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Milking the Morale Myth, Mercilessly
By M. Zeyaul Haque

Politicians use security forces’ morale to hide their misdeeds

M. Zeyaul HaquePatriotism is supposed to be the ‘last refuge of scoundrels’. That it is true becomes evident when a politician is caught in the act, with his pants down, so to say. Everytime it happens to a politician, he invariably tries to hide behind the shield of ersatz patriotism.

For a discredited politician the myth of the ‘morale of our security forces’ is yet another handy tool to defend himself. If you question his integrity (or the lack of it) he would accuse you of trying to harm the national interest. We heard the morale argument again last fortnight from former defence minister George Fernandes.

In the last several years nobody had a more graceless exit from office than Fernandes. Wounded by the Tehelka tapes, he thrashed about, kicked, and flailed his arms, and chained himself to the defence minister’s chair. For more than two days he refused to quit on the ground that his self-inflicted ouster would harm the morale of the jawans guarding the Siachen glacier.

He stuck to this unreasonable line of reasoning in his boring farewel address to the nation, which heaved a sigh of relief at the end of the long-winded harangue. Good riddance!

Even after he resigned, he stuck to this line. On Aaj Tak he complained that the Opposition was not allowing parliament to function, to which the anchor retorted that that was what he and his group did only a few years ago on Sukhram’s telecom scandal. (They had stalled parliament for 25 days!) Fernandes thought the Opposition should not do to him what he had done to them.

The most galling was his suggestion that the morale of the forces had been harmed by the Tehelka expose itself. Rightly, the anchors asked him whether the forces’ morale would be protected by allowing bribery in defence deals to continue unabated. Did he ever think of morale when he unceremoniously sacked Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat?

The morale myth has been consistently milked by BJP, the dominant group in NDA. Whenever the police massacred Muslims –– be it in Moradabad, Maliana or Hashimpura –– BJP would promptly shoot down any suggestions of action against UP Police or PAC on the ground that it would affect their ‘morale’. Somehow, quite a lot of people seemed to take it seriously, like their argument that court cases against the police for their atrocities must be withdrawn because quest for justice would hurt communal amity. This is what Eliot called ‘tedious argument of hideous intent’.

Interestingly, this logic was stood on its head whenever the victim of police-high-handedness was some BJP supporter. In cases of police atrocities cited above hundreds perished, but the culprits were allowed to hide behind the myth of ‘police morale’. However, when the same PAC beat up a few activists demanding creation of Uttrakhand, BJP demanded a ‘Nuremberg-type trial’. Hundreds killed, and no trial. A few beaten up and a ‘Nuremberg-type trial’ is demanded! See, the sense of proportion. Incidentally, the Nuremberg trial was about the murder of millions, not the beating of a few activists.

The point here is not the enormity of the crime, but who is the victim. It is the identity of the victim that decides the nature of justice (or its denial).

Morale and morals
This brings us to the morals of our politicians, about which the less said, the better. However, a few observations would not be amiss.

According to an opinion poll by The Statesman, 59 percent people think the Tehelka revelations are more serious than the Bofors scam in terms of their moral implications. Somehow, this BJP-led government is not only short on moral integrity in terms of financial transactions, but also in other significant ways, like we have more people here who don’t mind conducting a live-in relationship with other people’s spouses.

Sometimes these brazenly adulterous relationships become a public nuisance as well. There is the case of a former governor of Bihar, an RSS man renowned for his chronic bachelorhood. When this man began to resort to unconstitutional ways to pull down Laloo Prasad’s government, a peeved Rabri Devi hit back in her own unconstitutional manner.

Referring to his brazen philandering, Rabri said publicly that this RSS swayamsevak had turned the Governor House at Patna into a vice-den. Which was true, of course. Now the impression has gained ground that the Sangh, which never tires of boasting about its being more morally upright than others, is possibly the most corrupt. The Tehelka tapes only confirm this impression.
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