With reference to “A vote for competence” (September 4), the editorial states that the integrity of Nirmala Sitharaman (pictured) may have been taken into account ahead of her selection in view of the heavy defence purchases that are expected. Similar views have been repeated ad nauseam by many other commentators since the allotment of her portfolio. But there is a need to asses her selection on other parameters, too. Sadly, the lingering shadows of the Bofors controversy, continuously overplayed by those opposing the Congress party, have reduced the status and stature of the defence minister of a country boasting one of the largest armed forces in the world, by projecting the incumbent as mainly a buyer of defence equipment.
We forget that defence ministers are primarily expected to defend the countries from any external threat/aggression and, when necessary, even mobilise public sentiment to come out openly in support of the armed forces who make supreme sacrifices with their lives. Every army has won a war only when it has found the public support and willingness to match their sacrifices, a preparation every defence minister has to carry out. Defence ministers of superpowers, a club India aspires to be in, have always carried enough political heft even to speak their minds freely to their political masters when they have differed in the approaches to be adopted (even when convinced by the generals) while dealing with enemies. He/she is often the critical bridge between armed forces and the political leadership. We may also admit that the armed forces have always remained an exclusive bastion of men and the comfort, confidence and respect the generals feel in their defence minister is crucial when the push comes to shove in conflict zones.
On a lighter note, the first advice to our new defence minister may be to learn to recognise the ranks of the armed forces personnel (men and women) from their badges and stars, which is a common faux pas made by us civilians, despite our best intentions to pay respect to our men in uniform. (The best first introduction to our armed forces set-up used to be the booklet used by new entrants to the National Cadet Corps in our college days.) Finally, we must admit that Sitharaman, thanks to her persona, enjoys a lot of goodwill of the masses who may feel they have a stake in her success. A successful tenure as a defence minister has the potential to catapult her to a select group of tallest current leaders of our nation. She must grab this godsend opportunity with both hands.
Y P Issar Karnal
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