Whenever presenting the General Budget, finance ministers in their mini-paragraph pertaining to the defence outlays have ever trumpeted that more funds would be provided if required, and more of such jingoism. Yet whenever the economy sours, and expenditure curbs are imposed, the prime target is defence. When some defence allocations are “returned”, it is generally because the finance ministry directed spending cuts. Hence it is no surprise that with P Chidambaram in deep trouble, AK Antony has thrown out a lifeline by ordering an austerity drive in the military ( the restrictions on other departments are a mere frills-freeze). Significantly, a note recently circulated by the MoD has been addressed to the Director-General for Acquisitions in addition to the “usual suspects” ~ the Army, Navy and Air Force. Without getting into “philosophical” debate over whether rural employment and food security programmes are of higher priority than national defence, it is ominous that acquisitions are being included in the go-slow list. Will that prove a setback to the negotiations for the 126 Rafale fighters, Pilatus trainers and other weapons and systems that were actually required yesterday? As well as for what would be needed to raise the Mountain Strike Corps being projected as the antidote to an aggressive Chinese military ~ defence purchases are not made off-the-shelf, any delay takes a toll.
Funny, almost simultaneously with the announcement of the austerity drive came reports that the Prime Minister was anxious to firm up purchases of big-ticket items from the US to ensure there would be “meat” in his proposed interaction with President Obama a few weeks hence. Some mismatch that. The drive also could severely cripple training programmes. Acquisitions and training curbs apart, the orders for austerity suggest avoidable spending in the defence sector ~ particularly since the MoD and Service Headquarters sell the line that security will not be compromised. Does that mean that a host of provisions are being made under “heads” the forces can comfortably dispense with? That would equate with the taxpayer being “conned” by those chanting the mantra of “bigger bang per buck”. And given the way the faujis now function, scrapping batmen would prove more arduous than reducing the arsenal&’s inventory: the Colonel-Sahib would want his golf-green well manicured, never mind if the jawans’ obstacle course is in shambles. There is another critical element to austerity drives: are they conducted after a comprehensive exercise to identify where cuts should be made? Speaking in the Rajya Sabha some years ago the respected Prof. MGK Menon slammed the tendency to impose across-the-board cuts of five, or 10 per cent. The outcome of such moves, he chuckled, was that “the babu got a pencil but no rubber, the Army only half a tank”.
Status and carrot
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has made it known that he will propose to the Centre to consider grant of refugee status to those who migrated to India following religious and social persecution. If accepted, he said, it will not violate the 1985 Assam Agreement, emphasising that crossing the border willingly and under compulsion were two different things altogether. There had been post-partition immigration during 1947-55 of persecuted Hindus from both West and East Pakistan. Based on the prevailing situation, the Liaquat-Nehru Pact (8 April 1950) provided constitutional rights to persecuted Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsees, or for that matter, any other community. In the North-east, there was a migration of Hindus after the 1952 riots, and the Centre provided relief and rehabilitation to those who came. Persecution continued and there was another flow of both Hindus and Muslims during 1956-71. The difference between the 1952-55 and 1956-71 streams was that while the former was an exodus, the latter was a slow migration of victims from East Pakistan, seeking safe shelter and employment. In 1964 thousands of uprooted Chakmas and Hajongs from Bangladesh&’s Chittagong Hill Tracks took shelter in India after they were persecuted and their land swamped by construction of a dam. The Nehru government settled thousands of them on humanitarian grounds in Arunachal Pradesh (then known as the North East Frontier Agency, and centrally-administered through the Assam Governor) and also in Mizoram. Some of them were granted citizenship and have exercised their franchise. In the 1980s there was another wave of Chakma exodus when Tripura had to shelter more than 56,000 of them before.
The mass killings in Khulna by the Pakistan army and Rajakars and others led to the exodus of thousands of Hindus. The government stood by the persecuted by providing them shelter and citizenship as well. As far as Assam is concerned it has a different history of settlement of Muslims from Mymensingh district between 1911 and 1941. Assam lost Sylhet in the 1948 referendum, leaving at least three million Hindus in the segregated part of the district. Gogoi is apparently concerned about the welfare of persecuted Hindus. On the question of who are entitled to that status there are differences of opinion. The BJP&’s standpoint is that Hindu refugees from Bangladesh must be given recognition. If this is to be done it should be in accordance with the “principle of non re-foulement”. The issue should be decided in the light of the Liaquat-Nehru agreement, Indira-Mujib Pact of 1972 and the Assam Accord. Merely giving them status without citizenship will be meaningless.