It is never healthy to join issue with the Election Commission, particularly when polls are in the offing and the model code of conduct has come into play. Yet, it would be cowardly not to note the dismay in the strategic community, military circles, and among several civilian “defence watchers”, over Nirvachan Sadan’ enforcing a virtual media black-out of the Combined Commanders Conference (CCC) which was held at the prestigious Indian Military Academy in Dehradun ~ in one of the states where Assembly elections will be conducted a few weeks hence. If the EC apprehended that some state-specific “goodies” would be announced (there is a substantial fauji vote in states going to the polls) it could have issued the kind of caution it has done for the presentation of the general Budget. That would have been preferable to keeping under wraps any major decisions taken at a gathering of the top military leadership and its interaction with the Prime Minister. In a nation in which serious discussion on security/military issues is a rarity, (the defence debate in Parliament now lacks genuine quality), the CCC is closely monitored at home and abroad: although only a “sanitised” version of the Prime Minister’s speech is made public. With even that being “censored” last week, there will be considerable reliance on stray references, insinuations and “leaks”. Surely the Election Commission did not desire that on so critical an issue, and if it “feared” any seeking of political capital from military matters the answer was available in the gallantry awards announced on Republic Day. So was the media black-out of the CCC a case of over-drive?
There can be no argument that the view of the Prime Minister is “required” on several key issues that raise concerns today. Apart from the continuing tensions along the land borders, terrorist forays across the LOC and the threat from the sea to the west of the mainland, the forces are now faced with a “Facebook” crisis as the command structure is being pressured by the airing of grievances on social media. The OROP controversy has not died down, nor have “anomalies” in the Pay Commission award been resolved. Simultaneously do programmes of modernisation and domestic production of advanced equipment need emphasis with a “make in India” thrust. The defence minister has “hinted” at reform of the system of higher defence management: surely that calls for a categorical statement from the political authority. After all, it was another off-the-cuff remark from Manohar Parrikar that preceded the supersession when appointing the Army Chief. The Prime Minister might have offered some light on these matters, but the EC has condemned the nation to a degree of darkness on security policies.