General VK Singh’s case: It is time the country stood up to truth-Times of India
If the report of the Board of Officers submitted by General Bhatia had indicted General VK Singh or any other officer relating to the working of the Technical Support Division (TSD), the proper course would have been to go in for disciplinary proceedings either through the Court Marshal route or the Courts in accordance with the laws of the land. The entire case would have been brought to a logical conclusion without muck being thrown around. Or else the government ought to have come clean on the entire issue.
Instead, the government, or one of the senior officers within the government, chose to leak the whole or a part of the report to a particular newspaper to mislead the people, tarnish the General’s image by projecting him as an individual subverting democracy and bribing an NGO to alter the line of succession in the Army. How an NGO can alter the line of succession defies my understanding. Or, are we doubting the integrity of the J&K High Court which is currently engaged in hearing the case of a 70-year-old man who was branded a foreign terrorist and killed in an encounter? Is it not the court which is responsible for declaring the officer concerned guilty or not? Incidentally, at least while I was in service, there was nothing called a ‘line of succession’ in the army. If something of that nature has since been invented, it goes against the principle of natural justice and fair play in the system of promotions in the army. By the way, I had put the blame on senior officers for the leak, as, such classified reports are handled by officers not below the rank of joint secretaries in the government and the blame for the leak should not be allowed to be shifted to some junior ranking officer in the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to further confuse the issue.
When the report appeared in the newspaper, the Government ought to have reacted immediately to set the record straight. The damage could have been contained then and there. Instead it kept quiet. Why? Was the government a party to the leak or were the leak and the blame game played out for some ulterior motive? This is not the first time that a classified document has been leaked. The top Secret letter addressed by General VK Singh in the capacity of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) appraising the Prime Minister about the state of the Indian Army was leaked in 2012. He was only doing his duty which is a customary practice in the Army and is regularly done by all the Army Chiefs. That leak was followed by a denunciation game again to malign the General. The General was condemned for the leak. We were told that the General had compromised National Security. Members of the Parliament, including Lalu Prasad Yadav who today heads for jail, not knowing the truth, demanded that the General be sacked. Subsequently a news report appeared that the report was leaked by a joint secretary level lady officer in the cabinet secretariat. Another media report stated that “the probe ordered by the PMO had cleared Gen. Singh of any wrongdoing in the episode,” The question is, what was the punishment meted out to the officer for leaking a top secret letter, an act of treason? The very procedure and sanctity attached to the production, accounting and safe custody of top secret documents in the Army is mind boggling to say the least. Losing or misplacing a top secret letter is a court martial offence. Why this double standards in dealing with offences?
The very same newspaper published a coup story in Apr 2012 bringing out something which is alleged to have taken place in Jan 2012 attributing motives and blaming the General for it. Isn’t launching a coup against a democratically elected government treason? We were told that the matter will be investigated. Over 20 months has passed. What has happened to the investigations? If the General was guilty punish him. If not, by now the newspaper ought to have been taken to task and the people told of the facts. Admiral Ramdas, the former Naval Chief along with a host of other senior officers had written to the PM as far back as June 2012 asking him to seriously look into these leaks, but nothing was done.
The sustained misinformation campaign to tarnish the image of General VK Singh conditioned the media to refer to the TSD as the ‘Rogue unit created by General VK Singh’. The fact is, neither the unit was a ‘rogue unit’ nor was it ‘created by General VK Singh’ The Indian Express article states that “instructions have been given that, henceforth, no special units, such as the TSD, are to be raised without authorization from the Ministry of Defence,giving an impression to the people of this country that the Unit was created by the General on his own without Government approval to give credence to the Coup story. The fact is the COAS of the Indian Army does not have the authority to authorize even a single man to any army unit’s strength even on war establishment leave alone creating a ‘rogue unit’. It has been reported in the media that this unit had an annual budget of 20 crores. The General has also gone on record stating that the quarterly accounts of the unit have been countersigned by him and the Defence Secretary. If these are true, this organization ought to have been raised with the approval of the Raksha Mantri (RM) and the National Security Advisor (NSA). If indeed the Unit was raised without the knowledge of these representing the Government, the concerned should come up and categorically state so. If not, one cannot but conclude that these personalities lack the moral courage needed to hold such high offices.
One now hears that the TSD has been disbanded. Have we done the right thing? The reaction only exposes lack of strategic understanding of the realities in our borders and the need for keeping various options open to counter threats to our people and national integrity.
Now about the ‘Rogue’ issue of the TSD. The General has categorically stated that this unit was based on ‘human intelligence’. Obviously then, the TSD is unlikely to have had the ‘Off the air interceptors” in its inventory. How then could the unit have snooped on the political class in Delhi or on the chief minister of J&K? Isn’t this a serious matter? This fact doesn’t require more than two hours to verify and the air could have been cleared by the MOD and the General could have been saved the harassment and agony of going through false allegations and the vilification campaigns.
Another story titled “V.K. Singh counters charges, admits ‘pro-India NGOs’ were funded” was published by ‘The Hindu’ on 24 Sep 2013. General VK Singh in his rejoinder published in ‘Outlook’ has stated that he was waylaid by the reporter at a friend’s place and at her insistence had answered a few questions thereby implying that he had not given any formal interview to the newspaper. He has gone on to state that half-truths and distortions were deliberately inserted in the news story published by the newspaper.
The Hindu story quotes the General as saying that “the panchayat elections of 2011 and the sudden end to the stone-throwing agitation in Kashmir in 2010” were the two major achievements of the TSD. Does the author imply that Rs 1.19 crores had been allegedly given to the minister to manipulate the panchayat elections thereby implying that he was thus attempting to topple the government? In J&K no action of the Army can ever go unnoticed. The local press is very vibrant. Despite this fact, till date no civilian or newspaper has complained about any manipulation in the panchayat elections conducted in 2011 either by the Army or General VK Singh. The government in power has not complained. The opposition has not said a word about it. Why has this story then been concocted? Rs 1.19 crores, the alleged money involved works out to Rs 360 per individual in a state where there are 33000 panchs and sarpanchs!! Obviously the fiction creators have no clue of what it means to topple a state government. Does this not question his integrity and loyalty to the elected Government and damage his reputation as a soldier? Incidentally, if TSD could end stone throwing in J&K as alleged, we might as well go in for many more TSDs consisting of an handful of people and an expenditure of just Rs 1 crore!!!
Till today not a word has been said about the investigations or its findings on various allegations made against the General which include the Military Intelligence (MI) planting a bug in the office of the RM, snooping on the MOD officials and the political class by the TSD, leak of Top Secret letter addressed to the PM by the Chief, the General’s refusal to sign the bulk Tatra truck order, the bribe offer story, the coup story and the likes. If these allegations were indeed true, the General ought to have been punished by now or the people ought to have been told the truth categorically so that the doubts in the minds of the nation are set to rest.
Considering the suspicion that the media reports and the leaks have created in the minds of the people, it is time the RM spoke about it and cleared the air. He cannot continue to remain silent and be the instrument for planting doubts in the minds of the people including the Army and its soldiers. If in doubt, the entire matter covering all the allegations made against the General should be investigated duly supervised by the Supreme Court lest the evidences, witnesses and the truths are manipulated.
The blog post will be incomplete without the people being told a few things about the working of the Army. In the Army, no one waits for written orders. A telephonic message is taken as an order and acted upon. That is the reason one sees the Army formations moving out within hours of an incident including in aid to civil authorities or relief operations. Every resource within one’s control at every level is utilized when it comes to matters relating to intelligence, operations, maintaining the level of violence at an acceptable level, protecting the lives of the civil population and maintaining good relations with the local population. This happens both in insurgency affected areas and in other operational areas. Audits, financial sanctions, approvals and such niceties are ignored when speed and results are the aims. Even in major operations, attacks are launched and withdrawals effected based on verbal orders.
If actions initiated by people in national interests are handled in this manner and individuals hounded to suit partisan interests will commanders at various levels provide rations, military equipment, troop labor, canteen stores etc. in a situation like flood relief? Incidentally, the Army was told that utilizing a soldier for managing a unit run canteen is misuse of manpower. If that is so, how are troops being used to develop or repair roads and tracks in insurgency and operational areas? How are units utilizing troop’s rations to feed civilians in an emergency or provide refreshments to them in certain circumstances? If that faith between the government and the Army is lost will not every army officer at his own level demand that instructions be issued in writing for everything that one is required to do? Does the country want that to happen? If those in power cannot come up and hold the hands of their Chief when he is being blamed and hounded for creating a ‘rogue unit’ do people understand the effect of such an attitude on troops and junior commanders? The question is why should anyone in uniform take a risk by exposing himself to post audit, scrutiny and become a scape goat for someone else’s follies or ulterior motives?