New Delhi: Newspaper leaks suggest that the Indian army is embarked on a cost-cutting drive. It is further hinted that the army could give up its cantonments to local municipalities to save on maintenance while retaining the sensitive establishments within them. Cutting overheads is welcome, but in this case, it does not tell the whole story.

These cost cuts will only have a marginal impact over a few years to be followed by old and new regressions. Some of the proposed cuts are not even genuine. Transferring cantonments to the care of municipalities shifts expenditures from one wing of government to another. How does it qualify as cost-cutting? It is no different from the legerdemain of compelling LIC to take over NPA-ridden IDBI or forcing the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust to buy the Air India building in Nariman Point. Neither constitutes disinvestment.

And what is the sense of prodigiously leaking about army cost cuts when Kashmir is bleeding both the army and the country outrageously? Since May 2014 when Narendra Modi came to power, the Jammu and Kashmir situation has rapidly deteriorated. Internally, the army has been deployed to an extent not seen since the mid-Nineties. The view of the forces is that they could do no better, and that it takes more and more to keep the violence from brimming over. It is as the Red Queen tells Alice, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

Meanwhile, the trans-border India-Pakistan artillery duels have reached a peak as to spread mayhem in civilian zones on both sides. Pakistan is now almost entirely equipped and funded by China in its hostilities with India. India, however, has to curtail its social and economic spending to fund the expanding clashes with Pakistan.

The overall costs of securing Kashmir have dramatically risen because of the Modi regime’s pseudo-nationalism. The regime taunted previous governments for the continuing Kashmir dispute and adopted a muscular approach anticipating magical results. Disaster is what the regime has magically produced in the border state. Now further disaster is in the offing. The regime is trying to split its former coalition partner, the PDP, to form a government of its own in Jammu and Kashmir. Mehbooba Mufti, the leader of the estranged partner and the former chief minister of the state, has warned of a repeat of 1987 when rigged elections turned Kashmiris militant. If Kashmir flares up again, the army’s cost cutting programme will be burnt to a cinder.

If the hole in the bucket keeps getting bigger, how will minimal water conservation help?

And the thousand cuts are not restricted to Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir. After the provocative action in Doklam, China has every reason to suspect Indian intentions and has consequently turned its focus to the northeast frontier. Doklam was followed by Narendra Modi’s genuflection in Wuhan which has alerted the Chinese to the limits of Indian capacity and political will. China is distracted by North Korea and the trade war with Donald Trump’s America and is, for the moment, satisfied with Modi’s tribute. What happens after China’s external pressure points ease? They could occur quite unexpectedly. However, Indian military assets are deployed in strength on the frontier with China given the fluid situation. At the same time, the Modi regime believes, without the smallest substance, that China has turned benign towards India. Leave aside for the moment the confusion all this creates in the military posture. How does cost cutting square with the increased threat from China, not to speak of the collusive Sino-Pakistan threat?

Defence spending cuts are welcome because they benefit investments in society and in instruments of economic growth. But the current cost-cutting measures are a charade. Not only do they not convince, they give a poor impression of the army. The focus needs to change. The bleeding in Jammu and Kashmir and to an extent in the northeast has to be staunched. The Modi government has not thought of that.

There are ways of scaring off the Chinese in the northeast. And with political sensitivity and wisdom, the internal bleeding in Jammu and Kashmir could be minimized. This would appreciably shore up the financial and general wellbeing of the army in particular and the military as a whole. But the ultra-nationalistic regime cannot think and act sensibly. So the country has to suffer idiotic leaks about cost cutting which make not the smallest sense. The nation is haemorrhaging at the frontiers while the new farce in town advertises Band-Aid.