Like the Biblical Samson who brought the house down on himself and the Philistines, the Indian Army chief, General VK Singh, appears determined to leave a wake of destruction behind before he demits office. After an extremely messy and controversial spat with the government about his age, a battle he lost, he has now made the sensational disclosure that he was offered a Rs 14 crore bribe to buy 600 substandard trucks for the army in 2010. He claims he told the defence minister about this upon which Mr AK Antony apparently hit his forehead and said that people who offer bribes should be kept out and also asked the General to pursue the matter but he did not. General Singh might also like to enlighten the nation as to why he left it at just a verbal communication to the defence minister. As the army chief, he could have instituted an inquiry and pinned down the culprit. He could have ordered an inquiry into the past purchases of such vehicles. The minister too could have also called for an inquiry. None of this was done, yet General Singh has seen it fit to raise the issue at this juncture.
The Indian Army is the one institution which people still have faith in. Despite scandals in the past, the army is still respected for being relatively clean and disciplined. But General Singh who is meant to lead from the front has now raised numerous suspicions about the institution he heads. In doing so, he leaves behind a burdensome legacy for his successor. To make matters worse, a week ago, the Army named a former defence intelligence chief as having offered bribes on behalf of a particular company. Naturally, the issue has become political. As a soldier of long standing, it cannot have escaped General Singh that he could have sorted out both the age issue and that of the alleged bribe in private. Instead, he chose to make it public. This leads to the suspicion that he might be attempting to put pressure on the government, first on the age issue and now to exact some sort of retribution. The defence minister too should answer why he chose to keep quiet about something so damaging on his watch.
Now, that a CBI probe has been ordered, General Singh should come clean. This issue cannot be left hanging fire since it affects the very foundations of the army. It is also vital that the probe looks into the performance of trucks purchased in the past and ascertain whether they are indeed substandard as General Singh alleges. There is no doubt that the timing raises extreme suspicions. But, a transparent and speedy probe should clear up all lingering doubts. General Singh may feel that après moi le deluge, but the army cannot function on the whims of individuals. General Singh should also know that firing from some one else's shoulder is the last thing a soldier worth his medals would do. And certainly not at the end of a distinguished career.