Kolkata: The Ministry of Defence has directed that geo-tagged ‘selfie points’ be set up by all its constituent departments and organisations in key cities to “showcase good works done in Defence.” These ‘selfie points’ promise to be three-dimensional tableaux. All of these have a single mandatory feature – a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The government has a target of setting up 822 such selfie points.
The note, issued by the Controller General of Defence Accounts on October 9, 2023, mentions that each selfie point will tackle broad “themes” – which are invariably government catchphrases – that fall roughly within their ambit.
The Defence Public Sector Undertakings and three services, for instance, will set up selfie points under the theme Atmanirbhar Bharat, or ‘self-reliant India.’ The three services will also have ‘Sashaktikaran’ or ’empowerment’. Meanwhile, the Defence Research and Development Organisation and Department of Defence Production will have ‘research and development and innovation.’
The direction note, signed by the joint secretary (coordination) of the Department of Defence, and up on the website, says that each department must submit ‘action-taken reports’ to relevant officials and the additional director general of media and communications by October 11.
Former Chiefs: ‘Should never have been contemplated’
The decision has sparked sharp criticism from former chiefs who have pointed to the proximity of the elections and the traditional distance between political campaigns of this sort and the defence ministry.
Retired General and former chief of army staff Ved Prakash Malik told The Wire that he believes that the armed forces “should stay away from politics,” and that there must also “be no attempt to politicise them.”
“That is neither in the interest of the armed forces nor the nation,” the general said, noting that he has dedicated an entire chapter titled ‘Leave us alone, we are apolitical’ in his book on Kargil.
Admiral Arun Prakash, former Naval chief, told The Wire that this is a programme that “should never” have been contemplated and would have a negative long-term impact on the forces.
“I am not quite clear about the concept underpinning the “selfie points” programme, but with the general election looming, any endeavour which even remotely involves the armed forces with political influencing, can only ring alarm bells. The MoD should never have contemplated this, and one hopes the military leadership will explain the deleterious long-term impact of politics on the morale & cohesion of our professional forces,” the Admiral said.
The additional director general of media and communications, was expected to make a presentation today (Friday, October 13) to the defence minister on the ‘progress on development of selfie-points, the notice says.
The Controller General of Defence Accounts has cleared ‘selfie points’ at nine cities – New Delhi, Nasik, Prayagraj, Kollam, Pune, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Guwahati and Meerut.
A public relations note released by the defence ministry notes that the decision to set these up was taken in a September 14 meeting chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. It also highlights that they must be “set up at prominent locations, which have maximum footfall and potential of attracting public attention.” The ministry has added examples of war memorials, defence museums, train, metro and bus stations, airports, malls, schools, colleges, market places, tourist destinations and even festival gatherings.
Along with Modi’s image, each of these points must enable “people to get the feeling of being a part of the initiative,” the ministry has said.
The concerned department will also have to set up a feedback mechanism, through a dedicated app, social media handles (“with a catchy ID”), emails and WhatsApp accounts – all of which people can use to send the department their selfies.
From Atmanirbharta to NCC expansion
The note has a detailed breakdown of how many selfie points each organisation under each wing is expected to set up. The Indian Army is saddled with 100, for instance. The National Cadet Corps together have 30. The expected total, as mentioned at the beginning, is 822.
The Controller General of Defence Accounts’ October 9 note says that the themes to be followed are:
i. Pension Benefits
ii. Leveraging Techniques
iii. Release of Allowances
iv. Women Empowerment
v. Clean India
In visual aids given to the departments, the selfie points appear to cover all manner of government schemes and policies, from ‘vaccine and yoga’ to ‘Ujjawala Yojana’ to ‘Jal Jeevan Mission.’
Commentator and former defence ministry official Amit Cowshish said that while informing people of the good done by government organisations is not necessarily a bad idea but the creation of such a measure may end up affecting the intention negatively.
“Considering the uncomplimentary view most people have of the government organisations, it’ll do no harm if they get to know of some good work also done there, but creating selfie points seems a case of implausible outreach. It’ll divert the attention of the organisations from the work they are supposed to be doing,” Cowshish said.
Last month, media reports said that the Indian Army had passed an order to all its soldiers going on leave – soldiers are entitled to avail themselves of 60 days of annual leave – to spend time doing “social service” to enhance “nation-building efforts”. The bid to get soldiers on leave to “talk to the local community” about Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan, Rashtriya Ucchtar Shiksha Abhiyan, SAKSHAM, Samagra Shiksha, Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan, Ayushman Bharat Yojana, and Jan Aushadhi Kendra, the benefits of insurance scheme like National Pension Scheme (NPS), Atal Pension Yojana, livestock insurance, Rashtriya Swasth Bima Yojana, Deendayal Gramin Kaushalya Yojana, and Gram Jyoti Yojana – were sharply criticised as attempts to draw the armed forces into politics.
(With inputs from Siddharth Varadarajan)