It is an old adage that sensitive Government information nearly always leaks from the highest levels. In New Delhi, the epicentre of Governmental power lies opposite the Rashtrapati Bhavan, along the majestic Rajpath, in two Government buildings facing each other, respectively named as North Block and South Block. North Block houses the Ministries of Finance and Home Affairs and the offices of the secretive Intelligence Bureau. South Block houses the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Defence, together with offices of the three Service Chiefs and their principal service advisers.
Such is the mystique and aura of the North and South Blocks, that even those who have been allotted spacious offices elsewhere, avoid moving from their present ones. The Army, with space allocated elsewhere in a new ‘Sena Bhavan’, prefers to have its bosses sitting in the South Block. The prestigious Ministry of External Affairs now has spacious offices not too far away, but the Minister, Secretaries and other high officials see merit in remaining closeted in their current portals of state power. Interestingly, the new offices of the Ministry of External Affairs, which should more appropriately have been named ‘Videsh Bhavan’, (the Ministry of Railways is housed in ‘Rail Bhavan’, the Ministry of Industries in ‘Udyog Bhavan’ and so on) has been named ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan’. Officials required to move to the new premises are miffed, because there are scores of buildings in Delhi bearing the name of Jawaharlal Nehru.
North and South Blocks are, however, today the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. Both these imperial buildings are now seen as centres where Ministers and Ministries leak information that reflects poorly on Governmental functioning, and sometimes portrays petty personal rivalries between persons who occupy high offices. The identities of those who leak, are the centre of public curiosity and attention. When the embarassing record of decisions on the 2G scam by the then Finance Minister, were leaked, the source of the leaks was immediately acknowledged across Delhi as being from a section of the North Block. Likewise, when information about the alleged bugging of the office of the Finance Minister was leaked, it was believed to have come from the same side of North Block. Finally, when a sensational story, severely embarrassing the Ministry of Defence by alluding to fears of a possible army coup one night was published, the leak was immediately attributed to sources in the other end of North Block.
South Block has not been free from this malady. Controversies around the former Army Chief were accompanied by series of mutually conflicting news items, believed to have been leaked by the controversial Chief’s supporters on the one hand, and the infuriated IAS bureaucracy in the Ministry of Defence, on the other. Never before had independent India been subject to such mudslinging from the portals of South Block. But the saga of leaks has not yet ended. When Defence Minister A K Anthony announced in Parliament that not much could be expected from talks with Pakistan on Siachen, he added: “The two sides have to first agree to authentication of respective ground positions on the 110 kilometres of the actual Ground Position Line along the Saltoro Ridge. Only then, can delineation on map and ground, and finally, demarcation of the agreed border, happen.” This evidently upset those who were advocating an early withdrawal of Indian forces. They duly leaked a story to a national daily, extolling the virtues of accommodating Pakistan’s demands, by providing selective transcripts of sensitive documents on negotiations with Pakistan in 1992. Quite obviously, for those who leaked this story, placating the terrorism-sponsoring Pakistan Army appeared more important than safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity. The question is, was the leak in any way linked to a possible visit by the Prime Minister to Islamabad later this year? Moreover, do such leaks enhance the credibility of the Government?
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own
Parthasarathy is a former diplomat