In the first ever candid admission by a retired general, former chief of the army staff Gen VK Singh claimed that the army was not in favour of carrying out the task of flushing out heavily armed militants from the Golden Temple in June 1984.
"I can share this information with you that the army had said no," he claimed here on Thursday when mediapersons repeatedly quizzed him on Operation Bluestar.
Pointing out that he was a major in the army in 1984, the retired general claimed that the then army chief had not been in favour of the army being involved in this operation. "I share this information with due respect to him as he is no more," he said without taking the name of Gen AK Vaidya, who was the army chief then.
"As the 1984 operation was a political decision, the army was dutybound to carry it out. We must remember that in a democratic set up the army operates under a political set up and has to obey orders," Gen Singh said without pinpointing the reasons for the army's opposition.
Initially, the retired general-turned-anti-corruption crusader was evasive in his reply on Operation Bluestar saying he was cent pe rcent sure that the army must have opposed the decision of the government to send its officers and jawans into the shrine. However, later, he gave a more direct reply saying the army had said "no" to taking part in the operation.
"Only the army understands what it is like being deployed against your own countrymen," he said.
Asked about his views on involving the army in the 1984 Golden Temple operation, Gen Singh said, "One can never tell without going into the ground realities that must have existed in 1984. Until this issue is debated in detail, one cannot give a direct answer."
Turning to the Naxal problem, he pointed out that during his tenure as chief of the army staff, this problem was discussed and the question of involving the army in anti-Naxal operations came up for discussion. "However, ultimately the army was not involved as we felt that Naxalism was a socio-economic problem," he revealed.
However, on the army role in Jammu and Kashmir, the former chief made it clear that the armed forces had a definite role as J&K was a part of India. Moreover, J&K was facing a proxy war which was being financed and abetted from somewhere else, he added.
Questioned on corruption in defence deals and the recent controversial Agusta Westland VVIP helicopter deal involving kickbacks, Gen Singh claimed that the involvement of serving defence personnel in such deals was very limited. He, however, offered no comments on the chopper deal on the grounds that the probe was still on.
"Defence personnel are generally involved in making the QR (qualitative requirement) report followed by the technical evaluation and testing of the defence systems. At this stage, the scope for corruption is limited. The actual corruption starts thereafter when political decision making comes in to finalise the deal," he observed.
The former chief felt that corruption in defence deals could only be curtailed if the entire system in the procurement circle was made transparent. He strongly opposed the 'lowest bidder' rule as this often led to quality being sacrificed for the price.
Awareness march from March 31
Earlier on his arrival here, Gen Singh held discussions with members of his Jan Loktantrik Morcha and with other like-minded groups like Aam Aadmi Party and India Against Corruption. The aim was to chalk out the programme for the nationwide Jan Loktantrik march which the former army chief proposes to start from the holy city on March 31.
"We will commence this march after paying obeisance at the Golden Temple and the Durgiana Mandir and also after paying homage to the martyrs at Jallianwala Bagh. The march will move through all states of the country," he said while pointing out that the country's foremost crusader against corruption and black money, Anna Hazare, would be here for the march.
On the motive of the march, he said it was basically a movement to create awareness among the people of the problems plaguing the nation and the political set up. The common man will be made a part of this march and anyone who believes in their ideas could join, he added while making it clear that no invitations were being sent to anyone or any political party.
"Though corruption will be a issue in the march but the main aim is to focus on the need for bringing about a systematic change in the existing system, which will include the political and electoral system, the health and education system and various other systems. The whole idea is that reforms are needed for making life easier for the common man. Governance reforms are needed so that the Gandhian system of decisions flowing from the panchayats is evolved," he said.
The first phase of the march will cover parts of Punjab and Haryana followed by parts of west Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. This will take around 15 days. Thereafter, the next phases will commence and will continue till the entire nation is covered.