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The Conscious Choices We Make

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Arjun Pratap Singh watched the dentist probe and prod and dig into his brother Abhay's premolar. Looking up from the grim probing, the dentist said, "If you are not flossing daily, then the soft enemy stays on and the rot sets in."
Arjun: Rot?! Is it that far gone?

It is the beginning. That is why I had to drill and clean up. Floss daily to keep the decay-causing fellows away. Decay is caused by allowing food particles to remain between the teeth. They ‘learn' that you won't touch them and thus they stay on to party!

As they rode down the lift, Arjun said, "We can be misled by good-looking teeth and believe all is well. But now they have even cost you half a day's work!

Abhay: A day's loss of work? My God! At Belkopp, we have lost 17 days, in fact, 6,800 man-days' work since our accounts were frozen pending investigations. Rs 600 crore unaccounted for! Breakdown in quality control, infected syringes in the market. I don't even know what to feel. Daman saab was an icon for me. His attitude to healthcare, commitment to quality... I believed all this. I feel so stupid! Yeah please, drop me off to work, and send Gambhir to pick me up at seven. Going home will waste time. You are not leaving until Saturday, right?

Arjun: I will leave tonight, I think. I have some bulls to take by the horns.

Arre bhai! What problem can a colonel in the army have? You guys are faujis! We corporate folk commit the sins and remain in the headlines; you army folk protect us and stay on the frontlines!  

Arjun (smiling wryly): No one is an exception it seems! I guess to each according to his own...

The meeting with Brigadier (Retd) Mir Murtaza Ali was still fresh in Arjun's mind. Brig. Ali had occupied the very same chair as the CO of the Jangi Paltan that Arjun did today. And thence, the Brigadier had been his guide and mentor — more importantly, his thought leader. Yet, Arjun continued to battle the Brigadier's arguments and ethical viewpoints.

An officer in Arjun's battalion had gotten embroiled in a foolish flirtatious moment that now threatened to send him back to start on the snakes 'n' ladder board of his career and some years of hard labour. Nestling in a pained corner of Arjun's heart was the hope of a miracle that would save the 26-year-old, who was a terrific officer, bright and brilliant. The arguments presented by Brigadier Ali, which were difficult to face, came back to him again and again. The Brigadier was not wrong at all, but then the young officer was wrong only this once... people learn through their mistakes, that is how they grow stronger and better... yet how can I afford to lose such a good officer?

"Mistakes are neither for forgiving or ruing; they have to be simply penalised and purged. No two ways!"
Brigadier Ali had said. Yet, the same Brigadier had felt helpless as an advisor to a quasi-government body, in the face of umpteen situations of organisational sinning that unfolded in front of his eyes. This had made Arjun wonder how it was that crime and punishment were easily managed in the army, but civilian society quailed under its own weighty sins. Worse, the idea of civilian society sinning day after day, yet living in expectation of continuous protection from the army, made him painfully restless. How small was the errant officer's error, when seen in the light of all the match fixing, the depraved indifference of the reality shows and now: Satyam, 2G, Adarsh, and whatnot!

Brigadier Ali was unmoving: A fauji cannot indulge in civilian-like carelessness; that will compromise his actions. No two ways about it; he is a risk to national security!

Disturbed by the seeming harshness of this verdict yet seeing the civilian society's crass and uncouth conduct, Col. Arjun Pratap Singh allowed "Arjun" expression.

Arjun: So a fauji must be pure as driven snow.

Abhay: Absolutely.

Arjun: And a civilian?

Guarding over the nation requires a certain dispassion inside, what granddad called vairaagya! Followed by a dedication and devotion. Civilians definitely lack this; if not, wouldn't they all pay taxes 100 per cent to start with?

I think the right to the term ‘citizen' can be earned by very few statesmen; but a fauji is always seen as the protector. The protector cannot do harm in thought, word or deed... that is what makes him a respected figure! And when the protector of law — in uniform or as a leader — breaks the law or uses it to protect himself, he is dangerous. Above all, brother, if an adult can harm a child, or the powerful oppresses those dependant, he is in the same class as a terrorist — causing undeserved harm to the innocent and helpless with his power and strength!

Corruption has got institutionalised, hasn't it? It is a matter of time before the uniformed services also partake in the festivities — behti Ganga syndrome!

It seems there is an unwritten expectation of discipline from the uniformed services. But I think the same applies also to political parties, because they are vested with power to govern and protect the country's wealth and health. So when that power blinds men into attempting the ridiculous... we will begin to see the ability of civil society to hit back. The CWG largesse was a punch in the solar plexus and even before the shocked tax payer recovered, another harder punch is delivered by the 2G losses! And the janta wants the army to be pure as driven snow! Even so, we are... but what will you do with it?


The key is that if one is straight, the system conspires to neutralise such persons before they reach higher ranks... because if they do not play ball, they end up spoiling the politicans' or bureaucrats' party. Everybody in the top echelons seems to close ranks. It is a club whose membership criteria is — you have to be pliable to belong. One cannot generalise but that is the rough trajectory of the moral slide we have been seeing for years now. All the scams unravelling, be it Adarsh or 2G, show that anybody who had the potential to block the diabolical plan was offered a slice of the pie — naturally the size of the pie had to keep growing to feed additional mouths.

Abhay: Not very difficult to understand, brother! Examine the ingredients and you will see how if I have you scratch my back, and soon you will want your back scratched too. Long time ago, we had a services department which took care of the repairs to company flats as well as renovations. The senior managers would tell these guys to utilise funds kept for other maintenance works and divert them to make their allotted residences of 5 star-standard! Or, say, there is a Rs 10,000 budget per flat for plumbing repairs. End of the year, the CEO himself would ask for fancy brocade curtains to be bought for his flat and tell the service department officers to ‘produce' bills for repairs instead.

Soon, one began to notice much more costs getting padded on, so that the service department blokes got emboldened to approach senior officers with Adarsh-like proposals to have their own backs scratched! See?

Arjun: Yet, if one is straight and the world knows about it, he is not much use to scamstering and, hence, this kind of guy will not make it up the ladder. Not just that, he will be the proverbial thorn and will be ousted on grounds of incompetency has happened.

Abhay: has happened, yes!

Some moments of painful memories later,  Abhay said, "I am looking at all the mess hitting the ceiling all over the country; from cheerleader Raju to Raja, it is a grand festival of corruption. Satyam, then CWG, then Adarsh, now 2G, then a land scam... we only have headlines and breaking news these days! Day by day, we become sicker and sicker. We see the social rot and we see the structural rot. Both are breaking out like angry acne right now... at the same time.

Arjun: You know what hits me sharply is the  utmost that the Army does to stick to its discipline. When I step into the world outside, I am almost shaken by the differences! An officer I know of may be court martialed for a spirited moment of indiscretion. And I am saying: Gosh! What is that in the face of all this? For something like that, which, in the civilian world does not even get noticed, the army will go to town and suspend the fellow, then demote him, then rub his nose in the mud, then punish him even more severely... until he has learnt his lesson. Lesson for what? To be a better officer and a gentleman to protect the country that seems to be in an endless orgy of scams!

In your civilian world, rapes happen and the rapist is out on parole; murderers are without remorse; witnesses forget they had seen the crime; the fellow stays in comfort and luxury in 5-star jails! Who are we kidding? A young boy is beaten to death by drunken bullies; drunk through a whole year of ragging?

My officer was inebriated too, dammit! But we will correct him, and punish him! His primary fault will be inebriation. Do you see the damn difference? Your 19-year-old boys are inebriated and the court has nothing to say? The law provides for a maximum sentence for the guilty. In Aman Kachroo's murder, the aggressors were proved guilty, yet the judge accords them a lesser sentence and he does not give a reasoned explanation!

Civilian life appears to be one big reality show! It comes down to power!

A minister denotifies land then allots it to his family, and when the waste hits the ceiling, he nonchalantly says ‘oh-ho... here, let me call the land allotment back, fine?' Can a minister allot anything to his family and not think it is wrong? Can you leave such a person on that seat of power and responsibility without any cognisance of ethical conduct and governance? What about the old word: nepotism? And after all that, are we punishing him? No. We are enjoying the comical display of what he said and what they said, then what he did and then what they may do... like a reality show! Justice has a certain colour and fragrance to it, brother. It presents  itself in a certain manner and it is sacred... not for media entertainment! But here the errant minster has become grist for comical headlines and funny innuendos and generally a smart peg to test one's idiomatic proficiency!

You recall the time Rohan's school expelled four boys in Class 11 for taking drugs? I recall we protested the move... If there is a dead rat in the room, you don't like it; you throw it. Where? Outside the window. Now your home is clean and protected from infection... but the street outside? Why are we not taking ownership for the world outside our window? Why is an errant CWG/Adarsh/land scamster only being thrown out of the party and post but not criminally impinged and convicted? Haven't they only and merely cleaned the house and party of a toxin, but let the civilian world carry the rot?

That's the difference, brother! The army does not easily throw out an errant officer. We keep him, demote him, court martial him within weeks, punish him most severely to ensure the lesson is learnt. There is neither hatred nor dislike. The act is slammed and eradicated and he is made to work his way up all over again! Justice is delivered to him quick!

Last week, I was agitated when Brig. Ali told me that an officer who has compromised his ethical army upbringing and yielded to quasi civilian-like behaviour, is a danger to national defence! He refused to file away that flirtatious moment as aberrational. He was clear: it is an evil to be nipped in the bud. I was so agitated; but now, outside my uniform, as I sit here and watch television, I see that my agitation was only within my context; within our limited world of mental control, ethical training, discipline, preparation for effortlessly taking a bullet in my chest, peacefully accepting my CO's verdict, not wheeling-dealing to escape punishment!



Civilians could call Brigadier Ali fuddy-duddy... but then we guys can proudly claim that we do our job on the front exactly as it was meant to be, generation after generation after generation! Never a half measure!

A thick impenetrable silence followed...

Abhay: What dad saw of India was a pristine landscape, people who ran the country were called ministers, not politicians. When Manoj Kumar sang ‘mere desh ki dharti sona ugle...', people shed real tears. All this because the eyes revealed to us daily an India that was a hardworking, and a genuine mother.

Don't you think today ‘Incredible India' sounds rather incredible in the face of all this? That these powerfully irresponsible officers behaving like club managers, make Mother India seem like a governess....

Arjun: I will admit I am angry that my organisational values compel me to court martial a young 26-year-old for falling prey to the disease of his times. But I can proudly say this: our system will use correction to turn him out better!

But I am angry because all those chaps out there are milking the country dry, taking away far more than our defence budgets, dammit, and will successfully dodge the system. From a minister who does not think he did wrong because others before him had done so, to all those people who do not get punished for rape and bullying, to business folk already buried in millions yet grasping for more, submitting incomplete information, fictitious documents, inflated bank resources to get licences, then selling the ill-gotten licences at five times more to earn funny money — these will get away and will soon be seen in the shade of the Indian banner, shaking the very hands that pretend to penalise!

Disgusting! We army folk use the flag to drape a valiant dead soldier's coffin... civilians use it to veil their sinful acts!

Abhay: I would hate you to think that we have no clean humans on civvy street. Ratan Tata said to someone who chided him for being unwilling to pay a Rs 15-crore bribe to get permission for a domestic airline: "I just want to go to bed at night... knowing that I haven't got the airline by paying for it. I would have been feeling tremendously shameful had we got the airline and we had paid for it".

Yes, and now he is paying the price for saying so!

Before them the television news was unleashing frame by frame more villainy on the telecom wheels and deals, revealing the underbelly of the governance and bravado statements all round and a country so lost and looted.

Abhay (shaking his head): As Dumbledore said to Harry Potter, "It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities." When Tara was applying for her medical admission, the rumour was that the dean of her university had paid a whopping Rs 2 crore to become the dean! I believe that is the asking price for getting this ‘office of profit'.

Arjun: You pay because you are now ascending into an office where opportunity to make money is huge and because you are ascending into this coveted office, you pay the others who will help you ascend this office, see?

Abhay: So many scams, so much money, who says we are a poor nation? Is Rs 1.7 lakh crore even a number? Cops, ministers, teachers, deans, doctors, everyone is taking a dip, abandoning their territory of values. All know it is important, everyone thinks someone else will take care, and finally each one is looking silly. First, it is A. Raja, then the next one will be B. Raja… as one teacher put it.

 Today, there is no reason not to loot the system! Just look at them. Does he look worried about being found out? Crazy! You may need to pay a small price, but, like match fixing, the zeroes make it worthwhile, he thinks! And soon it will be forgotten. Like you said, you just get thrown out of the window, but the world is such a large place to go infect!

Arjun: So when the leadership messes, the people assume chalo, we will get schools to teach values; schools say we must rap parents in PTA and get them to teach values. Parents think, oh no, we must start going to the temple, church, gurudwara, etc. more often... but religion itself is in trouble with its inane definitions of devotion!

Everybody is finally in the same party toasting each other for reasons nobody knows or understands... (A snippet of Obama visit is on the television) Oh, so we tell Obama how glorious our culture is, but he has already got the best of Gandhi, humility! He said, "I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as president of the United States had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the world..." and suddenly everybody is delighted that the world's greatest man bowed before the dhoti-clad fakir!

Abhay: Naturally, the American subservience to the Father of India seems elevating; people probably feel he is bowing down to them!

Peace, love, brotherhood, non-violence... Mohandas Gandhi did not reckon with the sorrow of Mother India when her children steal the family wealth. Brother, what is amazing is this: your system has no correction system and you rue that they are going scot free. My system has punitive correction and I grieve that an otherwise good lad will be penalised....

Col. Arjun Pratap Singh ko gussa kyon aa raha hai?

The army will protect the borders and slay the enemy outside. But what about the enemy within?

casestudymeera at gmail dot com

Classroom Discussion

It always seems that the protector delivers duties and the protected demands rights.