Has Time Come For A Strong DA Notice System In India?
The current controversy relating to GenVK Singh, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), has led to some worrisome aspects in the media coverage of the controversy. The likely impact on national security has not been kept in view not only by some sections of the media, but also by some retired public servants who have been commenting on the controversy in TV debates.
Some sections of the media and some individual journalists as well as some public servants, who have held senior positions in the government, have crossed the Laxman Rekha in their reporting and panel comments.
The government has also been a passive spectator of the way the controversy has crossed one Laxman Rekha after another. It is generally the tradition in other countries that when a sensitive document indicating deficiencies in defence preparedness leaks out, the governments denies in public their authenticity, but enquire into the leakage in secret.
When the contents of the COAS’ letter of March 12, 2012, on the defence preparedness leaked out, the immediate reflex of a clued-up government would have been to deny its authenticity in public and order a secret enquiry.
Instead, many responsible members of the government including the Defence Minister and the COAS made public comments tending to corroborate its authenticity, thereby providing official confirmation to our adversaries that the serious deficiencies mentioned in the letter are correct.
DANGEROUS POLITICS OF ‘COUP’!
One national daily newspaper went to town devoting its entire front page to a single news report. The report made a thinly veiled suggestion of a threatened coup by the army. It was based upon troop movements without notification in the Capital on the day that Army Chief General VK Singh filed a petition in the Supreme Court related to his dispute with the government regarding his date of birth. Although this report may have been based on investigations by the newspaper’s staff, it can be reliably stated that other media outlets had been approached earlier by sources in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to carry a report about a threatened army coup. These efforts had not succeeded.
There are two possibilities. Either there was the real threat of a coup. Or, there was no real threat of a coup. If there was a real threat the government would have been exceedingly stupid to highlight the fact. Since the coup was never actually attempted the government had every opportunity to question the Army personnel involved and quietly take appropriate action to defuse the threat. It would have been crucial for the nation’s and the Army’s morale to prevent the spread of panic. It would also have been in national interest to keep such information guarded from foreign powers.
If there was no real threat of a coup it would mean that the government was interested in creating the scare for a political purpose. If such turns out to be the case the government is beyond stupid. It is insane. It might resort to such a dangerously desperate stratagem in order to prepare public opinion for action against the Army Chief. It could either follow former National Security Adviser Mr. Brajesh Mishra’s intemperate and somewhat hysterical demand that General VK Singh be ordered to go on forced leave. Or it could take the extreme step of sacking the Army Chief.
The government is understandably desperate as the noose of corruption tightens unrelentingly around its neck. But if any such action is being contemplated in order to win over public opinion, the government could be making a huge miscalculation. It might end up jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Rightly or wrongly opinion among the public as well as in the Army is overwhelmingly against the government. Any lapses of conduct by the Army Chief are all overlooked by the public in its nauseous disgust with the government’s corruption.
If the government takes any reckless action based upon innuendo it may spell not only its own doom but also destruction of the political system. Never since the dark days of the Emergency has India been so perilously close to destroying its democratic system.
By Rajinder Puri
In the UK, whenever serious controversies and leakages likely to affect national security break out, the Defence Ministry immediately moves and issues what is called a Defence Advisory (DA) notice requesting the media, the journos and others to exercise restraint in reporting and commenting so that national security is not damaged.
The DA notices cannot be legally enforced. Whoever doesn’t observe them does not commit any offence. But it is a strong reminder to all concerned of their ethical responsibility in the matter. Fears that they may fall foul of the public by not paying heed to the DA notices act as a check on the journos and others.
There are certain standing DA notices which are of a permanent nature. Some others are issued from time to time whenever a controversy breaks out.
The standing DA notices relate to the following:
DA-Notice 01: Military Operations, Plans & Capabilities
DA-Notice 02: Nuclear and Non-Nuclear Weapons and Equipment
DA-Notice 03: Ciphers and Secure Communications
DA-Notice 04: Sensitive Installations and Home Addresses
DA-Notice 05: United Kingdom Security & Intelligence Special Services.
In recent years, DA notices have also been issued relating to terrorism and documents leaked by WikiLeaks.
The time has come for the government to institute a DA notice system in India. Australia follows a similar practice.
By B Raman