India needs War Cabinets (Part 3)

What is a war cabinet? Here is a definition from Wikipedia: “A war cabinet is a committee formed by a government in a time of war. It is usually a subset of the full executive cabinet of ministers. It is also quite common for a war cabinet to have senior military officers and opposition politicians as members.”

The most famous war cabinet was the one created by Churchill during World War 2. From Wikipedia again: “The Churchill war ministry was the United Kingdom’s coalition government for most of the Second World War from 10 May 1940 to 23 May 1945. It was led by Winston Churchill, who was appointed Prime Minister by King George VI following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain in the aftermath of the Norway Debate. At the outset, Churchill formed a five-man War Cabinet which included Chamberlain as Lord President of the Council, Clement Attlee as Lord Privy Seal and later as Deputy Prime Minister, Viscount Halifax as Foreign Secretary and Arthur Greenwood as a minister without portfolio. Although the original war cabinet was limited to five members, in practice they were augmented by the service chiefs and ministers who attended the majority of meetings.”

The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison set up a war cabinet as early as March 15 to tackle the impact from the coronavirus. From The Saturday Paper (March 21): “The newly convened wartime-style national cabinet – with Morrison, the state premiers and the territory chief ministers – met for the second time in four days. The group includes five Labor members and four Liberals… The national cabinet now meets by teleconference every Friday, and more often as required… “Whatever we do, we’ve got to do for at least six months,” Morrison said. “Six months.””

At this time when India faces two (and perhaps a third) crises, India needs to put together war cabinets at all levels – and not just with people from across political parties, but staffed with experts. The healthcare crisis will persist for the next few years – India will need a huge augmentation in hospital beds and medical care at every level. The economic crisis will set India back many years. The government response has been woefully inadequate. And a third crisis may be emerging – the Chinese incursions into Indian territory in Ladakh.

Each of these crises requires expertise to tackle. Politicians and bureaucrats in India have been found wanting even during peacetime. The situation we now face is unprecedented and war-like – the concomitant interplay between the medical and the economic, between lives and livelihoods, between fear and hope. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary decisions – and these will not be made by Indian politicians and bureaucrats whose decision-making has been singularly flawed for the most part since Independence.

Tomorrow: India needs War Cabinets (Part 4)

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.