On a day when the country ought to have put its best foot forward as the host of the BRICS summit in New Delhi, we have had, instead, a comedic show where the Army chief tells the world how ill-prepared for war his army is, and the defence minister bemoans the leakage of a top secret communication. W
We are truly the jokers of the BRICS grouping. The latest in the long-running theatre to which General Singh has taken the august office of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) is the leaked letter he wrote to the prime minister on March 12, talking of enormous obsolescence in the Army, and the shortage of vital ammunition and supplies.
The letter has almost certainly been leaked from the army chief's camp. This is evident from the barely concealed, but hapless, anger with which Defence Minister A.K. Antony told a bemused Parliament that publishing "secret communication within government cannot serve our national security."
It is evident, too, from the frustration of members of Parliament, several of whom have openly questioned General V.K Singh's motives. Sitaram Yechury somewhat obliquely declared that the government must act against the leakers and act against them, "irrespective of the position they may hold in the defence forces or the civilian administration."
Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party was more pointed. General Singh, he said, was "talking too much," while Shivanand Tiwari of Janata Dal (United) was forthright in demanding that the Army chief should be "removed from his post".
This was echoed by Lalu Prasad Yadav who, too, called for his dismissal. Such comments are highly unusual for politicians who hold the institution of the COAS in high regard. It is difficult to believe that Gen Singh is not working to a plan.
Position of power: Singh has claimed that the Army are not prepared for any forthcoming battles
At that point many of his supporters thought that he would put in his papers, but clearly, the General had other ideas. The letter of March 12, in succession to another he had written to the Defence Minister in January, came shortly after the government announced that Lt General Bikram Singh, would succeed Singh as the COAS. V.K.
Singh has long believed that it was on behalf of Bikram Singh that he had been made to eat humble pie by his predecessor General Deepak Kapoor. On Monday, General V.K. Singh took the field himself through two interviews to the media with the charge that in 2010 he had been offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore to pass the purchase of 788 Tatra trucks.
On Tuesday, Defence Minister A.K Antony confirmed to Parliament that he had indeed been told by Singh that a retired officer, Lt General Tejinder Singh, had visited him in 2010 and offered him a kickback. The minister said he asked the Army chief to take action, but General Singh said he did not want to pursue the matter.
In an interview on Tuesday, General Singh claimed that the offer of the bribe did not prompt any follow up action on his part other than to complain to the Defence Minister because, "It was not like he was giving me bribe in my hand. This was an indirect method and that is why no arrest was made."
Leaked: A.K Antony admitted that he had been told about the alleged allegations
Of course, it is no secret as to how poorly off we are with regard to the readiness of our armed forces. In January 2009, in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack, MAIL TODAY had run a series of articles pointing out just how unready the Army was to act against Pakistan.
There were shortages of artillery shells, tank ammunition, air defence guns, trucks and tanks. In a presentation to the Standing Committee of Members of Parliament on Defence in 2011, the Army itself acknowledged that in terms of armour, the country's preparedness was 71 per cent, combat helicopters (17), mechanised infantry (62), artillery (52), air defence systems (44), engineers (60), infantry (65), and Special Forces(69) and that full modernisation could be achieved only by 2027.
It would be interesting to see how much General V.K. Singh was able to dent this problem during his tenure as COAS. The fact that he was shooting off letters to the Defence Minister and the PM indicates that he is more interested in muddying the record.
There can hardly be any doubt that the morale of the armed forces has been affected by the issue being played out in public. The spineless handling of the situation by the government has been all too apparent.
The issue is not who is right, but the perception that a man in uniform is mocking at the civilian government, and that should never be acceptable in any democracy, anytime.
How much more damage can the lame duck chief do to the credibility of the government? They probably don't have the faintest idea.
General Singh is clearly a frustrated man and is now beyond all concern for the institution that he heads, leave alone the interests of the country he serves. It is too late to sack him, but the government could well consider sending him on compulsory leave pending retirement.