Modi govt facing its first crisis

By : Rajeev Sharma

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing its first crisis. Whether this turns out to be a mere storm in a tea cup, considering the hugely depleted opposition strength, or whether it snowballs into a major crisis will be known in the coming days.
But of course it is not such a crisis that would threaten the very survival of the fortnight-old government. On Monday, the defense ministry submitted an affidavit before the Supreme Court putting Gen. V.K. Singh, a former army chief and presently a union minister, in the dock. The affidavit described his certain actions as the then army chief as “illegal” “extraneous” and “premeditated.”

The Ministry of Defense (MoD) affidavit pertained to Gen. Singh’s ban order on Lt. Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag, the new Indian Army Chief-designate, for Gen. Suhag’s alleged “failure of command and control” in an operation carried out by an intelligence unit working directly under Suhag, the then Dimapur-based 3 Corps commander.

Barely a fortnight after Gen. Bikram Singh took over as the new chief of Indian Army after Gen. Singh’s retirement he reversed the ban on Suhag and also promoted him as an Army Commander.

Suhag was named as the next chief of Indian Army at the fag end of the UPA government last month. Suhag is to take over as the Army Chief after Bikram Singh retires on July 31.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had then cried foul over the media reports saying that the UPA government was about to name the next army chief days before the results of the general elections were to be announced on May 16. The BJP had said that the outgoing government had no right to appoint a service chief when within a few days a new government was to come into power and had even approached President Pranab Mukherjee asking him to restrain the UPA government from making such an “improper” move.

The BJP conveniently forgot two things during this controversy: (i) that it is a convention that a government appoints a service chief several months beforehand; and (ii) that the previous BJP-led government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also used its discretionary powers under this convention and appointed Admiral Arun Prakash as Navy Chief during the last few days of its power despite objections from the Congress party.

This is the Modi government’s first crisis I referred to in the opening paragraph. Gen. V.K. Singh holds charge of three important ministries: External affairs and overseas Indian affairs as a junior minister (Minister of State or MoS) and the ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DONER) with independent charge. His last portfolio indicates that he is the only political boss of a crucial ministry in-charge of eight northeastern states and reports directly to the premier.

Now the question arises when a government criticizes the actions of its minister and that too by way of a sworn affidavit before the highest court of the land, is his stay in the council of ministers tenable?

It does not matter even if the minister is being criticized for his actions in an earlier position as a government servant. And here we are talking about somebody who was in an exalted position of the chief of Indian Army. Another question arises in this context. Shouldn’t the Modi government have asked Gen. Singh to resign before giving such a damning affidavit about him to the Supreme Court? And if the Ministry of Defense went ahead with submission of this affidavit on its own without keeping the premier himself or his office in the loop, this is even more serious. In such a scenario, the Modi government would face a criticism that the government is inexperienced, amateur and the left hand does not know what the right is doing.

The Congress party expectedly and promptly fired its first salvo on Tuesday at the Modi government over the piquant situation. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi described the development as a “no confidence vote” by the Modi government against its own minister and wondered how the minister in question could continue to be in the council of ministers. The UPA government had a rollercoaster ride during its second tenure and traveled from one crisis to another at the drop of a hat. It survived each crisis and completed its full five-year tenure because the opposition was highly fractious and divided.

During its opposition days, the BJP often taunted the UPA government as a government with no governance. Ironically, a different picture is being seen now. Now there is a government whose slogan is “Minimum government, maximum governance.” But the problem is that there is virtually no opposition with Congress not even legally qualified to get the post of Leader of Opposition in Parliament after having got just 44 out of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, not even 10 percent seats needed to get the LoP status.

The writer is a New Delhi-based independent journalist and a political commentator who tweets @Kishkindha





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