BY RSN SINGH
It is now more than one month that India is without a Navy Chief. Has the Defence Minister reduced India to a ‘Banana Republic’?
In an organization like the armed forces, which prides in tradition and discipline, the appointment of the next Naval Chief should have taken not more than an hour. The delay gives credence to many conspiracy angles, the most robust being the indecision in manipulating the ‘succession plan’ due to conflicting interests of various arms lobbies and vested interests in the country. These interests work on a minimum 10 year perspective because that is the gestation period for major arms deals, i.e. from the proposal to the delivery stage. It may be reiterated that at present India is the largest importer of arms.
In the next decade, India is expected to buy defence equipment worth $100 billion. Earlier, there was not much premium on ‘succession plan’ as the major supplier was the Soviet Union. Ever since the Soviet Union disintegrated and the Russian supplies dwindled, making way for other Western sources, the phenomenon of ‘succession plan’ was introduced. Is it this ‘succession plan’ that is preventing the Defence Minister AK Antony to appoint a Naval Chief?
It is intriguing that an unprecedented number of the accidents have taken place involving Indian naval vessels during Antony’s tenure as Defence Minister. It is also intriguing that these accidents have not taken place in the mid-sea but on the shore. India has done a number of exercises with the foreign navies in the recent past, all without any mishap. Recently, the Indian Navy conducted a massive month-long naval exercise ‘TROPEX 2014’. Around 60 ships and submarines, and 75 aircraft took part in this exercise. This exercise in which both the Western and Eastern Fleet of the Indian Navy participated was again without any mishaps.
When inexplicable accidents took place on the two submarines, i.e. INS Sindhurakshak (August 2013), INS Sindhuratna (February 2014), it was attributed to age related problems. Then there was accident on INS Kolkata (March 2014), guided-missile destroyer under construction at Mumbai’s Mazagon Dock Limited. Before that in January 2014, INS Betwa, indigenously built frigate, collided with an ‘unknown’ object while approaching the Mumbai harbor. Some ships have run aground solely because the Mumbai harbor had deliberately not been dredged for several years despite implorations by the Indian Navy. Since August 2013, there have been 11 mishaps in the Indian Navy.
All mishaps/accidents, Mr Defence Minister, it is reiterated happened on the shore. It is a clear case of subversion and sabotage.
The Navy being headless for more than a month also appears to be a case of subversion and sabotage.
The Defence Minister and the government had absolutely no business to accept the resignation of Admiral Joshi before his successor was in place. In somewhat a similar situation that this author is in the know, when the former Army Chief Gen VK Singh offered to resign, the megalomaniac and trusted babus of Antony insisted that they would not allow him to resign as that would upset their ‘succession plan’. They taunted that the General served at the pleasure of the President and therefore had no choice but to serve as long as the President’s pleasure on the recommendation of the government persisted. There are many unsavory stories in the air regarding the underlying reasons for Admiral Joshi’s resignation. Admiral Joshi is too much of a professional and gentleman to vent the real reasons, if any, in public. But the alacrity with which the Defence Minister accepted his resignation and his deliberate procrastination in appointing the next Naval Chief smacks of influence of undesirable and may be inimical forces.
If it takes this long to select a Naval Chief from amongst men of dedication, discipline and integrity; surely then there is subversion and sabotage.
The image of the other two services, i.e. Indian Army and Indian Air Force, have no less been damaged during Antony’s tenure. In the case of Army, the Defence Minister has to explain, as to on whose behest did he resend for clarification to the Law Ministry about the ‘Date of Birth’ of Gen VK Singh, after the Joint Secretary in the Ministry had ruled in favour of the General. Antony as a god fearing politician must answer this. The world otherwise knows the truth. By the way, the Defence Minister should know that in filing his nomination papers for the forthcoming parliamentary elections, the General has given his ‘Date of Birth’ as reflected in his matriculation certificate. Was it such a tricky issue? Why this desperation for a ‘succession plan’?
The Air Force has also come under flak indirectly because of charges of kickbacks in the AgustaWestland deal to former Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi. As per the Italian authorities, the former Air Chief received only a small portion of the kickbacks out of the total Rs 350 crores. Intriguingly, the Italians shut their mouth after making this allegation, but not without some threatening insinuations against other quarters! While the Defence Minister has been quiet on the other possible beneficiaries, he had no qualms in the former Air Chief becoming the fall guy. Were there no other politicians or bureaucrats who received kickbacks? A Defence Minister cannot be selective in honesty and integrity.
Moreover, the Defence Minister also needs to explain that why is it that most leakages about kickbacks in arms deals like Bofors, AgustaWestland or Rolls Royce engines, are from foreign soil. It is surely not out of great attributes of propriety that these Western countries have. On the contrary, most of these are rouge countries in financial matters and with respect to arms market. Arms deals are often used as a tool of diplomatic blackmail. It is therefore not surprising that the trajectory of the Italian Marines case and selective leakage of the AgustaWestland deal fluctuate correspondingly. One engenders the other.
Most of the Western countries thrive on illegal and ill-gotten money of anti-national elements in the developing country, be it politicians, bureaucrats, terrorists and outfits like LTTE, Maoists, Kashmiri separatists, etc. A portion of that money is used to effect ‘succession plans’ in the armed forces of the target countries and in propping NGOs to implement their political agenda. Some reports attribute that there was a clear linkage between Anna’s agitation at Ramlila Maidan and American support as the latter was so peeved with the Indian establishment in not getting F-16 deal, that it kept its embassy without an Ambassador for nearly eight months during the period. It was also during this period, that the US Intelligence personnel in the Embassy had an overwhelming role.
A little noticed affair was that India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) awarded a $1 billion repeat contract on December 27, 2013 for six additional C-130J Hercules transport aircraft. It was during this period that there was an unprecedented diplomatic hiatus between India and the US owing to Devyani Khobragade affair. Ostensibly, the Indian establishment showed lot of umbrage over the issue of spiriting away husband of Devyani’s maid from India by the US authorities. But that was for public consumption. In the garb of that umbrage the government persisted with the deal. The least it could have done for the sake of honour of the country was to suspend the deal. Moreover, this deal was at a time when there is more pressing requirement of MMRCA, a $12 billion deal which is finalized with Dassault France, but not signed on one pretext or the other.
The systematic blacklisting of companies by the MoD does raise doubts whether it is a deliberate ploy to make a financial bonanza by vested interests or weaken the country or to kill options so that the only avenue that remains open is the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route.
How is it possible that under the Defence Minister’s watch, a DPSU, i.e. Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) was making windfall profits from the Indian Army? How is it that while the country had the Transfer of Technology (ToT) from the manufacturers of Bofors for production of 155mm guns, we were desperately scouting for the same in the international market? The trials of these indigenous guns have the by and far successful. Which are these forces trying to kill India’s indigenous efforts? The Indian Navy’s track record with regard to indigenization has been most impressive. Today, more than 70 percent of the Navy’s inventory is indigenized. Then why this sudden flurry of accidents and abuses with regard to our indigenous capabilities? There a host of commentators who are being paid to decry the DRDO, day in and day out. Their writings would still be acceptable if it had positive suggestions, but most of them border on pressing the canard that Indians are incapable.
It is during Antony’s tenure that an officer of the Military Intelligence, Lt Col Purohit, has been in civil custody for many years without a charge-sheet. He probably committed the sin of infiltrating into Indian Mujahideen (IM) and LeT. As and when the truth about the Technical Support Division (TSD) raised in wake of 26/11 is revealed, the country may not forgive the architects of the Court of Inquiry. The only mistake probably this TSD committed was to give hell to the terrorists. Is it surprising therefore that beheadings of our jawans have taken place and their severed heads taken around Pakistan to mobilize jihadis for recruitment? Is it surprising that the clamour from vested interests for removal of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) has been most strident under this Defence Minister? Is it surprising that ethnic cleansing was attempted in Kishtwar? Is it surprising that the Chinese were emboldened to occupy Indian territory in Depsang in pursuance of their geopolitical interests?
The moot questions therefore are: whether the image of the armed forces grown or diminished under the stewardship of Antony, whether there has been accretion or depletion of fighting wherewithal of the armed forces, and whether the secured space in India has increased or shrunk.
Antony is a politician who compels a drastic relook of the very concept of corruption in the country. Is corruption only personal integrity and financial propriety? It is touted that he is upright because he had once resigned as the Chief Minister of Kerala, when his party suffered rout in Lok Sabha election in 2004. In India, unfortunately, most instances of resignation have been used as a tool for higher political office. Most of such characters are politically devious, who know how to cloak their dishonesty with the garb of integrity. Integrity is the basic imperative for any human being. So this oft repeated assertion that a particular politician or bureaucrat is honest, and therefore fit to occupy high office, is misplaced contention as it is based on the premise that all politicians and bureaucrats are inherently corrupt. The cloak of financial integrity cannot be an excuse for inefficiency, ineffectiveness and manipulations.
A Defence Minister, who cannot take political risks and allows his country’s defence preparedness to be compromised, deliberately or otherwise, can be a good politician but definitely not a patriot.
(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 with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)