Issue Courtesy: The Telegraph
Date : 26 Sep , 2013
Since Independence, the nation has grown up with the knowledge and belief that its armed forces are pillars of strength and symbolize probity and the spirit of sacrifice. This belief is reflected in polls conducted from time to time, and is strengthened when citizens see men and women in uniform risking their lives to save people during natural disasters like the one that struck Uttarakhand in June this year. From this comfort zone to be exposed to the events of the last year culminating in the present must have left them not only disoriented but also hopelessly confused.
…civil-military relations in India, in which the polity has kept the Indian military at more than an arm’s length, preferring to deal with it through the all-powerful bureaucracy, this should have set alarm bells ringing.
To briefly recapitulate, the former army chief, V.K. Singh, completed his tenure at the end of May 2012 on the basis of his age in the record books. His appeal to the defence minister to have the age corrected was turned down. Had it been otherwise, not only would his tenure have been extended, but as claimed by some it would have upset an apparently well-crafted succession plan. The successor reportedly enjoyed high contacts within the civilian leadership and enjoyed its support. In a dubious first in the history of the armed forces, a serving army chief then approached the Supreme Court for relief, but was turned down.
During this unholy phase when a serving army chief and the government were at odds, a few strange happenings came to light. It transpired that Singh had been offered a bribe by a retired officer to facilitate the induction of sub-standard trucks being produced by Bharat Earth Movers Limited, a defence undertaking. In spite of bringing this to the notice of the defence minister, no action was taken. Then, in two successive months, a national daily published reports, one claiming that the chief had set up a Technical Support Division within the military intelligence that was snooping on the communications of defence ministry officials and the defence minister. The ministry of defence is reportedly investigating the matter. The next report — more damaging than the first — claimed that some army units had moved suspiciously towards Delhi on the very day the army chief had gone to court. The hint of coercive tactics without using the dreaded word, coup, was apparent. This was denied by the defence ministry.
Whatever may have been the facts, a perception had been created that here was a serving army chief who was not averse to resorting to unconventional and even unconstitutional means. In the context of civil-military relations in India, in which the polity has kept the Indian military at more than an arm’s length, preferring to deal with it through the all-powerful bureaucracy, this should have set alarm bells ringing.
So grave were these allegations and their impact on the integrity of a serving chief and, consequently, on the morale of the armed forces that it was incumbent on the government to act in haste and get to the bottom of the allegations with the help of a high-level, independent investigation to clean the Augean stables. This would have had the following salutary effects. First, the nation would have been taken into confidence on precisely what the truth was. Next, wrongdoing, wherever applicable, would have been identified and the perpetrators held accountable. Finally, a message would have been sent to the armed forces that favouritism in promotions, high-handedness, or political interference in the functioning of the army would not be tolerated. In short, a sad chapter in the annals of civil-military relations would have been nipped in the bud and the supremacy of civilian leadership over the military enhanced. If it were revealed that the former army chief was guilty, the price would have been worth the revelation. Equally, if it was established that there was no wrongdoing on his part, then he along with the institution deserved an apology.