Supreme Commander’s Supreme Indifference?

The salient facts in the latest development in the controversy related to the Army Chief General VK Singh are painfully clear. The General has revealed that he was indirectly offered a bribe in order to approve the further sale of sub-standard trucks used by the army for the past two decades. He said that this offer was made by a retired senior officer. He said he was flabbergasted and did not know how to react. He immediately went to Defence Minister Mr. AK Antony and reported the incident to him. According to him the Minister was equally shocked and dismayed and said such individuals should not be allowed to enter the army.

Weeks earlier the Army Headquarters had named a former senior General for leaking anti-Army reports to the media and also of having offered a bribe on behalf of Tatra vehicles which have been in use in the Army for the last 26 years. The named officer has denied the allegation and has announced that he will institute legal proceedings. The alleged bribe offer to General Singh was made in 2010. Two months before he is due to retire the Army Chief has made his sensational disclosure. Why did not the General act at the time of the incident? According to one version he complied with Section 317 of the Defence Services Regulations of 1986 by bringing the matter to the notice of his superior. Did he in fact inform Mr. Antony of the incident when it occurred? It is fair to infer that he did. Mr. Antony instead of refuting the General’s claim has only now ordered a CBI inquiry into the incident. Mr. Antony says that the General declined to take action himself. He justifies government's non-action on the ground that the General did not offer a written complaint. But he is silent on the crucial aspect. Disregard for a moment the bribe offer. After becoming aware of the corruption angle did the Minister proceed with the contract  or cancel it? If he did not cancel it, why not? Whom was the Minister protecting?

Questions are naturally being raised about the two years delay in ordering the probe and about the reasons for the Ministry’s inaction during all this period. This incident has sharply worsened relations between the Army and the Defence Ministry. A number of retired Army Chiefs and senior officers have expressed conflicting views about the role of General VK Singh. Not surprisingly people are viewing these conflicting views in the overall context of alleged corruption in the army. They are wondering whether views are influenced by the roles played by the retired Generals who comment.

General VK Singh has also claimed that the controversy related to his date of birth was created by the vested interests that are abetting corruption. He has said that the truth about all this will come out soon. How all this is alienating sections in the Army from the Defence Ministry and dividing sections within the Army itself had best be left to conjecture. How it affects the morale of the Army’s ranks may be left to further conjecture.

I had earlier suggested when the controversy related to the Army Chief’s date of birth first erupted that the President as the Supreme Commander should intervene and settle the issue behind closed doors. Allowing the dispute to be aired in public could affect Army morale and national security. I went so far as to recall the dark days of 1962. On 30 January I wrote in these columns: “Sixty years ago a Defence Minister from Kerala had demoralized the army and created a national security crisis which remains a blot on the nation’s reputation to this day. One can only hope that the present Defence Minister from Kerala does not irreparably damage the army’s morale and the nation’s security.”

When no initiative by the President or the government occurred, I again wrote on February 11: “In whatever way this controversy ends, the government’s stupidity to jeopardize national security needs to be viewed in the current overall context.” One reader wrote to express shock that I could lump national security and the situation on our borders with the date of birth controversy. I would ask him and others to reflect. If, God forbid, at this very moment the Army were needed to maintain the fragile peace on our borders, what would be its morale and how would it perform?

According to our Constitution the President is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and can best act to defuse a crisis between the Army and the Union Cabinet. Is the title of Supreme Commander meaningless? Is our Constitution itself meaningless? Nothing untoward may happen because of this growing crisis. But if something dreadful were to happen there is nothing we could do about it.


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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Views: 3345      Comments: 5

Comment with all due respect to the person as senior most officer of our army,

r k gaur
29-Mar-2012 21:10 PM

Comment Dear plasticoet, I agree with you 100%

Unfortunately, the puppet party - SP has suggested ouster of the General. Well, intead nation will gain if such parties are ousted from power and influence.

Dinesh kumar Bohre
29-Mar-2012 02:27 AM

Comment Hi Metalpoet...
I have only one thing to say, I have not made it to Brigadier- outspokenness being one of the many reasons.
Yes, the damage being done is tremendous.
My sympathies lie with the Army in particular. I remember my days in the Army with fond memories, not frustration at my personal loss.
The point then?
If this General is thrown out, the future Generals will grow acquiescent further.
Saber rattling is necessary as you say... I hope it happens soon!

29-Mar-2012 01:48 AM

Comment Hello plasticpoet,

Whom should this nation blame - the one who recently went public as against the norms (especially when it is about going public against the politicians in office) Or the politicians, who brought the institute to such a weaken state that it has now created a situation of national security issue ?

In fact, our army officials should have done this much before in my opinion. India saw Bofors scandal in 80s, and till Oct 1984, everyone officer in in army knew that a more inferior gun was going to get ordered, but change in leadership in Oct/Nov 1984 set the deal to Bofors, it was a better choice, but again through bribes. Army kept quite then.

Let's go further a decade before, During 70s, the then PM Indira Gandhi, infamous for new corruption practices across institutions, called Army chief to express concern if he would outset her !! The army kept quite then.

In late 80s, common man took comfort in talks of imaginary scenario that Army could take over the govt to bring halt to mass corruption and misgovernance.

I think it has come to 100 deg above a boiling point that steam is out. That too because we have an honest officer as chief.

Some media reports are hell bend to convince readers/viewers that the Army chief is 'frustrated' and working out of anger as he lost DOB case in SC. If army chief is working in frustration now, then our politicians must be working under much more frustration since they are named in one or the other scandals anyways. That they are not convicted in life long running trials is another story.

28-Mar-2012 14:05 PM

Comment Of all institutions in the country, the services chiefs have a position that must show serenity, unflappability and distance from the political set up. The damage done to the institution reeks of immaturity, inept handling, and a go-by to the norms of keeping the media out of the Services, now regularly observed in the breach- and this should not be seen as a holier than thou event for TRP.

With the developments in this case, it is obvious the entire nation stands to lose. Politics apart, can a discredited Service organisation fight battles, war apart?

28-Mar-2012 06:12 AM

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