O.P. Gupta, IFS (Retd)
Over last few months General VK Singh, Chief of Army Staff to the envy of many has been making headlines in the media in which the UPA II Government in general and Shri AK Antony Defence Minister in particular emerge heavily bruised unable to work out a healthy balance among procurement, pace of procurement and transparency in procurement of arms and ammunitions. Antony appears more obsessed with his personal ‘Mr Clean image’ than equipping Armed Forces within given time scale.
The pace of modernisation of Indian Armed Forces has to be fast enough to catch and match military capabilities of our adversaries but leaked 12th March letter of General Singh shows that it has not been the case under Antony and Manmohan Singh, and, there are vital gaps in our military preparedness. In fact during the UPA period Pakistan took over India in terms of numbers of nuclear weapons. International observers inform that Pakistan now has more nuclear bombs than India.
General Singh has shown tremendous courage and professional conviction in writing a letter to Prime Minister pointing out various deficiencies in our military preparedness, in fact, it is duty as well as right of every Chief of Staff to keep his Prime Minister properly informed of his ‘military appreciation’. One should appreciate that by doing so he has denied himself any post retirement employment offer from the UPA II government. General Singh deserves public applause for his courageous letter to PM which was reportedly routed through Defence Minister. It is not the first time that Generals have written to PM but it is only this time that the letter has got leaked to media.
Rather than focusing on contents of leaked letter and giving explanations to public and assurances to plug those gaps the Government has tried to cover up the issues raised by General Singh by focusing on as to who has leaked the letter.
Leakage of 12th March letter shows gaps in counter-intelligence and surveillance activities of the RAW and the Intelligence Bureau. These must be plugged and those who leaked this letter must be brought to book. We know that in the past leaks have taken place from Prime Minister’s Office too so it was very immature on part of some analysts to hint hand of General Singh in this leak. No Army officer will ever leak out any paper listing short comings of his own Army.
Showing their ignorance of facts some Opposition Members of Parliament belonging to JD(U), RJD and SP un-necessarily attacked Army Chief General VK Singh on 28th March on the floor of the House for what they called “his gross indiscipline” and demanded his dismissal over a letter written by him to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the poor state of defence preparedness. General Singh only did his duty lest 1962 was repeated in future.
It was a right step on part of Antony not to have got carried away by demands of such MPs and on 29th March he rightly reiterated confidence of government in all the three Chiefs. “All the three service chiefs enjoy the confidence of the government. They are working… Otherwise, how can they continue,” he told reporters when he was asked whether Gen Singh still enjoyed the government's pleasure and confidence.
On March 27, 2012 one newspaper—DNA carried extracts from General Singh’s letter of March 12, 2012 to Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister listing various shortcomings in the military formations which on March 28 rightly created uproar in the Parliament and in the public. The letter informs that the Army's tank regiments are “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks”, while the existing air defence systems cannot effectively protect against enemy air attacks being “97 per cent obsolete”. Besides, there are “large scale voids” in essential weaponry as well as critical surveillance and night-fighting capabilities in the over 350 infantry and Special Forces' battalions. With two “inimical neighbours”, such “critical deficiencies” severely erode the Army's preparedness, he added.
In this letter in context of alarming expansion of the Chinese military General also complained to PM that creation of the two new Army Divisions for the North East was stuck in the Finance Ministry impairing Army’s war fighting capabilities. It is reported that earlier General had written to Defence Minister in February in which he wrote that war waging capability of the Army had been seriously degraded with government dragging its feet on critical procurement and policy measures. It is duty as well as the right of every Chief to keep pointing out deficiencies to his political bosses. General VK Singh has committed no wrongs in doing so; he has been only pro-active.
Earlier the Hindu newspaper had carried an interview of General Singh in which General claimed that he was given hints of getting a bribe of Rs 14 crores by a retired military officer if he cleared purchase of foreign made 600 Tatra heavy vehicle trucks through a public sector company BEML. On floor of the Parliament Antony said that General Singh had in fact brought this matter to his notice about a year ago and that he (Antony) had then asked General to take action against that lobbyist but General was not inclined to proceed. Here Antony made a mistake of judgment, at that time itself he ought to have instructed Defence Secretary to lodge a complaint with Police or with CBI because against a retired military person only civilian authority can initiate action. His decision to refer it now to CBI is late by a year.
Antony also failed in his duty as the Raksha Mantri to maintain internal harmony, fraternity and high morale in the Armed Forces by letting controversies like date of birth of General VK Singh and other matters keep boiling till spilled into public.
Indian courts have time and again held that it is only the matriculation certificate or the birth certificate issued by a municipal authority that is legally admissible evidence of birth date of any person. In the Manoj Kumar Vs. Govt. of NCT of Delhi & Ors. (2010) INSC 546 (July 26, 2010), the Supreme Court observed that Matriculation Certificate is a strong material to support DoB.
If there is any conflict between date of birth shown on application form and in the matriculation certificate it is the date mentioned in the matriculation certificate that has to be taken as the correct DoB. It is the general law of the land and all departmental rules have to yield to this general law of the land. Army rules too have to conform to general laws of the land. But Antony kept dithering on upholding this general principle. And the Supreme Court decision on petition of Gen Singh failed to uphold centrality of matriculation certificate in date of birth disputes.
From newspapers one finds Gen VK Singh had filed a 500-page statutory complaint. How much time and energy Gen Singh would have spent on getting his 500-page complaint prepared which otherwise he would have spent on Army matters and on devising strategy against China, Pakistan and jihadi elements? It is misfortune of India that our Generals are being forced to spend their time and energy on litigation rather than devising military strategies.
Another case of favouritism pertains to complaint filed by two serving Lt Generals JS Bawja and PG Kamath that they were denied Corps Commandership on ground that their residual service was less than three years but three other Lt General rank officers Chetinder Singh, NK Singh and SA Hasnain were given Corps commanderships though they too had less than three years residual service.
In view of the above sorry state of affairs in the Ministry of Defence it is high time that the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence should suo motu look into it, call Defence Secretary, Finance Secretary and all the three Chiefs, cross examine them and unanimously assure the citizens of India that all points raised by Chiefs have been properly addressed. And, that there was no danger to the national security.
[The writer is the National Working President of the Bharat Raksha Manch and belongs to 1971 batch of the Indian Foreign Service. Contact [email protected]]