NPAs weighing down India

A bank’s Non-performing assets (NPAs) are often its nemesis. The same is true for a family, society and nation. In India, we have been tom-tomming demographic dividend as our strength. Ashutosh Misra investigates how NPAs are hurting India

 veerappa moily

If brain power is a nation’s asset then right now India’s balance sheet is loaded with NPAs. The public utterances of two leaders from different fields reveal the intellectual deficit at the top which is among the reasons why India’s sorry state today. The gentlemen being referred to here are India’s petroleum and natural gas minister Veerappa Moily and former chief of Indian Army, General VK Singh. One is from North and the other from the South, so the sample effectively reflects India. Both have been shooting and scooting, going against the adage that it is better to keep quiet and let others question your intellectual capabilities rather than prove them right by opening your mouth.

Moily has been hard-selling childish solutions to India’s oil problems. This includes shutting the petrol pumps from 8 in the night to 8 in the morning and, propagating car pooling and increased use of public transport. The minister says this will help exchequer save money and reduce the subsidy bills but goes on to waste Rs 50 crore of taxpayers’ money through mega fuel conservation campaign and hires Viraat Kohli and Saina Nehwal as brand ambassadors. The gems are sure to keep on flowing out. The minister has earlier been accused by an Indian Member of Parliament (MP) of transferring an honest officer whose stand was proving detrimental to the interests of an Indian oil giant. The MP also accused Moily of helping the same company by delaying the imposition of a $1.8 billion penalty. The minister had questioned the MP’sintegrity because the MP had used leaked documents. Moily must be excused for being a dinosaur in the era of Wikileaks.

At a time when China is becoming a fat-cat bully, India cannot afford to humour intellectually and morally-handicapped overambitious people or their supporters.

The utterances of the second person need to be taken more seriously. The controversy arising out of the response of former chief of Indian Army, General VK Singh, to a so-called secret report being leaked to a newspaper reminded me of an interesting anecdote by a retired official of the Indian Foreign Service. The gentleman had been twice rejected by the Military selection system before he made it to the IFS. Years later when he was an Ambassador, he had a chance encounter with a General at a dinner party he was hosting. After dinner, with the guards down after a peg or two, he told the General about his failure to get into the Army and asked him why despite his strong academic background he had been rejected by the Army. The General said it was exactly because of his intelligence that he was rejected. Intellect is not an asset appreciated for selection in the Army. The General may have said this jocularly to humour the Ambassador but General Singh’s loose talk seems to suggest that the General may have actually spoken the truth.

A soldier is supposed to put the national interest before self-interest. But General Singh has been doing the opposite for quite some time now. First he tried to get an extra year at helm by fighting with the government over his date of birth and now his irresponsible statements have created trouble in a state whose cup of woes is already brimming. As a retired army man he has the right to take his war with the Congress government to the political battlefield but he must ensure that national security does not suffer collateral damage. General Singh has a greater responsibility towards the nation than the Congress leaders, ministers, their crony journalists and officials because he was the Chief of the Indian Army while his opponents are, to borrow a phrase used by Mohinder Amarnath in another context, a bunch of jokers. General Singh must realise that he can harm India in his brawl with the political establishment. He must also be ready to face character assassination attempts as he is now treading the minefield of politics. He enjoys certain brand equity with either an Anna or Narendra Modi or for that matter the media only because he was the Chief of Indian Army. Singh must prove his worth minus his appellation of General to be accepted as a political force or now as they call them civil society. Publicly divulging state secrets does not behove a soldier and creates doubts in the mind of the Indian people whether he is putting up a façade to settle personal scores.

At a time when China is becoming a fat-cat bully, India cannot afford to humour intellectually and morally-handicapped overambitious people or their supporters. The elections of 2014 could be the inflection point after which India either takes off or crashes into the abyss. Those positioning to be part of next government must remember that with great powers, comes great responsibility. The electorate must once again not repeat the mistake of handing the sword to the monkey.

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