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Gen VK Singh row: army's the loser

punjab Updated: Oct 01, 2013 09:29 IST
Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)

Every Indian army chief evolves a vision for his army, as he gets ready to sit across that Oakwood high table, once the office table of some illustrious predecessors such as Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck and Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. Some, like Gen K Sundarji, transmit that vision to their officers and some others keep it to themselves but never shift their focus from it. We do not know what was Gen VK Singh's vision for his army.

If it was to cleanse the army of any traces of corruption, he did not go the whole hog against it except for the Siliguri land scam, where he did corner some top-ranking officers. He handled well the bribe offer to him to accept 600 Tatra vehicles and apprised the defence minister of it, and that by itself was enough. It was for the minister to take further action, such as blacklisting Tatra etc.

Besides the upgradation and modernisation of the army, the other area which ought to have been of major concern to him was the army's morale, which had received severe blows from successive central pay commissions, making army service the last preferred career choice for the country's youth. He appears to have lost track and shifted his focus, rather belatedly, to the issue of his date of birth. The government was determined to stall it, merits of the case notwithstanding; even the Supreme Court, from whom he had high hopes of justice, decided to advise him to "sway with the wind."

Top-secret letter

During this period, the government became revengeful. First came that crude story of a coup, leaked out to a gullible newspaper (remember the leaked story of the defence secretary being called back from a foreign tour and summoning of the director general, military operations, at midnight) and the leak of that top-secret letter from the army chief to the PM, in the absurd hope that suspicion would stick on him. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) buried the case of the letter leak, which had serious implications for national security, because the finger of suspicion turned towards a low-ranking lady officer of the cabinet secretary.

Unfortunately, the matter did not end there. Gen VK Singh's sharing the stage with Narendra Modi at an ex-servicemen rally in Rewari (Haryana) triggered yet another set of innuendos by the 'dirty tricks department' of the government. The first and rather frivolous charge being that Gen VK Singh engineered a public interest litigation (PIL) in an alleged fake encounter against the present army chief by paying money to an NGO from intelligence funds, all this to alter the line of succession in the army. The present chief was a brigade commander when a 70-year-old man had died, maybe as part of collateral damage, in an encounter by his troops. In this case and during Gen VK Singh's tenure, the army had defended the case as a genuine encounter.

TSD operations

The more serious charge being (again part of an internal report of the army that had been put aside by the ministry of defence for nearly six months) that secret funds from the Technical Services Department (TSD), an intelligence unit of the army, were paid to a minister in Jammu and Kashmir to topple the very government where he was, and is, a minister. Firstly, the TSD was not raised by Gen VK Singh, as is being alleged, but by his predecessor on the instructions of the national security adviser (NSA) and with the approval of the defence minister. By its very nature, TSD operations were 'top secret'. In that event, the government should neither have brought out the TSD's existence nor publicised its working. The same should have been the stance of Gen VK Singh in that infamous interview on TV channels. The allegation of tapping the defence minister's telephone turned out to be equally silly.

Since army deployment on internal security duties in J&K appeared unending, the army started a project, Sadhbhavana, which was aimed at gaining the confidence of the local population, veering them away from the influence of separatists etc. For such activities, the Centre provides funds. Sometimes, parts of these funds were handed over to the departments concerned of the government to undertake and/or assist the army. Possibly, to meet the shortfall in funds, some money from intelligence funds, too, may have been diverted. In the allegation where money was paid to a minister, the fact is that it was given to the minister's department to organise cricket tournaments etc. to engage the youth in fruitful activities.

Judicial probe

Politicians in J&K have taken umbrage to Gen VK Singh's revelations and are vociferous in demanding an inquiry and action against him. If so required, let his conduct be investigated by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court. However, it needs to be told that army chiefs do not micromanage intelligence funds or any other activity of the army.

Since Independence, India has poured billions of rupees (other than funds from intelligence agencies) into J&K and much of these have ended up in the pockets of politicians. Let the union government state how much money has been given to the state since Independence and let the assets of J&K's political leaders be investigated by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court. The outcome of such an inquiry will shock the nation. Also, tell us the number of people in the Kashmir valley who pay income tax!

Finally, in this spat between the government and Gen VK Singh, it's the army which has been damaged the most: its cohesiveness as well as integrity.