Army Chief pushes govt on backfoot?
General VK Singh, Chief of the Army Staff continues to be in the news and the government as well as the political class do not seem to like it one bit. When Singh had gone to the Supreme Court on his age issue, I had written a blog demanding his dismissal for insubordination, which in the armed forces is one of the biggest sins. However, the government of the day held a different view and thus Singh got a reprieve and subsequently withdrew his appeal before the Apex Court realizing that nothing was going to come out of it.
However, in the last one week, two major controversies involving the Army Chief have rocked the corridors of power and the government has so far tried to put up a brave front despite knowing that it was not in a strong position to defend itself. Realizing the sensitivity of the issues raised by the General, the Opposition parties too have tried to play down the matter for the time being.
The first salvo by the General was fired when in an interview to a newspaper and a TV Channel, he claimed that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 Crores to allow the purchase of sub standard trucks. He further claimed that he reported the matter to the defence minister. The allegation was confirmed by the defence minister AK Antony who put the ball back in the Army Chief’s court by stating that he never gave his complaint in writing and secondly he was not interested in any follow up action. Since then, a CBI inquiry has been ordered to probe the entire episode. The alleged incident had taken place a year and a half ago and questions are now being asked as why did the Army Chief say all this now. Similarly, questions are also being asked as to why Antony did not get the matter probed at that point of time and when the complaint had come from the chief of the Army staff, was there a need to wait for a written note. The debate is still waging with experts having different views, which support the conduct of the chief as well as the defence minister. All this was certainly avoidable and if the trucks being supplied are of questionable nature and are being bought at a very inflated price, it is a matter, which requires serious consideration and stern action. At the same time, should the Army chief be going public on what he claimed was a bribe offer from a retired senior officer who had come to meet him in his office.
The latest in this saga of controversies featuring the chief is his letter to the Prime Minister, which has got “leaked” to a section of the media where he talks about the unpreparedness of our armed forces. The letter which was supposed to have been top secret has talked about drawbacks in our infantry, tanks and air cover and how ill equipped the forces were to meet any challenge from any enemy. It is a very serious matter and if true it reflects the state of affairs in our armed forces and shows that no lessons were obviously learnt from the Himalayan Blunder, which took place in the early sixties, when the Chinese invaded India. It was the time when many of our Ordnance factories were making Thermos flasks instead of weapons. The functioning of the defence ministry and its procurement policies need to be reviewed by a high powered team of experts appointed by the Prime Minister.
The other way of looking at this leaked letter is that who was behind this leak? Was it the chief’s office or someone in the defence ministry who wanted to divert the matter from the Tatra truck scandal? As both Arun Jaitley and Sitaram Yechury, both responsible opposition leaders said that the person who leaked the letter should be found out and subjected to the strictest action. The top Chinese leader is in the country and our armed forces as per the contents of the letter seem to be in total disarray. Once the source of the leakage is ascertained, it can lead to heads rolling.
The question, which finally arises, is that has the national security of our country been compromised or is politics within our system involving our politicians and bureaucrats eroding the foundations of our great Nation. Something must be done and very fast.