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01 October, 2013

Suspect activities

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

There have been some disquieting revelations about the goings-on in the Indian army. To make things worse, major political parties are seizing the opportunity unabashedly to score debating points.

Last March the army sent to the government the report of a high-level inquiry which had found that Gen VK Singh, Chief of the Army Staff from March 2010 to May 2012, had set up a new unit called Technical Services Division (TSD) and funded it to destabilise the government of Jammu and Kashmir, spy on politicians and Defence ministry officials and influence the appointment of the next army chief.

The officers’ board, which conducted the inquiry, recommended that the government institute a criminal investigation in the matter. The government ordered no investigation. However, the new army chief, Gen Bikram Singh, shut TSD down.

The army inquiry board’s report was brought to light by the Indian Express last month. Responding to it, the Defence ministry said measures were in place to prevent undesirable activities. Since the matter involves national security, the government will take action after examining the report carefully, it added.

VK Singh said the newspaper report was false and motivated and seditious. However, he admitted the army had made payments to politicians in Kashmir. He claimed that this was done to ensure stability and that the army had been doing so since Independence.

Eight former army chiefs, in a joint statement, refuted his claim. They said no payments were made to any politicians, political party or NGO in their time. They asserted they would not have allowed such payments.

Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his father, Union minister Farooq Abdullah, demanded a probe into the reported activities of the TSD.

Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Mohammed Yasin Malik filed a petition in the state high court seeking a probe into the TSD’s role as well as the alleged killing of 117 civilians by the army in the state in 2010.

The newspaper report on the army inquiry board’s findings came immediately after VK Singh appeared with Bharatiya Janata Party’s presidential candidate Narendra Modi at an ex-servicemen’s rally in Haryana. Congress and BJP leaders issued public statements calculated to extract political mileage out of the development.

VK Singh’s term as army chief was marked by a series of controversies. He once said he had informed Defence Minister AK Antony about a bribe offer he had received from arms deal intermediaries but the government had not acted upon the complaint. Antony said he asked Singh to give a written report but he did not give one. Singh also dragged the government to court over a dispute relating to his age. If he had succeeded in the litigation he would have got more time in the top job.

Former J&K governor Gen SK Sinha said what VK Singh did was against the traditions of the army and he should have been sacked when he went to court. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said Singh, while heading the army’s eastern command, had given him some advice on counter-insurgency measures but he did not act upon it as he did not think it was in the national interest.

The army board’s report raises the question whether VK Singh’s actions were consistent with the army’s traditions. Under British rule, strong ties existed between the civil and military leadership — several Governors-General were in fact former army chiefs — but the military remained apolitical. With a view to ensuring civil supremacy over the military, India’s constitution has designated the president as the office of Commander-in-Chief of the defence forces.

Some experts have pointed out that the defence minister’s lack of interest in or knowledge of security matters has sometimes resulted in bureaucrats emerging as the effective civilian leadership, to the chagrin of the military brass.

In a book published in 2005, Gen S Padmanabhan, who was army chief during 2000-2002, says that the Defence Secretary, with his nearness to the Defence Minister, often exercised power on behalf of the minister and was regarded as the de facto minister. He adds, “The ‘supremacy of the civil over the military’ was thus effectively changed from supremacy of the political authority to that of the civilian bureaucracy.”

Two former chiefs of the Indian navy, Admirals Vishnu Bhagwat (1996-98) and Arun Prakash (2004-06), have also recorded dissatisfaction with the relationship between the ministry and the service headquarters.

The systemic problems they have pointed out need to be addressed speedily to ensure proper management of national security affairs. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 1, 2013.

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