


If he were not such so boastful and self-righteous,the chapters that are important would have been focused upon. These chapters refer to the competitive backwardness of the Indian defence services, specifically of the Navy of course, because that is what Admiral Bhagwat knows most about) against the background not only of the world’s great military powers like the United States and not so great but wanting to be powerful like China, France, Britain etc.

Admiral Bhagwat’s story makes India seem backward even in relation to the South-East Asian countries. Obviously, just milk-white uniforms, marching down Rajpath in perfect formation, stripes on the sleeves and protocol appearances do not make a Navy that would be taken seriously.. Indian journalists, even those who call themselves defence correspondents are, in truth, of short stature and we don’t have forces’ journals like Jane’s and the United Service Institution, journals of other countries and many other publications besides. We have made a state in imitation of the British model — particularly of the pre-1947 British and even somewhat of the post-47 British. But our people are neither well-posted about military matters like light helicopters, submarine buildings, air defence ships nor about vital strategic issues. Beyond such yawning gaps, we should be horrified at the verbatim conversations and correspondence that Admiral Bhagwat has revealed about the highest-ranking ministers, bureaucrats and defence personnel.

If there were less bombast and self-praise and a sticking like leaches to the issues on defence raised by Admiral Bhagwat, and if they were picked up seriously by parliamentarians and journalists, then it would have been a useful and path-pointing book. As it is, one pities the Admiral for his whining note and lack of real substance despite the fact that he was treated very badly by the civil and military brass.

Targetting foreign students

OUR newspapers and some foreign magazines carry many advertisements about studying abroad. Universities and various institutions in Australia, Canada, Britain and elsewhere give details and solicit applications. Representatives from those institutions travel here and hold workshops and meetings with prospective students. All this is because education in today’s world is a very big and powerful export. Apparently, India is now also thinking along those lines. As many as 161 Indian institutions are named in a new website portal. Information Technology is a discipline India is hawking.

It is too late, I am afraid. Once upon a time, India did not have to think. After Independence, there was a keen desire on the part of the young people in Thailand, Afghanistan, Iran, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana and many other African countries to come and study in India. Delhi was one such target but there were also many students in places such as Chandigarh, Aligarh and Banaras. All this has gone with the wind.

Foreign students didn’t get much help or advice about admission and hostel rooms were hard to come by. There was no sympathetic supervision and Bblack students faced social isolation and discrimination. Seats for foreign students in premier institutions such as the IIT’s IIMs and medical colleges were very few. Through the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Central Government did a half-hearted job and the universities too were slack, ineficient and inhuman. Now, of course, there are seats for NRIs and other rich people in medicine and engineering on payment of a ‘capitation’ fee of a thumping amount, as in Manipal. Even there, parents who could afford to send their children to Western institutions did so. Only those who, though wealthy, couldn’t get their children admitted in the West, sent them to India.

However, for people from countries where there is a large population of people of Indian extraction, India has a special attraction. Students from Bangladesh come because it is next door (and therefore cheap to come from) and because its own education system is in such turmoi. Indian "public schools" in hill stations always attracted students from other countries, due to their good reputation.

An opportunity to spread influence and earn revenue for the country has been lost. Talking about it now, in imitation of western institutions, is a pipe-dream. In fact in places like Bangladesh there is a steady growth of very expensive private universities which have a tie-up with foreign universities. India is not so much in the picture as it was before.

When Margaret Thatcher had sharply jacked up the fees of foreign students in Britain, there was some opposition. Some very interesting studies were made of how many heads of states of countries abroad were educated in Britain, France, and the erstwhile Soviet Union to show that the influence was also a big export. There are some such who have been educated in India in the earlier years after Independence but they have grown fewer and are now invisible. It is too late to turn the tide now. We can’t hold our own people, what to say of others from foreign countries, many of which have now turned rich. The Syrian ambassador has been (very snootily) saying that, a rich country such as Syria can send its students to any country.

Selective representation

We are always reading about soothsayers and prophets remembering Julius Caesar (the Ides of March) or Antony and Cleopatra: Into the future a little I can see). The most chilling prophesy I remember was that of Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Abyssinia. When Italy unleashed a horrible war against his country in the late 1930s of the last century, the Great Powers did nothing. He came in person to the League of Nations in Geneva, in search of justice and support. He got neither, of course, but his spare, dignified figure in the Conference Hall will never be forgotten, nor will his last words there: "If nothing is done then, without bitterness, I say that the West will be destroyed". Indeed, it was through the World War II to which Spain and Abyssinia were just preludes.

So much is kept on tape, film and memories. The BBC has just been showing a remarkable series called The People’s Century covering events up to and a little beyond World War II, right into Munich, Czechkoslovakia and Poland, where the war started. It romped through without mentioning a sentence about the world’s two most populous countries — China and India or, in fact, any Third World country.

Nothing was shown about the remarkable mass movement for freedom in India under Gandhi or of the Long March and its aftermath in China. Maybe there will be something later but up to now, it’s false history.

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