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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 10, February 23, 2013

Khurshid’s Challenge to Antony is Intriguing

Tuesday 26 February 2013, by M K Bhadrakumar


This is carnival time for the detractors of Defence Minister A. K. Antony. Of course, none of them in their senses would dare to implicate Antony in the VVIP helicopter scandal. He remains the ‘Saint’. The saving grace in the present scandal is that Antony is relentlessly cracking the whip.

Obviously, getting Antony out of the way has been an obsession for the pimps and dalals who feed on defence deals. Their lament and criticism has been that Antony is too slow in decision-making on arms purchases despite the surfeit of budgetary allocation, and that works to the detriment of India’s ‘defence preparedness’. Now, ‘defence preparedness’ is a holy cow, isn’t it?

It is understandable when pimps and dalals raise the bogey of ‘defence preparedness’. But when a Congress stalwart and one of Antony’s Cabinet colleagues does that, eyebrows will be raised.

No doubt, there is something very very odd about the remarks made by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. Being a trained lawyer, SK would know what to say—and what not to say.

Therefore, SK’s open challenge to Antony demanding that the latter should go slow in scrapping the VVIP helicopter deal is intriguing. Does SK have inside info that the ‘powers-that-be’ don’t want the deal to be scrapped?

For one thing, arms purchases are none of SK’s business as the Foreign Minister—except that he may have a feeble voice to raise from the ‘political angle’ as to whether or not to source arms from a certain country with an unsavoury reputation or with which India has a troubled relationship.

Second, SK’s actual expertise on the subject of weapon systems is zilch. SK claims he has the benefit of hearsay. Does a senior Cabinet Minister voice opinion when all he knows is what he heard from some faceless, nameless people? Even if he has an opinion, there is a forum to express it—Cabinet Committee on Security. Certainly, this is not the stuff of a press conference held high up in the air while travelling from Dhaka to New Delhi.

Moreover, SK himself has been the butt of a most ridiculous scam very recently and he should know how it hurts when one’s image gets irreparably dented.

In sum, SK shouldn’t have commented publicly on these lines. So, why he did that remains a puzzle.

Antony is not an ordinary run-of-the-mill Congress politician. He is de facto number 2 in the Cabinet and is also a senior Congress leader whose opinions are keenly sought within the first circle of decision-making in the party.

Now, herein probably hangs a tale. The Congress Party has no dearth of prima donnas who fancy themselves to be prime ministerial material and in the dog-eating-dog culture that prevails among prima donnas, Antony remains an eyesore.

The prima donnas wonder what is there in this self-effacing man from an obscure part of India who has never been to Oxford and who doesn’t wear a neck tie and speaks only Indian English, lacks family pedigree and doesn’t even know how to hold a glass of whiskey when dusk falls.

But then, Antony connects with the Indian people. The enquiry into the VVIP helicopter scam may not bear good results, but the people of India would understand why Antony wanted to scrap the deal. And if a time comes when the Congress Party realises it is fast losing touch with the common people, what role can the urban cowboys play to help reconnect the party? SK did a disservice to his party to publicly give a dressing down to Antony—even if he thought he might please some powerful quarters.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

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