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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

An Officer and a Gentleman


Is neglect of the defence sector leading to former top brass sharing platforms with politicians?
MAYANK SINGH | Issue Dated: October 6, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Congress | CBI | VK Singh | CRPF |CISF | AFSPA | TSD | COAS |

Indian army chiefs follow the traditional British pattern left behind as a shining legacy. An Indian Chief of Army Staff (COAS) spends little over two years in office in the limelight and then fades away into the sunset to his game of golf, close army buddies and memories of an adventure-filled life. It’s pretty much what the doctor ordered, the staple of democracies worldwide, the military happy to live in the barracks and defend the country when required.

But you can safely count the former army chief Gen Vijay Kumar Singh out of the routine. Controversy and Singh go hand in hand. In fact that has been the case for more than four years since he first hit headlines in a long worn case which can be only described as unusual. The army one fine day found out that their boss had two different dates of birth at two different branches of the military secretary and the adjutant general. The flap continued right till the end, the day he superannuated from service on May 31, 2012. Unlike other chiefs though, Singh has refused to buckle under criticism, jibes and public glare. In fact, he has reveled in it. The latest in this line of controversy is now a secret Board of Officers report which has found the Technical Support Division (TSD), raised during the general’s tenure as army chief, inolved in not just financial impropriety but alleged to have funded politicians of Jammu and Kashmir State to destabilise the state government there. There are charges and insinuations that are most likely to occur in many Asian, African and Latin American countries but never India. The volley of allegations and counter allegations has begun with no sign of it subsiding in the immediate foreseeable future.

According to the report submitted by the army to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the main charge against Gen Singh is that he misused secret service funds to ‘destabilise’ the Jammu and Kashmir government and to buy off-air interception equipment to conduct 'unauthorised' covert operations and snooping on his rivals and other political figures. But in a country getting increasingly polarized with unsound political rhetoric, given that the General Elections are a few months away, what has raised eyebrows is the timing and manner of the leaks from the report. Questions are being raised about the real intention behind the leaks. Some see it as a politically motivated step because the doughty general had decided to share the dais with Bhartiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in his home state of Haryana on September 15.

Others believe that the Gen Singh would have accrued no benefit by toppling the government of a state to which he does not belong. Above all, given the country’s strictly apolitical army, it does look very far-fetched as a theory.

Gen Singh has hit out at the UPA government saying that the controversial TSD was set up by the government after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. ‘‘It is laughable to think that I ordered something as ridiculous,’’ he told the media.

But insiders in the military say the Indian Army too has picked up what are national habits, mainly rampant groupism. ‘‘There is no doubt that groupism within is behind the leaks which have tarnished the image of the army,’’ an officer said on request of anonymity.

But even by the existing standards of cloak and dagger politics that exist in high places, the latest revelation has come as a shocker. A highly placed military intelligence official told this magazine that in every country there are systems in place to tap political intelligence along with technical and human intelligence. ‘‘The intention is not to topple or target anyone but to keep ahead of a plan or conspiracy that is in the works. It is more likely to be used in disturbed areas with the intention of keeping things under control,’’ adding for good measure that ‘‘It is unprofessional to reveal details and it is against the service conduct rule.”

Gen Singh, a third generation officer, belongs to a traditional Rajput warrior family of Bapora village in Haryana’s Bhiwani district, not too far from Rewari where he addressed the meeting with Narendra Modi. His father Jagat Singh was a colonel in the Indian Army and grandfather Mukhram Singh a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO). His three uncles were in the Services, as were four of his cousins. General Singh is the youngest of Jagat Singh’s three sons.

Former Deputy Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General Lt Gen RS Kadyan, who was instrumental in organising the ex-servicemen rally at Rewari, calls it a non-political gathering. ‘‘Every general has a different personality. General VK Singh has his own personality. Quite unnecessarily, it is being dubbed a political rally. The only aim was to get ex-servicemen together to discuss national security and welfare. Of course we do not have resources so BJP helped us. If the Congress organises a similar rally for the benefit of soldiers, I assure you we will be there.’’

But Kadyan issues a warning on the issue of the leak of the report submitted by Director General Military Operations Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia. He says, ‘‘There is an obvious connection between the rally and report. The matter is serious as it is related to national security. Its import on the higher security mechanism of the country should not be overlooked.’’
He echoes the prevailing view in the defence services when he says that the government should have dealt with it more responsibly because the report alleges that the army tried to destabilise an the elected government.

With the storm rising, the MoD has admitted that ‘‘The report impinges on matters of national security.” Gen Kadyan holds the media responsible. ‘‘Media has a national responsibility and if it is not the case, then tough action needs to be taken,” he says.

If anything, the TSD report leak focuses on how the system of intelligence works outside of the civilian domain. Points out a former Northern Army commander, ‘‘Intelligence funds are meant for sources and informers. Even politicians, a fair number of them are paid as source to help them to keep their respective areas under control and peaceful. This is apart from Sadbhavna funds.”

According to him, an amount of Rs 50 to 60 crore was spent during his tenure in Kashmir. ‘‘This is how we could get big catches and valuable information. Since there is no written directive to handle terrorism, it can be successful by employing a multifaceted strategy and plan which works on the ground.’’

It is no classified information that there are secret service funds and there are many ways in which steps and measures are adopted to keep not just anti-national elements under check but also elicit information for long term use. What officers disapprove are the revelations in public, which would greatly undermine the working of security agencies.

Experts say it would be unwise to judge all situations with one yardstick. Defence analyst Major General GD Bakshi says the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir and in some parts of the North East requires special handling. ‘‘Politics in these areas are totally different from what prevails in the other parts of the country. In disturbed places, it is a politico-military conflict. There are many things which are done secretly, secret in every way, both at the higher level and at local level formations. Covert operations have an important role, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir.’’

The larger bone of contention appears to be the political situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been at the forefront of wanting a repeal of the Armed Forces Special Provision Act (AFSPA). The army believes the demand is politically motivated to appease a particular group of people. There have been fresh attacks on para-military forces CRPF and the CISF leading to casualties. Queries Bakshi: ‘‘Will the state government take responsibility for families who have lost their members? Are they not playing politics?’’

That said, Gen Singh, with the latest embarrassing leak, has triggered off a war of words between the two principle political parties, the Congress and the BJP, in conjunction with their allies. Janta Party leader Subrahmaniam Swamy believes that Singh is being targeted. Says BJP’s Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, ‘‘If conspiracies are hatched such claims are bound to come to the fore.”

While senior Congress leader and Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has expressed shock, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah has asked for a CBI enquiry into the leak and its real intentions. Both leaders belong to the ruling coalition in Srinagar.

Amidst this light and sound, Gen Singh has not yet revealed his cards keeping friends and foes guessing alike on his intentions except to say simply that he had not made up his mind whether to join politics or not.

The army also brings out statistics, warning politicians not to play with fire. According to Major Gen Bakshi, at one point of time there were 3,000 to 4,000 terrorists operating in the valley and it has come down to around 200. In all this, the army had martyred about 5,000 soldiers since 1990. The situation is predicted to get worse once the United States withdraws from Afghanistan and free Taliban cadres will be diverted to the cause of Jehad in Jammu and Kashmir.

Army officials say that the report was lying with the government since March this year and Singh did not talk about it. So now when he is under attack, is he not entitled to defend himself?

According to army sources, Rs 80 crore was spent during Operation Sadbhavna in 2006-07. It was used to build schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, augment water supply and electricity lines. It was not done by the state government nor did it provide money for the projects. ‘‘Is it the army’s job to do such things? No? But we did to win hearts and minds. There are many ways to handle complex situations,’’ Bakshi points out.

On the issue of VK Singh joining politics, the military believes it is a free country and a man who has retired from the government is allowed to take up a profession of his choice. Surely, in a democracy, there can be no doubt about that - even if it comes from a former army chief well wedded to the idea of civilian supremacy. One thing is clear though: Singh is not the run of the mill former army chief. he looks determined to stay on and fight the course. Just like he was taught in the IMA.

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Posted By: Sekhar | Bangalore | October 23rd 2013 | 00:10
The Indian democratic setup is built on the three distinct pillars - the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. The beauty of this governance model lies in the independence of these three bodies from the influence of each other. Any cross linkages or mix-up in the roles especially while in office, surely rings warning bells. An honest enquiry should be done and if found guilty he should be prosecuted.

Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017