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Gun for the real issue

Formulate measures to safeguard the army from the designs of the corrupt

india Updated: Apr 01, 2012 22:51 IST
Vivek Gumaste

The brouhaha spawned by the revelation that the army chief General VK Singh was offered R14 crore as a quid pro quo for sanctioning substandard equipment brings to the fore a fatal flaw that continues to dog our cognitive thought process; a debilitating defect that blurs our logical acuity and thwarts our ability to arrive at a fruitful decision.

In fact, we are past masters in lateral thinking. Instead of focusing on the primary issue, we revel in scatterbrained polemics and get fixated on secondary matters. The result: we lose sight of our primary goal.

Analyse the trajectory of the debate in the wake of the bribery controversy: first, the Congress spokesman skirts the main issue and responds with a countercharge in an attempt to deflect the allegation and pin the blame on the general himself by questioning his inertia in pursuing the matter. Next, the General's integrity is questioned by emphasising the timing of his allegation and its temporal relationship to his birth date controversy.

Despite the questionable timing of the allegation and the general's relative inaction, one cannot deny that he did what was expected of him. He reported the matter to his boss, the minister for defence. Whether he could have done more is open to debate, and makes him partially liable. Nevertheless, his communication puts the ball squarely in AK Antony's court. He must bear the blame for this oversight.

Corruption has always existed in the army. But what makes this case disturbing is its scope. The intent was to co-opt the topmost man in this web of corruption in order to snuff out the last line of resistance. It also speaks of the audacity of the corruption mafia that has the gumption to approach the army chief with such a demeaning offer.

That an issue of such grave magnitude was allowed to smoulder with no decisive action cannot be ascribed to mere gubernatorial nonchalance but must be classified as negligence. Moreover, technicalities like the lack of a written complaint cannot be used as an excuse. Personal honesty per se has no utility value. It must translate into tangible benefit for society to be of relevance. For this, added factors like courage and decisiveness are required. While it is true that both Antony and the General are men with impeccable credentials, why did they baulk at taking on the corruption mafia and its political masters is the million-dollar question.

The government has a lot to answer with regards to this imbroglio. While a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry is important, a debate in Parliament is essential to formulate and implement measures to safeguard the army from the designs of the corrupt.

Vivek Gumaste is a US-based academic and political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal.