BY RSN SINGH
The biggest curse for any Indian today is honesty. Had VK Singh accepted the bribe he would have been darling of the establishment and would have rode to the office of governor of some state.
The revelations by the Army Chief regarding an attempt to bribe him by a Lt Gen during the course of an interview with a national daily was known to this author and informed people in the journalist fraternity and otherwise. The fact that there exists evidence by way of a taped conversation between the said Lt Gen and the Army Chief is also not a new input. This author had written about the role of this Lt Gen in trying to bribe the Army Chief at the behest of certain arms supplier in an article, “Who’s trying to fix the Army Chief by raking up his age?” in July 2011. This article was widely circulated.
This offer of bribery was to push the sale of Tatra Vehicles at an exorbitant price. A particular firm was purchasing second-hand Tatra Vehicles and selling it through the Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML) at more than double the cost. Reportedly, while the cost of each vehicle off the shelf was around 30-40 lakhs, there was a bid by the arms lobby to sell it to the Indian Army for about one crore. The Army Chief refused to put the army and the country to such a massive loss of tax-payers money. It is then the said Lt Gen allegedly offered a bribe of 14 crores. When the Army Chief did not relent, the Lt Gen is understood to have pleaded that Army Chiefs before the present incumbent had all played ball and those who will succeed him would also do so. Tatra vehicles have been procured by the Indian Army since 1986.
Significantly, the Army Chief said that he immediately reported the matter to the Defence Minister and offered to quit if he was considered a ‘misfit’. This offer to quit is pregnant in import, and its depth and linkages is yet to unravel.
A conscientious and God fearing Defence Minister did acknowledge in Rajya Sabha that the matter was indeed reported to him and he stated that he sank his head in his hands. Was it because of the conflict between his ‘head and heart’? Or in other words, was it because of the conflict between the Defence Minister’s personal integrity and political integrity or political compulsions?
It is rather well known that the Defence Minister has always held the Army Chief in very high esteem for reasons of personal integrity, something which resonates with his own personality. Some sources have revealed to this author that Mr Antony had almost decided to rule in favour of General VK Singh in respect to the date of birth controversy after the first opinion of the Law Ministry, which categorically upheld the General’s contention. It was then that powers in position superior to Antony compelled him to readdress the case to the Law Ministry. It did weigh heavily on his conscience, and there were political offers and assurances to recompense the hurt caused by the deliberate miscarriage of truth and justice in ways more than one.
The General found it hard to buy the bargain on a basic issue that questioned his character. Notwithstanding the efforts of emissaries he did not relent and offered to resign. The political class prodded by megalomaniac bureaucracy for fear of the ‘succession plan’ being upset in deference to the arms lobby, as also the unacceptable adverse political fallout for reasons of political funding began to threaten the General that should he choose to offer his resignation it would not be accepted.
The General was thus driven to the Supreme Court.
The establishment, more so powers superior to Antony were unnerved by this development, as they were acutely conscious that the General’s case was ‘open and shut’. Leave alone experienced lawyers, even a first year law student will vouch for the fact. What happened thereafter is well known. Every institution in India has probably discredited itself in this age row.
It is not that the Army was not confronted earlier with such instances of discrepancies in date of birth of officers. They are routine and are resolved quickly and appropriately. An exactly similar case was resolved in the late 90s just one day before the retirement of one Colonel Ramesh Chandra Dixit. VK Singh was made the first and last exception. Last exception, because the MoD or the Army Headquarters consequent to their ruling on General VK Singh’s age, cannot legally dare to reiterate that the Army List or the MS Branch enjoy primacy over the AG’s Branch with matters pertaining to date of birth of officers.
What was therefore perpetrated on the Army Chief was a fraud. A fraud so outrageous that it seemingly reduces India to the category of Banana Republics. Who perpetrated this fraud? It was two army chiefs in succession, whose reputations are today asunder for their unsavory deeds and involvement in various scams. Imagine an Army Chief appropriating flats meant for families of Kargil martyrs. Can it get worse? It is no wonder that these army chiefs, who as father figures, should have protected the professional and personal integrity of their subordinates, chose to force General VK Singh to accept a particular date of birth, failing which there was an implied threat that the controversy would be used to derail him. They should have instead apologized for the omissions and commissions of a particular branch of the Army Headquarters. Once the so-called ‘acceptance’ was obtained on the repeated plea of ‘organizational constraints’, the army chiefs began to breath easy. VK Singh’s subsequent pleadings to explain the ‘organizational constraints’ fell on deaf ears. The sigh of relief was because the ‘succession plan’ as desired by the arms lobby was now in place.
The Indian Army and the army personnel as such are not safe under such chiefs.
The bureaucrats became part of the design only after General VK Singh raked the issue of his date of birth as COAS. Four former Chief Justices of India, all of them with impeccable credentials gave opinions in his favour, did not appeal to the moral sense of the Ministry. That the Law Ministry gave an opinion categorically upholding General VK Singh’s stand, did not help. When the General said it was not a question of additional few months, but his honour, it did not help. He was ridiculed, not only by the political and bureaucratic establishment but by some retired generals as well.
These retired generals are now, courtesy television channels, very familiar faces. All of them have a dubious past. One of them was forced to resign from the Army because of IB reports regarding his indiscriminate womanizing habit. The other is known to have run away with his senior’s wife, and the third was in the docks for possessing a false degree. So much for the detractors of General VK Singh!
These characters only testify that the muck in the army has been accumulating over the years. It was quite evident when some Generals awarded themselves shamelessly after the Kargil Conflict.. There was no bravery or operational genius on display on their part. It would have been befitting to send some of them packing. The politics of the day saved them.
Corruption in the arms procurement process is not a new phenomenon. It started soon after independence. There was the Jeep Scandal in VK Krishna Menon’s time. The underpinning of the Tehelka sting operation was also regarding the same corruption. So what is new!
What is alarming and dangerous is the level of influence the arms lobby has acquired that it has begun to decide as to who would be the Army Chief and the length of his tenure. The tentacles of this lobby have penetrated in every conceivable pillar institution of the State. Reportedly, several crores of rupees have been spent by the arms lobby to perpetuate the date of birth fraud on General VK Singh. Such is the depth of influence of the lobby that only a divine intervention can salvage the obvious truth that every ‘straight’ Indian realizes and that is morally and legally General VK Singh’s date of birth is 10 May 1951 and not 10 May 1950 as inflicted by the two army chiefs at the behest of the arms lobby. It is rather depressing to find so many ‘not too straight’ serving officers in the army.
The arms lobby first contrived to inflict date of birth controversy on the General; then launched a media campaign to make him resign by engineering divide between the General and the Defence Minister, as also civil versus military – in that it extolled the integrity of the General while stressing the obduracy of the MoD; then there was an attempt to prevent him from going to court by invoking tradition and precedence; then there was campaign to make him withdraw his case from the Supreme Court; then there was psychological pressure being put on him to resign after the Supreme Court order which says nothing about his date of birth; and when he did not resign then there were desperate moves to get him sacked.
The fabrication of the story regarding the bugging of the Defence Minister’s office at the behest of the General should be seen in this backdrop. The story was so poorly scripted that it fell apart. The writers of this script continue to enjoy impunity. The letter leak (from General to the Prime Minister) should also be viewed in the same vain. The clamour for the Chief’s head by some bizarre quarters was also at the behest of the arms lobby.
A decrepit former diplomat, who messed India’s national security, was pulled out of the cobwebs to suggest that the General should be sent on ‘forced leave’, little realizing that there is no such provision in the Army Law. He did not prefer ‘sacking’ probably due to his own vulnerabilities. Another former diplomat with no locus-standi and no knowledge of army functioning has been taking special delight in VK – bashing. The man, it is apparent, has more than one motivation in doing so. This diplomat claimed that the unprecedented media campaign against General VK Singh unleashed by a daily newspaper published from North was with the tacit approval of the Prime Minister. A prime minister getting after his own Army Chief via the media, if true, can happen only in Banana Republics.
A few years ago one Commander Nadeem was mowed by a truck while he was taking his morning jog on the lawns of Shanti Path in New Delhi. He was dealing with acquisition of some sensitive equipment. There was a strong suspicion on the arms lobby, which has hardly been dispelled. The recent death of a MoD official, Kumar Yashkar Sinha and his wife is also intriguing. Initially the police dubbed the case of being murder by strangulation of the wife by husband followed by ‘suicide’ by the latter by setting himself aflame. The profile of the officer suggests that he was of very strong character and enjoyed great marital harmony with his wife. It is therefore most unlikely that he had any suicidal tendencies. The police based on a letter recovered from the scene of the crime is attributing ‘work pressure’ by some superiors of the official for his alleged suicide. It is bizarre. No person will kill his wife because of his own work pressure. No person will strangulate his wife and then immolate himself. He could well have hung himself instead of choosing such a painful route to suicide. It now emerges that the official was also dealing with RTI in the MoD. Is the murder of the official and his wife the handiwork of the arms lobby? The possibility cannot be ruled out.
The machinations of the arms lobby seem to have subverted the top leadership of the army considerably. One army chief allegedly initiated the culture of political funding by linking the army to the arms lobby – bureaucracy – politician nexus for political funding. The desperation and ruthlessness of the key players and key institutions could well be motivated by 2014 elections.
It is a matter of grave concern that succession plans in the army are being made at the behest of the arms lobby. It is not merely a question of subversion of few people at the top. It has a cascading affect and thus the entire selection system gets vitiated and in the process the entire army gets subverted.
Lord Wavell had predicated the survival of India as one entity on the perseverance of the Indian Army as an effective and irreproachable instrument. This instrument is not fraying from the edges but is under threat from the top. If the slide continues, India would unravel. As it is the State is losing its writ at a frightening pace. If the last bastion crumbles, India will indeed survive as another Banana Republic.
Let us therefore save the Indian Army and save India.
(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a guest blogger for Canary Trap. This post was first published on Firstpost on April 6, 2012)