When winging their way to the US recently, senior officials in the Prime Minister&’s entourage had informed the media of the government&’s grave concerns over the former army chief&’s comments about the military making payments to political figures in Jammu and Kashmir and indicated a high-level probe was in the offing. Domestic “developments”, admittedly, overshadowed that trip; but did the furore over the junked-ordinance on tainted legislators render irrelevant the most recent of several controversies stirred up by General VK Singh?
The Prime Minister proceeded on another junket ~ obviously he finds the political climate abroad most salubrious ~ but has his government&’s inaction facilitated the General&’s recklessness? The apex court has initiated preliminary contempt action against the ex-chief, a local court in the Capital has threatened similar action; a group of former chiefs has refuted VK Singh&’s line.
After considerable furore the J&K legislature is contemplating proceeding against him: rare unanimity was displayed in adopting a resolution seeking a central inquiry. As Omar Abdullah put it, the credibility of the system of parliamentary democracy and every legislator in the state was now under a cloud. It could well be argued that the decision of the J&K Speaker to call the ex-chief to account, as well as the other unbecoming “developments”, might have been averted had Manmohan Singh, AK Antony and the rest of the ministerial squad not chickened-out of putting VK Singh in his place.
Since “silence is consent”, powerful ammunition has been provided by the ex-chief to those who challenge India&’s contention that the elected legislature legitimises J&K&’s accession to India: note that the leader of an Opposition party has declared that New Delhi was treating her state like a “colony”. Is the UPA unaware, or unconcerned, over the potential fall-out?
The other side of the picture is that an institution is being steadily demeaned ~ the office of the Chief of the Army Staff. It matters little if some of the men who held that office recently did not quite fit the Bill, both the aura and authority of the Army Chief are not to be easily disparaged.
Even after their retirement ex-chiefs are required to conduct themselves in accordance with certain norms. And political parties would, in the larger national interest, be well-advised to refrain from exploiting “aberrations” to their petty advantage. No chief after Manekshaw has had his photograph splashed in the media as frequently as the man under the scanner ~ alas for reasons that would have made Sam&’s famed whiskers droop and wilt.
Retreat in Rome
Silvio Berlusconi&’s gambit has met a farcical end. Italy is no stranger to frequent changes in government and political instability, but the powerful former Prime Minister&’s clumsy attempt has misfired with his party refusing to back his endeavours to topple Prime Minister Enrico Letta. Mr Berlusconi didn’t merely reverse gears recently; in a classical U-turn, he has now pledged support for the government that he failed to topple.
Profound must be the cost to his credibility. For all the political theatrics, the government of one of the most unstable of euro-zone economies has survived a vote of confidence. Unlike the USA, Italy has demonstrated that it shan’t be paralysed by political warfare. And well might the former PM&’s critics contend that the vote of confidence signals the twilight of the Berlusconi era.
His attempt to bring down the government had a negative underpinning in the context of the country; it was intended to shore up his endangered political career as he faces a pending prison sentence. As it turned out, his misadventure has fractured his centre-right movement, to the extent that it was threatened with defections. With little or no support from his party, it is more than obvious that he was pursuing a personal agenda. He will have to contend with a rare moment of political embarrassment; the jaw-dropping U-turn is one of the worst humiliations of his 20-year political career.
With his government re-validated, it devolves on Prime Minister Letta to impart a measure of stability to a fragile system, specifically to introduce sweeping changes in the electoral system which as often as not yields a fractured result that gets reflected in an awkward coalition as the one in power in Rome at the moment ~ of the centre-left and the centre-right parties.
The new lease of life for Mr Letta&’s fragile coalition might have calmed the markets and increased Italy&’s chances of emerging from the economic doldrums. But the government will have to effect major reforms, even unpalatable tax and budget measures, to reverse a decade of economic stagnation and cut Italy&’s 2 trillion euro debt. The political challenge has been overcome; the economic uncertainty persists. Mr Letta faces a formidable challenge in the aftermath of the recent shipwreck in Lampedusa, one of the worst refugee disasters