George: Best Defence Minister Ever!
I had to write this blog. As a soldier I owe it to George & as an old guy connected with India’s youth I must tell them that a man like George existed, who occupied a powerful position, was untouched by the trappings of power, was absolutely approachable and wearing a crumpled ‘kurta-pyjama’ was loved by the spit & polish inclined Services. He was the best Defence Minister we have had till date and I can safely say that we will not have in the future.
Becoming Defence Minister
That George, an atheist, became Defence Minsiter in the Vajpayee government which came to power through ‘Kamandal Politics’ led by Advani itself is strange. George was a socialist and democrat at heart. As a former minister in Janata Party he was responsible for driving out Coca-Cola from India, which in my view (being a follower of Manmohan & Yashwant Sinha school of economics) was illogical. He, however, followed socialist ideology. George’s hatred for Congress brand of dynastic politics was stronger than his opposition to the right wing and thus he joined the Vajpayee government. It is important to note that Vajpayee was himself a great democrat with great respect for opposing views. George, being a fearless rebel, with practically no love for power at the expense of compromising with values, could never have been a minister in the Indira, Rajiv or Modi (sycophancy promoting) governments.
Why Services Loved George?
The Services have experienced leaders like Krishna Menon (disliked), Nehru, Indira, Jagjivan Ram, Mulayam Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Antony & in recent times Jaitley (disliked), Parrikar and Sitharaman. These persons as leaders for the Services, were/are hardly formidable. They either did not understand the security needs as Servicemen perceive (Indira, Jagjivan, Mulayam, Pranab, Antony & Sitharaman) or believed that they were/are too smart for the Servicemen (Nehru, Menon & Jaitley). Servicemen like people who are just okay, neither dumb nor over-smart.
George, with his roots as a trade union leader, competence in Hindi as well as English and great intellect could connect well with the soldiers as well as the top Services commanders and understand the requirements of the Services. He genuinely wanted to improve the living conditions of the troops & Vajpayee had to listen to him. He loved the soldiers more than the bureaucracy of the MOD.
Snow Scooters & MIG 21
No Defence Minsiter would have visited Siachen more than George. That he sent the bureaucrats sitting on the files of snow scooters for Siachen on punishment to Siachen and expedited their procurement is part of South Block folklore. MIG 21s were/are talked about as ‘flying coffins’.He flew in MIG 21 to raise the morale of the Air Force. George thus came closer to my idea of 56”chest than what we hear these days!
During the time when George was the DM India won the Kargil War (it was publicized less by the government than the ‘Surgical Strikes’ by Modi). It remains a fact that Kargil War was won primarily due to the sheer bravery of junior leaders than any great strategic planning & there was Pokhran-II.
The major mobilization exercise, OP PARAKRAM was in my view a bad idea, particularly in the light of the unnecessary loss of lives, laying of mines and hardships caused to people living in the border areas. The responsibility for this I will give more to Vajpayee than George. This exercise did of course deter Musharraf but in my view the cost was too high.
George’s tenure as DM had its share of blemishes like the ‘Tehelka Expose’’ Coffin gate’ scandal and the sacking of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. Soon after becoming the DM, George had stated the truth that China posed the biggest threat to India. Under political pressure he had to go back on his words. In the ‘Tehelka’ case George had to resign but was reinstated. George was not trying to make money for himself or his party hence he came out clean in the first two cases. In the Vishnu Bhagwat case I hold him responsible for demoralizing the Navy. The Kargil War had highlighted the need for a CDS. George was the man who could have got it done. I don’t expect even the next government to be able to resolve this issue.
Politicians and leaders like George don’t exist today. There is too much love for power & money & much lowered sense of values. George was better than all his predecessors as the Defence Minister since independence; he has no competition with the current or future generation of Defence Ministers because we don’t have such guys today. It will be good for the current generation to know that guys like George actually existed in India.