As the Hutton enquiry into the suicide by Dr Kelly unfolds, Mr. Blair's political predicament becomes more acute. Being knowledgeable on Iraq's weapons program, Dr Kelly was best positioned to ascertain if the rationale advanced by Mr. Blair, in his echoing of Mr. Bush, was accurate. His testimony revealed that the threat from weapons of mass destruction purportedly in Iraq's possession did not justify the Iraq War II. The aftermath of the war not having yielded any traces of weapons of mass destruction, democratic accountability demands of the British government an explanation. His only saving grace is that even though the present situation in Iraq is problematic, the British Army has lost merely eleven men since the war was declared closed in early May.
Manipulating information in the public domain raises parallel questions for India. The power the Sarkar wields is considerably more unchecked than is the case with Britain. The possibility of New Delhi being economical with the truth certainly exists. This is done with greatest felicity in the sphere of national security as it has a 'holy cow' status and information, that is not itself a plant by the security establishment, is relatively scarce. The Tehelka revelations indicate that the 'fourth estate' could serve as a viable check. However, the manner in which Tehelka was hounded after the expose also has its own lessons. The foremost is that the security establishment would prefer to keep control over public opinion in the so-called 'national interest'.
National security minders are largely unelected. They entertain the idea that being custodians of security of state and society, they have to take tough-minded decisions. This may require them to be immune from cheap sentiment, popular morality and procedural niceties. The logic is that 'an omelet cannot be made, without breaking eggs'. Their role models as Kissinger and Brzezinski are deemed to have placed the US in the enviable position of being the sole superpower. Therefore if India's trajectory into great-powerdom is to be on course, it would require security policy and decision makers being inured from ill informed democratic demands and ponderous procedures of parliamentary governance. This explains partially the recent withholding of results of the probe by the Central Vigilance Committee on defense purchases from the Parliamentary Committee on Defense. The storm in the teacup in the form of a 'no confidence motion' has since been weathered and lost to public memory. The opposition parties launched into campaign mode for the forthcoming state and Lok Sabha elections rather than defend the right to information.
Two points emerge. One is on the power of the security establishment to determine the agenda. Defense related coverage in a national newspaper gets four times more front page space than development related articles now, compared to the equal coverage accorded both in the middle of last decade. In effect the National Security Council has displaced the Planning Commission from public consciousness. Pakistan registers as the primary preoccupation of security planners over the short and medium term, while China looms large over the horizon. Against both 'threats' resources are being sequestered, with the defense budget amounting in a critical assessment to 'about three times as large as the combined expenditure of central and state governments on health' (Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze, India: Development and Participation; New Delhi, OUP, 2001, p. 292). Areas qualifying more genuinely as 'threats', and therefore more demanding of attention, such as equity in redistribution of wealth accruing from India's liberalization over the middle term, and environmental security over the long term, are simply not in focus.
In the book quoted above, Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze throw light on the displacement of developmental concerns by security concerns, concealment of military activities behind a cloak of secrecy, the use of propaganda to rally the public, lobbying activities by the military-scientific complex and consolidation of authoritarian tendencies in society at large. The lobbies that stand to gain from the resulting largesse are the military, the defence scientific establishment including the nuclear complex and the tribe of security pundits. The crucial point is that not only is the military tool unusable, as Operation Parakram amply demonstrated, but increase in its lethality as is being sought makes it even less so.
Secondly, with elections just over the horizon, perceptions created by repetition serve the ruling political formation. For example, it is often obliquely implied that one avenue for Pakistan's intent is to subvert the Muslim community that is both large and has a trans regional presence. The popularity of films depicting Muslim Indians having trans-border sympathies such as Border, Sarfarosh and Refugee is evidence that this perception has a constituency. Dr Bharat Karnad, one of India's leading hyper realists, mentioned on television that a former boss of Pakistan's ISI, Gen Hamid Gul, told him in a conversation that there are three hundred 'sleeper cells' in Rajasthan alone waiting for activation on order from Islamabad. Taken together with a recent Home Ministry report that ninety two terrorist cells have been neutralized all over the country, this leads to a very threatening image of our Muslim neighbours which is consolidated with the help of repetition.
Still, there is little doubt then that our ever-willing security managers will emulate the precedence set in the United States. President Bush had gone so far as to cite fabricated 'evidence' in gaining the backing of the US Congress for the war on the basis of forged documents provided by the British intelligence on an alleged Niger-Iraq deal for nuclear minerals. Therefore, being alert to the possibility of being lied to in the name of 'security' is essential. This will help preserve democracy and expand the freedoms it promises. There is a continuing need to keep the 'guard up' against over-zealous security managers.