Saturday, September 27, 2008

Respect the Soldier

One news report I heard last night is haunting me.

NDTV carried a story last night saying that there was a great deal of frustration in the armed forces on the huge disparity between the salaries of the armed forces and other wings of the government. Though the recent Pay Commission has tried to increase the payout to the armed forces, it is still peanuts. Fortunately the service chiefs recognised this and rejected the revised pay-package to bargain for more.

And if you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys. But national security is no monkey business.

It's sad, really really sad. These brave men lay down their lives defending our borders for us and yet we fail to give them sufficient dignity and respect. The corrupt bureaucrat takes a fatter paycheck than the average army officer. Is this how the honesty and bravery of our soldiers is rewarded? This is probably why the armed forces are not able to attract talent.

Today we dream of becoming a world power, a superpower - of having an economic might, exceeding some G8 countries. But we forget that economic power and military might go hand in hand. To defend our economic interests, we need a blue water navy patrolling the key shipping lanes. We need a air force that allows us to reach the Atlantic, Europe, Australia-Pacific, Africa, etc. And we need a land force to guard against our deceptive northern neighbour, whom we should not trust at any cost.

To do all this we need strategic minds -- minds that can plan not for today but for the next 30-50 years -- minds that can craft a viable military doctrine. In short, we need sharp minds. And we need a lot more officers and soldiers who are able to implement the crafted military doctrine. But today, why would any sane mind join the armed forces today, when a peer who is not so bright can join, say a BPO, earn more and enjoy life?

It's sad that the government is living in a state of denial -- it is shocking. They did show some foresight in enabling acquisition of the required military hardware -- Phalcon AWACS, IL78 mid-air refuellers that enable our Sukhoi Su30s to reach Alaska without halts, but that is simply not enough. But where is the talent to run these machines?

Respect is not only about the pay-package. It is also about honour. Not very long ago, we fought the Kargil war with Pakistan, came out victorious, thanks to some heroes, some of whom laid down their lives. These brave men were honoured - Vir Chakras, Ashok Chakras, etc. But their families did face a lot of harassment at the hands of greedy bureaucrats when it came to handing out the compensation -- this was well documented in the media and cinema also highlighted this issue. Is this how we respect our soldier? We all remember how the government recently Field Marshall Sam Maneckshaw "honoured" in death.

Dr. Manmohan Singh had the foresight to craft the nuclear deal for energy security. Dr. Singh yesterday mentioned that India loves Bush, for whatever he did for India.

But Dr. Singh, India also loves their brave soldiers and so you better show some respect to them. Don't test the soldier's patience anymore.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Random thoughts and a few unanswered questions...

  1. South Africa in turmoil again - the revered statesmanly South African President Thabo Mbeki is making way for the strident, radical Jacob Zuma. Is the Rainbow Nation going the Zimbabwe way?
  2. Blasts in Islamabad - you reap what you sow. Will they will ever learn this lesson?
  3. Terror in India - the limp, soft state probably thinks this is an answer to our population woes, is that right?
  4. Obama v/s the Republicans - the journalists are best at sensationalising what they hear. Was the comment "putting lipstick on a pig" a sexist remark after all?
  5. The Fed is bailing out Wall Street with a US$ 700 bn package - is capitalism dead as we know it? Or is it a return to socialism - state support and intervention?

I love my 'nimbu paani' ...

Three eventful years of marriage - can't imagine how time flies... and the best part is that I am for sure looking forward to what lies ahead.

But there are times when one gets so pissed off... so irritated... so angry that patience seems to run out. But that's the key - the hard part- keeping the patience. How to do it? There is no formula - it just happens. One just learns it.

Marriage just grows over you - one learns to appreciate, or at least tries to appreciate things that had not figured in one's scheme of things. The most most mundane example here is that before I got hitched with Neeti, I could barely stand Shahrukh Khan. I used to jokingly call his antics like those of an untamed simian. However, after marriage, I was bombarded with Kuch Kuch Hota Hais and Shahrukh and all that. After three years, I have developed an 'understanding' of why he is the way he is!!!! It works the other way round too - Neeti, can now sit through a part of the gory gluttony Bourdain show!

Teamwork is what marriage is all about - navigating our way through the ocean is what marriage is like. One finds a way to develop that understanding - trusting each other's instincts, blindly, at times. This doesn't happen immediately. It takes time, but it happens. And each couple has their own way of developing this sense of navigation!

To sum it all - I have always said that marriage is like cool icy fresh lime (nimbu paani) - a little sweet, a little sour, but can there be anything more refreshing than a glass of cool icy fresh lime on a hot summer day?

I love my fresh lime .... I guess you know what I mean!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Buddha is Grinning!!!!

In 1974, immediately after India conducted its first nuclear test, the message that our then Prime minister received was that "the Buddha has smiled".

But today, the Buddha is grinning...

Ending 34 years of the nuclear apartheid, the NSG has finally given its waiver. A great job done, a feat achieved. I must admit, I am no fan of the UPA government or the Congress party. Till a few months back I used to think that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government is being run by a remote control. I felt sorry for him, as he, I thought, was a misfit in his role as the PM.

However, the cool confidence with which PM and his team has handled the case was impeccable and has proved that Indian diplomacy has finally come of age and India as a superpower is truly in the making. Hats off to you and your team, Mr. PM!

However, the deal is not merely what it seems. What we see today may just be the tip of an iceberg.

Why has the US done all this for us? 10 years back, it would have been tough to imagine US and India going to bed this way. So what has changed in these 10 years would give us clues on why the deal went through.

The US has lost hope in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- it seems that the US is getting around to the idea that there is no point in hoping against hope. With energy prices on the boil, the US can perhaps ill afford to continue to sustain heavy expenditure both on energy and its military campaigns in the Middle East and our neighbourhood.

The bottomline is that the US needs friends here. India is perhaps the only nation that fits the bill -- India has some economic as well as a military prowess that can help the objectives of the US in the region.

Further, despite the fact that for decades, successive Indian governments were cozying up with the Soviets and took pride in being non-aligned, the Indian public largely identified themselves with the US. This is evidenced from the fact that recent surveys which have in fact proved that Indians actually appreciate the US -- only citizens of a dozen or so countries share the same feeling. The rest -- citizens of the remaining 170-odd independent countries either hate the US or just don't care. So domestic public opinion in India will not be an issue.

The US cannot trust the Chinese any more -- the US and China were together all these years for business. But today, with the Chinese successfully make inroads into governments of key US allies -- Australia, New Zealand and a few European countries, the US is genuinely and justifiably terrified. Never has the US needed a counterweight to China more than today.

The nuclear deal brings India and US into a de-facto military and economic alliance (the CENTO of the 60s will be reborn, with Japan, Singapore and other ASEAN countries also being a part of it!). Now that the US has done its bit, India would have to reciprocate -- my idea is that India would be required to police the Indian Ocean shipping routes from the Persian Gulf right upto Straits of Malacca and from Diego Garcia right up to the Andamans, thereby giving India a control of flow energy and commodities to China.

The US would also leverage on India's relationship with Tehran to get Tehran to open up. Despite all rhetoric, Iran by far has been and is the most stable nation in the Middle East. The US needs energy, Tehran is the potential supplier and India can get them talking.

On the commercial side, the nuclear deal opens up a whole new opportunity for US hi-tech companies to expand into a virgin territory for dual-use technology. And in this too, India is a huge market, especially when it has the third largest army in the world. India gets the required military hardware that it needs to stand up to China.

A win-win for both the US and India. India never had it better, the Buddha is surely grinning!!!
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