Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Adarsh – What Next?

Till the other day Adarsh was just any other name in the list of endless names available for parents to choose from, for their new born. Adarsh interestingly means a lot more – Ideal, Role Model, Paragon, Perfect, Standard, Utopian, Apotheosis, Saint and many more (Sic). The events of the last few days have certainly eroded this glorious name and stands sullied forever. Parents all over India will be chary of naming their new born Adarsh anymore. It has come to be associated with the lowest form of human qualities and behavior such as greed, corruption, deceit, chicanery, nepotism, just to name a few.

I do not wish to discuss all the aspects of the Adarsh Housing Society scam currently occupying the TV and other media space. I wish to reflect on the involvement of Army and Naval officers in this very unfortunate and ugly episode.

One way of looking at it, is to say that all of us have done something wrong at some point of time and we have no right to discuss this scam. It’s just bad luck they got exposed and landed into the media's lime light. Somehow I am unable to subscribe to this view and keep quiet. Yes I have done many wrongs – some small and some not so small and subsequently I corrected myself and swore I would not repeat them – whatever they were. So, what is that difference between me making mistakes and the Chief of Army or Naval Staff? Here I wish to deviate a bit, to narrate an incident which I was told happened many years ago. I believe that an erstwhile Mysore Administrative Officer (MAS) built a huge house in the heart of Bangalore city. One day, the then CM (1951 – 1956) of Old Mysore State Mr Kengal Hanumanthaiah summoned the officer and told him that people were talking about the house and casting aspersions on the funding. He went on to say, “I know that there is absolutely no financial irregularity and everything is ok,” but, “in your senior position it is absolutely essential to be not only honest but to appear to be so”. The MAS officer later put all his financial transactions on the notice board in Vidhana Soudha for one and all to see. That was then.

Amongst many attributes of a defence officer, the ethos of military service demands a very high level of integrity, honesty, sense of fair play and personal conduct beyond reproach. As we grow and rise in service, all of us develop an ability to perceive what is right and what is wrong. It is ingrained in all of us from the very beginning. We are taught to draw the “Lakshman Rekha”. When I was posted in the procurement directorate in Naval Headquarters, I had to draw the line for myself all over again and say – ‘never beyond this line’. With each promotion, the avenues and opportunities to stray increases and the temptation to cross the line becomes irresistible.

Another common justification for condoning corruption in the defence forces is to attribute the blame on the ever decreasing standards of probity and honesty of the overall society in which we all live. This excuse is certainly not tenable. The nation, the general public and the aam aadmi does not think so. He still thinks that the members of the armed forces are ‘Holy Cows’ and sets a different scale to measure our conduct. In his eyes, the “Lakshman Rekha” for the 'fougi' is different and sacrosanct. If for any reason it is transgressed he feels hurt, letdown and insecure. For this very reason, the public respects the armed forces and is willing to shower us with praise and put us on a high pedestal. They see us as the final bastion of honesty and integrity in the country as the troika of our democracy namely the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary has failed to live up to their expectations.

The ultimate desire of all officers who join the defence is to aspire to become a General or an Admiral. In any hierarchal profession, the juniors always look up to their seniors as role models and draw strength and inspiration from them. The men at the very top have letdown their juniors. What will the future generations look up to?

Adarsh has to be seen in this context. By the time an officer becomes a General or an Admiral he is seen and treated differently by his juniors, peers, and the public. He is no longer an ordinary officer but one who has been specially chosen as the flag bearer of what the army and navy is all about. He becomes more visible. He has to uphold the good of the service and be ever vigilant not to drop his guard – even once. All of us, whether junior or senior, have the same obligation to the service and the country, but this commitment becomes even more pronounced as one goes higher in service. As the Chief of the Army or the Navy, one reaches an iconic status. Any fault or aberration at this level can be catastrophic to the institution in particular and the nation in general.

There can be no excuse, cover up or pardon. The good name of the army and navy which has been desecrated needs to be restored to its earlier pristine glory at all costs. Spare no one - retired or serving. Let us cleanse the system before an outsider tells us to do so.

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