Army chief General VK Singh has kicked off a major controversy by claiming that a recently retired general offered him a bribe of Rs 14 crore. Singh claimed he had taken the matter up with defence minister AK Antony but no action was taken. Antony, in a suo motu statement in Parliament, said he remembered the conversation but when he had asked the army chief to initiate action, the latter had refused saying he did not want to pursue the matter.
To add to the farce, Lt General (retired)Tejinder Singh, who apparently offered the bribe, has filed a case against the army chief of defamation. This battle between the two generals will only intensify in the coming days.
But the points that really need to be looked at are in danger of being hidden under the sensational news of the war between the two generals. The Indian Army has clearly been ravaged, by the politicians and subsequent corruption to a point where many insiders insist it is a shadow of its old self. A force that many remember as disciplined, honest (at least relatively speaking), brave with world-renowned tactical skills demonstrated through the wars in the 1960s till 1971, has lost all that made it different from other institutions. Pride has been replaced by demoralisation and unprecedented levels of shame as the army is hauled over the coals by unscrupulous politicians, relentless bureaucracy and corrupt officers who no longer retire gracefully. The tide moved rapidly downhill after 1971, as the politician and the bureaucrat sought to control the armed forces through pay commissions that created a grossly unlevel playing field for the men and women in uniform.
It is no secret that some political leaders at the top worked hard to manipulate the early retirement of General Singh to bring in a general who is alleged to have sound political ties. General Bikram Singh will be the new man in the saddle and has powerful support that held out even when confronted by the present army chief on more than one occasion.
The controversy has taken a toll, with army officers now fighting for justice in the courts. General Singh moved the apex court and now Lt General Tejinder Singh has filed a defamation case against the army chief. The dirt seems to be hitting the ceiling and trickling down to further damage the army’s morale and reputation. Particularly as a general widely recognised within the army as a ‘thinking and upright’ officer will retire as a result of these machinations, and the army will lose the benefit of his expertise and intellect.
Multinational arms companies gobble up retired defence officers who then work as their lobbyists, parading the corridors of the defence ministry and the service headquarters in search of lucrative deals. Lucrative in today’s parlance means big money for substandard equipment, so that the margins of profit are huge, and so, of course, are the commissions paid to the coalition of the willing that includes the politician, the bureaucrat and, it now seems, even top-level officers. Crores of rupees have been spent but the modernisation of the army still remains an elusive dream.
Retired officers are in demand, as they know the ropes and can manipulate these through their existing contacts in favour of their new employers. Many are on the official rolls, and many function off these as unregistered lobbyists who cannot be caught easily.
It is true perhaps that General Singh should have given a written complaint about the bribe offered to him. But it is essential now for a major cleansing operation although the question that really arises now is, by whom? The CBI probe is just a joke and this is only as far as the UPA government will go on this issue.
The army seems incapable of doing the job, with the politicisation and the ensuing corruption clearly corroding the institution, and not just at the edges. Besides with India being a huge defence market and ready to purchase whatever it sees for a commission, it is unlikely that those in power will give up the controls to restore the Indian Army to its pristine glory. General Singh’s protests seem almost like the last hurrah, where he finds it easier to give interviews to the media than pick up the broom and throw out the trash.
He appears to need support from the outside as he knows he is helpless from the inside in an army where he might be the chief but has lost the power to exercise his will a long time ago.