‘Hooda Task Force’: hoodwinking the gullible?

L Subramanyan

The Congress party’s plan to set up a ‘Task Force on National Security’ to prepare a vision paper for the country, after the Pulwama episode, has left many in the country rather confused.

Firstly, what is the locus standi of this task force? Despite the impressive credentials of Gen. Hooda, a much decorated and superbly competent armyman, what purpose will the report ‘on strategy to guard the borders’ will really serve?

Two scenarios emerge: one, the Congress wins the elections and forms a government: alone or a coalition. And the second, the National Democratic Alliance wins the elections and continues to govern the country for the next five years.

In either case, what are the sanctity and import of the report of the Hooda task force? In case, the Congress does manage to form the government, will the report form the backbone of the national strategy for counter-terrorism and border security?

Does it mean that the designated agencies – the defense forces, the BSF, the other para-military forces, will have to follow the Hooda doctrine? Where does that leave the serving officers, the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) and the other Services chiefs? Will it be that the CoAS, will have to follow the diktats of the task force, prepared under the stewardship of another retired armyman?

I am not questioning the credentials or the capability of Gen. Hooda. I am just questioning the propriety of making the serving CoAS subservient to an extra-constitutional body.

Let us stretch this argument a little further. The President of India is the Supreme Commander of the defence forces in India. So, will the Hooda doctrine be thrust upon the Supreme Commander of the defence forces?

What happens if the Hooda report does not serve the purpose due to any change in the situation? Who will take responsibility for the same?

Why does the Congress party and its president believe that the Army and the defence forces are not capable of creating a strategy? Why do they even believe that such a strategy does not exist, merely because of one tragic event?

Does Rahul Gandhi really believe that the defence forces, which have sacrificed so much in Kashmir and other places, are doing all this without a strategic thought? What is the message that RaGa is giving to the current defence establishment by appointing a such a senior, albeit retired soldier, to create a vision?

Of course, if the NDA retains power, then the primary use of the task force will be only be to feed the television channels when they run out of issues to debate, and nothing more.

Is the ‘Hooda Task Force’, somewhat akin to the erstwhile UPA’s National Advisory Council, which was outside the institutional and Constitutional ambit but had extensive powers?

Rahul Gandhi’s actions are probably borrowed from the US presidential elections, where the challenger, typically prepares and presents own ‘vision’ for the country, should (s)he wins. However, if (s)he does, then the advisors who are a part of creating the vision, become a part of the government and formally join the President to rule.

In the Indian context, this is just not possible, unless Gen. Hooda agrees to become the nation’s defence minister and the other members of the task force are given Constitutional mandate.

The good General has already clarified that he is not joining the Congress or any other political party and neither is he fighting the elections.

Assuming that to be true, what does Raga gain by setting up this task force?

At another level, this smacks of politicising the Pulwama terror attack, something that RaGa had agreed not to do. Simply put, Rahul Gandhi is playing to the political galleries.

The Congress and its allies have decided that they have had enough of ‘non-politicisation of Pulwama’ and now want to extract the maximum juice that they can from the incident.

At one level, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Didi questions the timing of the attack, playing right into the hands of the Pakistani spokesperson, who said exactly the same thing in his press briefing as did Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The Congress spokesperson complains about the PM coming late by an hour when the coffins of the martyrs came in, et cetera: issues which are more in the realm of scoring political points rather than raising ‘non-partisan’ issues.

The other, equally sad, conclusion is that perhaps unwittingly, Gen. Hooda has allowed himself to become a part of the political chess during an election year.

The ultimate beneficiaries of this report will be none other than the breathless TV anchors who get another story to feed the gullible public, continue their bizarre shouting matches, and wash the dirty linen of the country’s defence forces in full global glare.

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