The Union government’s decision to get the army to construct a railway overpass in Mumbai was widely and justly criticised.It seemed more a damage control exercise for the ruling party (hence the rush by Union defence and railway ministers as well as the Maharashtra Chief Minister to be photographed at the site) than a technical imperative.While there remain individual officials who take their clues from the Constitution rather than from individual ministers, at both Central and state levels, many government departments have become extensions of the party in power.Among the less compromised of our public institutions are the Election Commission, the Reserve Bank, the Supreme Court and the Armed Forces. Quraishi would strive to keep the Election Commission’s integrity intact, and that I. Patel and Raghuram Rajan would design monetary policies in the best interests of the economy.If not, they are susceptible to political interference and perform below expectations. In the past, some army officers have identified with particular politicians — the case of Lieutenant General B. Kaul and Defence Minister Krishna Menon in the 1950s being the most notorious.
What she started, other politicians (of all parties and in all states) have taken further, much further.
But here too, their independence is relative, not absolute. With some others in those posts, one has not been so sure.
If they are led by people of principle and courage, then their autonomy remains intact and they perform well. A lack of moral courage, or ambitions for a post-retirement job, have sometimes led to judges, central bank governors, and election commissioners doing things that they should never have done.
Furthermore, the friendship between the late Field Marshal K. Cariappa’s family and my own family extends over four generations.
And yet I read the reports of General Rawat’s remarks with a sense of dismay.