Mr Prime Minister, you were selected, not elected by the people, for just one reason, that you posed no threat to anyone in the Congress party. You were not selected for your excellent PhD or for your integrity; not even for your competence as a civil servant. You were considered the least of all evils. Yet, the educated middle class, including I, celebrated your appointment for we all respected your integrity, credibility and competence, and thought you would bring these to bear on your new job.
Today, after four years in office and after India has witnessed an act of war on its own soil, your government has lost all credibility with the people, and the buck stops with you. You are scared to even name Pakistan in your speeches in spite of the so-called irrefutable evidence you claim to have; nay, in fact, each time you say something publicly about this now, it sounds like a condolence message, not something that inspires confidence. Economic reforms stopped long ago, for your allies didn’t want them; there are many ministers in your cabinet who have perfected Wal-Mart’s cash-and-carry model and you can’t do a damn about it. You have failed on all counts as a leader. So, at least now, when India is under attack on its own soil, please act. And if you can’t act, please get out of the way and allow someone more effective to run the country.
Ananth Kumar‘s speech in Lok Sabha (PDF)
P. Chidambaram’s speech in Lok Sabha (PDF)
In any district, where there is any act of violence, normally the district magistrate and the superintendent of police get shifted out. As PM, can you not sack or transfer your national security adviser, the Intelligence Bureau chief, the Coast Guard director general, the navy chief—can you or can you not get rid of your entire top brass and send a signal down the line? The signal you are now sending with your inaction is: don’t bother doing your job, for even if the country gets attacked, we won’t touch you.
Photo: Punit Paranjpe / Reuters
You have personally demonstrated integrity, but what use is that alone, when almost every key minister in your cabinet is treating every file as an opportunity for cash flows? Are you telling us you don’t know that your telecom, environment and shipping ministries are the home of organized mafias looting the exchequer? What use is it telling us, “Look, I am personally honest, but I’m presiding over a band of dacoits, murderers and thugs. I am only the prime minister and can’t do anything about it”?
What use is it to head a government, Mr PM, when you can’t even protect your citizens from terror, which is the first function of any government? When you can’t act against incompetence or organized corruption in your own cabinet? Is the PM’s job so important beyond the call of your conscience that you want to hang on to it at any cost? Sir, may I remind you that you are holding a trust, not just an office.
Rashid Ahmed, a prominent minister under Pervez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif, boasted on Pakistan TV just a few weeks ago that he ran camps to train fighters. Our actors and assorted builders all seem perfectly capable of accessing Dawood Ibrahim at will, yet we don’t have the guts to take him out. Your home minister kept combing his hair and did nothing more as India reeled under attacks and you tolerated him because loyalty to a family was more important than the blood of innocent people.
Scores of journalists have published details of the terror network including names and addresses and every time, the Pakistani government has brazenly denied them. Don’t forget it denied the existence of its nuclear programme, too, for years. How can you expect it to suddenly confess, when for most of the previous two decades, ISI and Pakistan’s army have nurtured jihadis to fight its proxy wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan? Today, the monster is so big that ISI can’t control it even if it wants to.
Even with the most sophisticated intelligence and security systems, history suggests that you cannot stop an indoctrinated suicide bomber. But that doesn’t mean we don’t put those systems in place, at least to serve as deterrents to many more who would otherwise be tempted to take a shot. Convince the nation, give us one good reason to believe that such an attack won’t happen again.
We don’t need a Rambo today, so please don’t attack Pakistan in the heat of the moment, for we all know the limits of hard power after the US misadventure in Iraq. Can you not pour money into technology and arm our security agencies (the Chinese spent $6 billion on security during the Olympics alone), invest in setting up a highly sophisticated counter-intelligence agency, get the Mossad to train our commandos, step up the diplomatic offensive at every forum to isolate Pakistan and, most importantly, come down heavily on corruption at all levels, starting with your cabinet? Can you not ensure simple reforms in the criminal justice system (which scores of committees such as Malimath have outlined) to ensure certainty of punishment for any offence from pickpocketery to terror? Can you not lead legislation to keep criminals out of politics and try to stem the flow of illegal money into campaign funding?
If not, then what use is it being a prime minister if, even after reaching the very top, you can’t do a damn in an hour of national crisis? Soon, all this will be forgotten and it will be back to business as usual. But then, history will judge you. If you have some conscience left, please do something. Don’t forget, “mind without heart, intelligence without conduct, cleverness without goodness are all tools, but only for mischief”.
The author is an IAS officer. The views expressed here are personal. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org