What the hell is going on? Wednesday’s bombshell of a story by The Indian Express, that there were unexpected movements of key army units “towards Delhi” on the night of 16 January, suggests that all hell is breaking loose in the capital. That was the day the general took his age row to the Supreme Court (Read the full story here).
The Express story says – and the facts are not denied by the army – that on 16 January night, some central intelligence agencies reported that a mechanised infantry unit based in Hisar, Haryana – part of the 33rd Armoured Division – began moving towards Delhi. A little while later, another military movement “towards” Delhi, this time a part of the airborne 50 Para Brigade based at Agra, also moved towards Delhi.
It’s not our purpose to give you all the details here, but suffice it to say that it took a late night meeting called by Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma to summon Lt Gen AK Choudhary, Director General, Military Operations, and order the units back. He was asked to give an explanation, says the Express, and it ran something like this: the army movement was intended to check if units could be deployed quickly in fog in case of an emergency.
The issue no longer is whether the army’s explanation is right or wrong, but whether the level of mistrust between the ministry and the army has reached such a low that one can even think of the possibility of a military coup in India. Does the government see a conspiracy everywhere?
In fact, the Express story is the last straw — additional proof that the UPA is afraid of its own shadow, and unable to govern in the country’s interests. No norms are being followed in this government, no confidences are being kept, and every possible leak looks intended to damage someone’s reputation or the other.
Mistrust is breeding in a way in which no politician, no party, and no institution seems to care about anything but very narrow personal interest. The country’s interests are being sold down the river.
A few observations can be made about the Express story.
- Given the amount of detail in the story, co-authored by none else than the newspaper’s editor Shekhar Gupta, it is very clear that the story was leaked right from the top. Whodunnit? The PMO, the defence ministry and disgruntled sections of the army are some of the top suspects.
- The leak is unlikely to have come from Gen VK Singh himself, since the army’s movements coincided with his petition in the Supreme Court – and he would anyway have been suspected of leaking it.
- The story shows both the army and the defence ministry in poor light – which means Defence Minister AK Antony may not have wanted it known. Given the fact that both Antony and Gen Singh have been talking friendly in recent days, the story would have come from somewhere else.
It is no one’s case that the general has conducted himself too well ever since the age controversy cropped up as a major issue last year. His recent gambits, including his disclosure to a Hindi TV channel that he was offered a Rs 14 crore bribe, show him as someone with a grouse, who may go to any lengths to get even with those who may have harmed him. This shows that he is not being discreet, and his judgment on what can or cannot be said by a serving army chief leaves much to be desired. He clearly needs to put in his papers urgently.
However, no one has yet made the case that Gen Singh comes with a dubious reputation, and since it is now clear that he will retire on schedule anyway next month, it makes no sense for him to rock the boat – unless he wants to damage himself. Whatever he wants to disclose, he can do so after he retires. There is no need to sully the army any further while he is still its chief and wears the uniform.
So where does that leave us?
Unfortunately, the Manmohan Singh government’s own conduct is reminiscent of the last days of Bahadur Shah Zafar, when an empire in decline was subject to all kinds of rumours.
UPA-2 has reached rock-bottom with this episode that hints of a potential army coup when there wasn’t a whiff of it. The Express report has been vehemently denied by both the ministry and the army.
Both Manmohan Singh and AK Antony also need to go. Here’s why.
We already know that the Big Three in the UPA – Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram – have an uncomfortable relationship.
We also know that the relationship between Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh is not quite what it was in UPA-1. The PMO is now run by Pulok Chatterjee – who apparently has the confidence of both the PM and Sonia. But this only suggests that the PMO has to achieve what the PM himself cannot – and that speaks volumes for what Sonia really thinks of Singh’s abilities.
We know that the defence minister and the army chief do not share a great equation, despite efforts at a recent patch-up.
The Express has earlier carried leaks that talked of Antony’s office being bugged – the unstated innuendo was that the general must have done it.
We also had the general’s letter to the PM – on the state of army preparedness – being leaked, again to the general’s disadvantage.
And we have had leak after leak – from the PMO, from the finance ministry and other ministries — that damage someone or the other. The finance ministry’s office memo on the 2G scam, which said Chidambaram could have stopped A Raja’s moves, came from an RTI filed with the PMO.
Then we had the leak of the Radia tapes – which could have come only from the tax department, or the CBI or the home ministry, since only they had access to it. We do not know if the leaks happened due to a rogue official lower down or were authorised from the top.
The UPA is unable to govern and almost every policy issue has ended up in court: 2G, CWG, Vodafone, et al.
Is this any way to run the government of the world’s largest democracy? Is it worth running such a government just for the record?
We need a clean-up. At the very least, the PM, the defence minister and the army chief must be asked to go before we can believe anything this government does.
But then, isn’t an election the best way to really clean-up?