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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Army Chief Has Done The Nation A Service

By Swapan Dasgupta

It is to the credit of India’s Defence Minister—the man who has earned for himself the lofty title of Saint Antony—that he resisted the clamour of many parliamentarians to either sack Army chief V.K. Singh or order him to take compulsory leave pending retirement in eight weeks. It is said that Antony told indignant Cabinet colleagues that he did not want “blood on his hands.”

Antony’s act of statesmanship plus his very belated decision to order a CBI inquiry into the accusations levelled by the Army chief against a retired officer and the associated murkiness centred on the purchase of heavy vehicles has at least lowered the temperature. At the same time, it has brought into the public domain another potential defence scandal which, if it plays out, may have damaging consequences for the government.

True, the controversy over the Army chief’s allegations have not yet reached the emotive heights of the furore over the Bofors artillery guns. But that is not because the charges are trivial or born out of self-centredness. When it comes to matters concerning the armed forces, the Indian political class still exercises exemplary restraint—even if some MPs broke that understanding and demanded General Singh’s immediate dismissal.

That restraint is complemented by the all-round acknowledgement of Antony’s personal integrity. Antony may well be charged with procrastination and even indecisiveness but few will argue that he is guided by base, pecuniary considerations. Both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi should thank their lucky stars that General Singh was reporting to Antony. Any other person in the Raksha Mantri’s chair and the muck would have well and truly hit the ceiling.

The chances of that happening cannot be entirely discounted, particularly if the CBI departs from its usual ways and actually applies its mind to getting to the bottom of the grave charges relating to the sale of Tatra trucks. Prima facie, there appears to be something odd about a Czech-based, NRI-owned company exercising a complete 20-year monopoly over the supply of trucks to the army. That the imports were routed through a public sector company does not lessen the suspicion: it merely suggests that the tentacles of the arrangement go beyond the army and embrace a section of the civilian bureaucracy.

A proper inquiry into the shadowy world of defence contracts may reveal a great deal that could even startle India’s already cynical citizenry. Certainly, emerging tit-bits of information about front companies claiming to be what they are not, supplies routed through bodies specialising in escort services, and compromised diplomats and babus serve to confirm the impression that General Singh did the nation a great service by making the charges public.

On his part, and despite his initial emulation of Gandhiji’s three monkeys, we should be grateful to Antony for at least acknowledging that there is some possible evil in the world and ordering an inquiry. Only relentless public and political pressure will now ensure that the inquiry is conducted with seriousness and doesn’t become an opportunity to fudge the real issues.

The desperation on the part of those who have something to hide to keep the focus on General Singh prompted the leak of his state-of-defence-preparedness letter to the Prime Minister. If the investigators are serious, it shouldn’t take them too long to narrow the suspects to a handful of individuals. This, in turn, should provide revealing answers as to why they were so driven to engineer a situation whereby General Singh’s continuation in office would become the central issue of the controversy.  

Yet, even a leak of this most privileged of communications has its upside. The country is now aware that India’s defence preparedness to meet external threats is abysmal, and that procrastination over the purchase of military hardware has made the country vulnerable. The fact that the Army chief’s assessment corresponds to what strategic experts have long been saying must not prompt a so-what-is-new response. There is a difference between a TV pundit saying that India is unprepared to meet threats and the Army chief asserting quite independently that this is indeed so.

Neither the Prime Minister nor the Defence Minister can run away from answering this grave charge. Defence is the largest head of expenditure in the Union Budget and, so far, the unwritten political convention is that the budgetary allotment for defence is passed without any discussion. This implies that both the nation and Parliament have reposed blind trust in the Government to do whatever is necessary to protect India. If, despite this large expenditure, the Army chief complains about lack of ammunition and obsolescent equipment, it suggests that the Defence Minister has failed in his responsibilities. If, on top of these problems of hardware, there is evidence that the corruption that has sullied India’s attempts at governance has also started affecting decision-making in the Defence Ministry, there is every cause to question the legitimacy of the sainthood that has been conferred on Antony.

Every democratic country expects its ministers to live up the trust that has been reposed on them by the people. In his long political life, Antony has shown he is a good man and the country must admire his ability to remain good amid an overall climate of murkiness. But being good doesn’t mean that a minister should be content just being good. Antony has failed the test of effectiveness.

Sunday Pioneer, April 1, 2012 


Anonymous said...

For all our grandiloquent claims to being the largest democracy blahblah
there has never really been transparency & accountability. The way we always refer to Indian Army being answerable to the supreme authority called Defence Ministry & government , any person not familiar with the real corrupt India sans accountability would presume our government & members of Parliament are all infallible beings .And that they have the Nation's welfare in their minds.

A.K.Anthony once censured the leftists in Kerala for referring to BJP as 'saffronising' & at once BJP was impressed disproportionately. Tomorrow if DMK Karunanidhi says something nice about Lord Ram hindus would go all mush , make sweets & savouries for him falling at his feet.

This is our malady.A.K.Anthony might be a nice person. But being nice or not nice is of no consequence in Congress hierarchy where only one person's writ is gospel.

Anonymous said...

We are full of stories from Puranas where Sri.Muchukundha Chakravarthy beseeches Lord Krishna to provide him with ego busters than sycophants when blessed with a kingdom.

How is it India audaciously compares itself with America ?? Without integrity & character one can impress none.

Anonymous said...

Grateful to Swapan Dasgupta for upholding the right.

Unlike the pavlovian responses from most Indians how-dare-Army-point-out...

This is a big problem which all of us Indians face at all levels. Our Indian doctors are hell bent on keeping the patients in ignorance. No one is there to question or punish them. For the first time in my life I heard Dr.Prashanta Banerjee a Homeopath ( Elgin Road) assuring me with conviction :-

" We come into this world NOT to suffer from diseases but to fight & overcome them ".

Whereas allopaths are such avid organ harvesters playing God glibly telling " one does not require two kidneys at all , one can live without a spleen , gall bladder removal poses no problem , women can survive well even after removing uterus , ovaries problem , vermiform appendix is not at all required... ".

In Chennai a lady doctor said on a tv programme :-

" Today in Mylapore most of the women have had their reproductive organs removed through hysterectomy ".

R.K. Narayan incisively pointed out :-

" In Indian schools the students are looked upon as adversaries by their teachers".

Within families all hell will break loose should a youngster point out the mistakes of the adults.

The overglorified Abdul Kalam exhorting everyone to "dream dream" also invited whistleblowers to come forward & report. Which is precisely what our Army Chief has done !!

Thenali Raman & Birbal instilled better sense in their respective rulers humbling & chastening them. Those Emperors did not turn vindictive.

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