Antony is PM material – Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s flip-flop in Parliament over the killing of five Indian Army soldiers is yet another instance of the Congress-led government’s callous approach to national security. The killing was the result of an intrusion into our territory by the Pakistan Army. The Antony affair underlines three disturbing facts about our nation.

First, Antony had no shame in behaving like the defence minister of enemy country. On August 6, he informed Parliament, “The ambush was carried out by approximately 20 heavily-armed terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan Army uniforms.” Of course, he went through the ritual of “strongly” condemning the intrusion, but the statement was an exercise in disingenuousness. In fact, he actually contradicted the press release issued by the Indian Army. The shamelessness was so evident that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) angry reaction found resonance among the people at large. This was the reason that he had to revise his statement in Parliament two days later and say, “We all know that nothing happens from Pakistan side of the Pakistan Line of Control without support, assistance, facilitation and often, direct involvement of the Pakistan army. It is now clear that the specialist troops of Pakistan army were involved in the attack.”

The August 8 statement may have fooled Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj who is always keen to be part of the liberal consensus, but the damage has been done. Now, Islamabad has a valid ground to assert that the New Delhi is confused. Its case can have at least the semblance of cogency: The Indian Defence Minister says something in Parliament and, within 48 hours, retracts from the statement under the pressure of demagogues and jingoists; ergo, the Indian case is invalid.

If there are people in the world who believe that Pakistan is what Sushant Sareen calls a jihad factory, it is not because of the efficacy of our government in proving this fact; fact is that the vileness of Pakistani state and society has become self-evident.

This brings us to the second fact: if the Congress-led government is so timid that it is unable to even identify the enemy—and this despite the enemy being so widely known—it is surely incapable of tackling the threat emanating from across the western border. “It took barely 48 hours for the ‘clean-chit Antony’ to become ‘clean-my-own-mess Antony,” strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney told the media. “But with the Prime Minister [Manmohan Singh] staying unconscionably mum, the U-turn still fails to address the key issue: Will India shortly return to business-as-usual with Pakistan, as it did after the January mutilation of two Indian soldiers, in contravention of Singh’s promise?”

The answer, it seems, is in the affirmative. It needs to be mentioned that, despite the latest provocation from Pakistan, New Delhi has not cancelled dialogue with Islamabad. On August 8, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid was at his equivocatory best about the September meeting between Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. It is scheduled on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meet. “Not in a position today to say anything because this is not the time or appropriate atmosphere in which we should be discussing talks. There will be lot of work necessary if we are to talk… but will it be conducive, we need to look at it.”

Singh’s silence and Khurshid’s sophistry are disgraceful by the standards of rational statecraft, but then Congress president and de facto ruler Sonia Gandhi has little regard for reason and national pride. She places men and women in important offices so that they follow her diktat without any questions. Period. She wants followers, not leaders. Hence Manmohan Singh, whom a British daily called “Sonia’s poodle.” And hence Khurshid, Sushil Kumar Shinde, et al.

In Sonia’s scheme of things, what matters is loyalty, not competence and integrity. Last year, Khurshid faced charges of embezzling funds meant for the welfare of the handicapped. The punishment? He was elevated in the Cabinet, getting the important foreign office portfolio. Shinde presided over the mess called the power sector; on two occasions in a short span there were massive breakdowns. The penalty? He was rewarded with the home portfolio.

The third depressing fact that we, the people of India, need to ponder over is that Antony’s ineptitude has made him a suitable candidate for the prime minister’s office. Of course, he has a very negative point as well: he has the reputation of being personally honest. But this should not be a big impediment; after all, Manmohan Singh, who has headed (even though formally) the most corrupt regime in the history of Independent India, is also an honest and honorable man. So are they all, all honorable men.

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