The debate over India’s third aircraft carrier seems to have been settled. The question whether a third carrier was necessary was a heated one. The serving and retired military brass was divided, with some strongly pressing for the submarine option over an aircraft carrier, arguing that large carrier groups cannot be hidden and are vulnerable to manned and unmanned attacks. The successful launch of INS Vikrant, the first carrier to be built in India, lent heft to the carrier argument. China’s increasingly ambitious sea-power plans settled the argument as well. There is an urgent need to project power in the Indian Ocean to deter Chinese intrusions and safeguard sea lanes and, importantly, convince smaller neighbours of the efficacy of Indian arms. A carrier is a multi-year project and comes with a bill of around ₹25,000 crore. But it will not all be required at one go. Similarly, steps are being taken to strengthen the submarine fleet where India’s capacities lag—a legacy of the scams that in the past hit procurement and led to gaps in acquisition as well as indigenous aptitude. A formal announcement is awaited and there is a sense of anticipation over its
timing, which could be round the corner.
Speaking of military matters, another subject being discussed is India’s national security strategy (NSS), or rather its absence in the form of a formal paper or statement. The debate over the need for an NSS, which sputters to life every now and again, was given fresh legs by former Army Chief General (retired) MM Naravane stating that pursuing theatre commands before the formalisation of an NSS was putting the cart before the horse. Not many in government are convinced of the argument. A formal NSS paper may have its merits but has little to do with the ‘jointness’ being sought through theaterisation and a policy statement is not going to suddenly clarify matters that policymakers are in any case fully aware of, it is felt. The view that the government is not coming out with an NSS as this will increase ‘accountability’ is dismissed on these grounds and every development related to security, particularly relating to the borders, is widely commented on by a phalanx of veterans and, of course, political parties. On the important subject of theaterisation, the news is that the objections of the Air Force to certain aspects of the process have been largely sorted. Under new Chief of Defence Staff Lt General Anil Chauhan, the major initiative is making steady progress.
The exit of BJP MP and strongman Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh as chairperson of the Wrestling Federation of India was assured the moment the controversy over the alleged case of sexual harassment of female wrestlers broke. With well-known wrestlers like Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat leading the protests, Singh became a hot potato and his resistance proved short-lived. He was clearly told that he had no option but to quit with Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur holding lengthy discussions with the wrestlers who ended their protest once Singh quit.
Even as Telangana IT Minister KT Rama Rao has been hitting out against BJP in TV interviews on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, his father, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), who recently signalled his national ambitions by relaunching his party as the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), appears to be forging alliances that could well hurt Congress’ poll prospects. His alliance with JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy in neighbouring Karnataka, due for elections by May, is being interpreted as a move that could potentially end up helping BJP. Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee President A Revanth Reddy has in fact alleged that KCR has held talks with a prominent Congress leader asking him to work against the party’s interests. Meanwhile, Kumaraswamy’s conspicuous absence from a BRS rally in Khammam has set tongues wagging as it is seen as a hint of tensions if not a falling out with KCR.
Kumaraswamy’s claim that he was busy with a JD(S) yatra in Karnataka is being taken with a pinch of salt. With JD(S) going all out to oust Congress from the Cauvery heartland, a region where the Vokkaliga population has traditionally backed the party and its patriarch HD Deve Gowda, it remains to be seen how the BRS factor will pan out as JD(S) assesses the utility of being part of KCR’s scheme of things.
War of Appointments
The ongoing tussle between the government and the judiciary over the appointment of judges is getting more combative. In a first, the Supreme Court released parts of the government’s privileged communication outlining its objections to some proposals for judicial appointments. Thereafter, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju backed retired High Court Judge RS Sodhi’s remarks that the Supreme Court has “hijacked” the Constitution in the context of the collegium system appointing judges by noting that most people had “sane views” on the subject. Now that the government’s communication has been made public, it is not unlikely that more information will soon be available on the recommendations relating to judicial appointments. Given that the selection process is a closed system, it is vulnerable to instances of cronyism and lack of merit that have been pointed out in the past. Government sources argue that it is quite strange that none of its reservations on any recommendation was taken on board. With a certain line now crossed, this war is getting more heated even as the decisions of the Centre and the collegium find their way into the media.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark at the recent BJP National Executive disparaging the penchant of some party leaders to wade into unnecessary controversies by commenting on films is seen as a snub to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s detractors. Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra was the latest to fume about actor Deepika Padukone’s dress in the film Pathaan and Modi’s reference to such interventions being a waste of time would be balm for Chouhan. With Madhya Pradesh headed for elections at the end of the year, it is quite evident that there will be no change of guard. The other discussion relating to the prime minister’s address to the BJP rank and file was whether he made a specific mention of certain sections among minorities while urging the cadre to reach out to disadvantaged people, irrespective of which community they belonged to. A wire report was swiftly denied by Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and later party leaders who attended the deliberations said that while the prime minister spoke in the context of “saturisation” of welfare programmes—ensuring all beneficiaries are reached—he did not refer to caste groups as such.