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Army is the new punching bag

| | in Oped

Some well-entrenched vested interests are out to destroy the institutional integrity of the Army. Unfortunately, it appears that sections of the UPA Government are in collusion with these elements, The attacks on VK Singh are an indication of that

A major controversy has broken out over a leaked report in The Indian Express which, quoting a secret Army finding, has said that  the former Army chief, General VK Singh, had set up the Technical Support Division — a secret intelligence unit — and misused funds to try and topple the Omar Abdullah Government in Jammu & Kashmir. The report also claimed that he had used the money to try and change the line of succession in the Army’s top brass.

This has led to a political slugfest between the Congress and BJP, with the latter questioning the timing of the report and alleging that the General was being ‘hounded’ for sharing the platform with its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at a recent rally of ex-servicemen in Haryana. The Congress has strongly refuted the charge and Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting Manish Tewari went rhetoric: “Nothing can be more baseless and laughable than this allegation. The UPA Government never engages in politics on the sensitive issue of security... In such sensitive matters, the Government has a responsibility to discharge its duty, which it will do with full responsibility.”

The report was prepared by Director-General (Military Operations), Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, as part of a Board of Officers inquiry formed by Army Chief General Bikram Singh to review the functioning of the top-secret unit set up during the tenure of his predecessor. The report, submitted to the Union Ministry of Defence in March this year, is learnt to have recommended a CBI probe. Being a ‘top secret’ document, this report has no business to be in the public domain.

Gen VK Singh sees a ‘nexus between arms dealers and those behind the leaking of the report’. He has dubbed the allegations against him ‘laughable and most absurd’, particularly the ‘attempt to topple’ the Jammu & Kashmir regime. He went on to say: “The reports on the whole issue are motivated and there are a number of reasons behind them, including my sharing the dais with BJP leader Narendra Modi. After the Government decided to close the issue by sending it to the National Security Adviser, it was leaked by a Joint Secretary of the Defence Ministry, who has since moved out from there.” Incidentally, this Joint Secretary has worked very closely with the Defence Secretary-turned-CAG.

This was followed by television and Press interviews and stories going into great details on the working of the TSD. Little has anyone realised that the TSD is a covert operation agency, activities of which are directly related to the safety of the soldiers fighting on the borders, retribution on the enemy and the security of the citizens. By its very nature, the TSD operation was ‘top secret’. In that event, even the existence of the TSD should never have been publicised.

Further, if there is exposure of the actual working of the top-secret unit, leaking information about it could be seditious, regardless of whether the information is true or false. Even the knowledge of the existence of  the TSD can help the nation’s enemies and subvert the interests of the country.

Assuming there was some irregularity in the functioning of the TSD, it should have been discussed and resolved within. Putting it out in the open and making it an object of derisive public debate severely compromises and demoralises the Armed Forces. This also makes India a laughing stock in the world’s eyes. Those who have leaked the report and their collaborators are guilty of treason, and the consequences could be serious.

Such treason was indulged in not just because Gen Singh was seen sharing the dais with Narendra Modi. There was something more sinister — diverting media and public attention from the scandalous decision directing the Nuclear Power Corporation of India to buy 6x1000 MW reactors costing Rs 90,000 crore for the Mithivirdi (Gujarat) Nuclear Power Project from US multinational Westinghouse Electric Company, by waiving a key provision of India’s civil nuclear liability law that would hold the US company liable in the event of an accident caused by faulty or defective equipment. This could expose the Indian public to death and destruction without adequate compensation at hand.

On September 18, television news channel Times Now got hold of the ‘strictly confidential’ note for the Cabinet Committee on Security, written by Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, proposing that though the viability/technical analysis of the project has not been done, ‘agreement-to-buy’ should be signed, by skirting the Atomic Energy Commission. This was prior to Prime Minister’s meeting with the US President on September 27. Doing so would open up the floodgate of imported nuclear deals running up to several lakh crore rupees from the US, France and Russia ,without any supplier liability. Dollar kickbacks could be mind-boggling!

On September 19, The Hindu newspaper carried the story on its front page and Times Now went live with the ‘breaking news’ on the humongous scandal and betrayal. By the following day, it would have gone viral, ripping apart India’s ‘nuclear prostration’. Nuclear kleptocrats panicked, because this could expose the non-starting of Russia’s Kudankulam nuclear power plant, reportedly built with sub-standard materials due to the absence of a clause on supplier liability in the agreement.

So, early September 20 morning, the defence-nuclear combine struck, with a national daily publishing the concocted story: “Unit set up by VK Singh used secret funds to try and topple J&K govt, block Bikram Singh: Army probe”. Cleverly orchestrated by spin doctors, this nonsense went viral, blocking out the truth behind the ‘nuclear prostration’.

Be that as it may, it looks as if some well-entrenched vested interests are out to destroy the institutional integrity of the Army and sections of the Government appear to be in collusion with these element. The way the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister have totally ignored the letter written by now-retired Admiral L Ramdas — one of the country’s eminent Navy chiefs — on June 19, 2012, which raises serious military and national security issues seeking a high-level inquiry and remedial action, we cannot expect much action.

The letter includes allegations of bribes offered to serving Army officers; corruption in the purchase of defence equipment — namely the Tatra truck deal and direct threat from the CMD of Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, himself under the CBI scanner, to the then Army chief who exposed the corruption; leakage of a ‘top secret’ letter from the Army chief to the Prime Minister regarding defence unpreparedness; perpetuating an obnoxious line of succession in the Army; suggestion that the Army chief was spying on the Defence Minister’s office — and worst of all, accusing him of plotting a coup to over-throw the Government of India!

(The writer is a former IAS officer, a former Army officer and now an activist)

 
 
 
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