Much has been spoken and written about the Army Chief’s allegations that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore to pass an order of sub-standard trucks for the military, 7000 of which are already present in its ranks. Yet, most of what is being written and spoken about is useless banter. Most of the questions have hinged on the single spook of ‘national security’ as if it is not the political class and the civilian bureaucracy that should be in the line of fire, but it should be the Army Chief who should be sacked for making these revelations as matters of such sensitive nature should not attract public glare. I maintain the view that the Army Chief has exercised his right to free speech and expressed his opinions — and rightfully so, while remaining in the confines of his limits and maintaining the dignity of the office. Much brouhaha is being generated because this General has defied the traditional norms of being tight lipped and has hit out at the people responsible for the deteriorating state of affairs in an institution which is currently under his command.
The matter erupted on Monday when the Army Chief, in an exclusive interview to The Hindu, made a sensational claim that sometime in August or September 2010, he was approached by a then-serving-now-retired equipment lobbyist who allegedly offered him a bribe of Rs 14 crore in lieu of clearing the sales bid of a sub standard truck manufacturer. The Army Chief has claimed that he immediately reported the matter to the Defense Minister Mr. A.K. Antony, who simply sat on the complaint for over a year. The company and the individual that is said to have approached the Army chief has since been identified (and both have decided to sue Gen. Singh for ‘defamation’) and a CBI probe into the entire matter has been ordered. However, the issue is far from over. Allegations and counter allegations are flying thick and fast in the civilian, political as well as military sphere and it is proving hard to separate the fact from the fiction.
Shortly after Gen. Singh made these allegations, he dropped another bombshell by writing to the Prime Minister and expressing concern over the state of affairs in the military. The military, he wrote, is in a very bad shape. His letter dwelt at length at the sorry state of affairs in the military, lamenting the depletion of ammunition for tanks, inadequate air defense weapons and outdated weapons of the infantry. While it is a routine for the outgoing Army Chiefs to brief the Prime Minister with the state of affairs of the unit they are heading, the letter assumes special significance as it comes in the backdrop of the ugly spat that is going on for quite some time between the Army Chief and the Ministry of Defense.
Immediately afterwards the letter somehow found its way to the front pages of another English Newpaper DNA. Rather than debating the contents of the letter as should have been the case, our esteemed Members of Parliament, displaying their accumulated sense of wisdom, termed the leakage of the letter to the media as an act of treason and vociferously demanded an enquiry into the whole matter. It is ironical that such a shroud of secrecy is being pulled over to stem the rot that has been developing in the Defense procurement and modernization spheres without paying the least attention to the General’s concerns. A system of transparency that should be inbuilt into this whole process is not only clearly missing, but there is a total unanimity between the govt. and the opposition that things should be brushed under the carpet and only a rosy picture should be portrayed to the general citizenry of the country, all in the ‘national interest’.
Soon after the General’s revelations, Vyalar Ravi called these allegations as the frustrations of an army chief who had lost his case in the Supreme Court (referring to Gen. Singh’s age row) and was now taking things personally. Joining him in this chorus was none other than Lalu Prasad Yadav who too called the Army Chief as a frustrated individual. The most reactionary of all the political parties was Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), which not only criticized the Army Chief for speaking out against the state of affairs in the army, but even demanded from the govt. that he be immediately sacked!
Amidst all these political hara-kiri, matters of importance are silently being given a cold shoulder. Congress Spokesperson Manish Tewari was quick to point out that if the General had been approached by an individual with an offer of a bribe, then he should have gone straight to the Supreme Court and sued that individual as offering bribe to a public servant is a crime. However, one may ask, wouldn’t that have made the General susceptible to charges of bringing things out in the open even before consulting the govt. on the further steps to be taken? And when the Army Chief did consult the Defense Minister, the latter just sat on his complaint countering that it was instead the Army Chief himself who did not want to pursue matters further. So both ways, it’s the General that is caught in the political shootout.
One of the major objections being raised is regarding the role of the media in this entire scandal. There is a rush to take things completely off radar as such sensitive issues should traditionally be solved in one of the many cosy rooms in the South Block over a steaming cup of tea, rather than in television studios by pointing out fingers at each other and indulging in a blame game. Such a view is totally flawed. Matters of national security are jeopardized when they remain under a shroud of secrecy. Quality in procurement and transparency in transaction can only be guaranteed when such matters are brought in the public domain. It is an open secret that sometimes political calculations trump matters of national security. Such a practice must immediately cease and there cannot be a better way to achieve the same than by bringing these issues in the public sphere. An urgent case of military modernization has built up and it is imperative that the govt. take it up as soon as possible.
It has also emerged that Gen. Singh has also forwarded a complaint made by a sitting Member of Parliament more than a year ago against a serving General (who is second in line to succeed him) accusing him of serious graft charges. If the level and magnitude of these allegations is anything to go by, it shows the depth to which corruption has percolated the rank and file of each and every administrative, political as well as military organization of our country and has assumed canonical proportions. Such incidents are not new as the Bofors Scandal, Kargil Scam and more recently the Adarsh Housing Society Scam have drawn attention to the army’s involvement in corruption and has heavily tarnished its image. And yet, even after all these shocks, the govt. of the day sits in its perpetual state of policy paralysis and political coma and is moving ahead day by day in mastering the art of shooting itself in its own foot by trying to level allegations against the Army Chief himself.
It is ironical to see the stature, dignity and record of a serving Army General, accumulated and acquired through years of practice and rigorous dedication to the nation, being tarnished by politicians devoid of any special qualifications and especially those battling criminal charges and thus lacking any legitimacy or credibility to comment on the matter. We must realize that having a commitment to civilian rule and democratic form of governance does not mean utter contempt and disregard for the opinions, suggestions and even allegations of those serving in the military’s top brass. By trying to take pot shots at the allegations leveled by Gen. Singh, the people in power are only setting up a bad precedent and one that is only going to make them even more unpopular than they currently are.