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Thursday, 31 May 2012

From Today's Papers - 31 May 2012
India, Russia ink pact for multi-role transport aircraft
Shubhadeep Choudhury/TNS

Bangalore, May 30
The Indo-Russian project to develop a multi-role transport aircraft (MTA) got a major boost with the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) signing a tripartite general contract with Russian partner United Aircraft Corporation-Transport Aircraft (UAC-TA) and Multi-role Transport Aircraft Ltd (MTAL) for the project.

“The MTA project’s preliminary design will start immediately on signing the follow-up contract on which tripartite discussions have been concluded,” an HAL spokesman said here yesterday. The agreement was a follow-up of a deal signed between India and Russia in 2007.

The MTA is slated to replace the AN 32 aircraft being used by the IAF.

The Russian Air Force will get 100 aircraft against IAF’s 45 out of the initial production target of 205 aircraft. The remaining 60 aircraft will be sold to friendly countries at an estimated price of $35 million apiece.

The project had got into rough weather after India felt there was nothing much for Indian engineers and scientists to do in the design and development of the proposed aircraft. UAC-TA apparently perceived HAL’s role in the project more or less as that of a production agency only.

Defence Minister AK Antony took up this issue with his Russian counterpart Anatoly E Serdyukov during his visit to Russia last year.

HAL spokesman said it would carry out design and development of its work share of MTA at the Aircraft R&D Centre (ARDC) at Bangalore.

HAL’s Transport Aircraft Division (TAD) at Kanpur would manufacture the prototypes. The serial production also would be at Kanpur where dedicated facilities were being set up.

The aircraft will be used for cargo and troop transportation, para-drop and air drop of supplies, including low-altitude parachute extraction system.

HAL has been manufacturing transport aircraft such as Avros and Dorniers at TAD, Kanpur.
AFT functioning: HC notice to Law, Defence Ministries
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 30
The administration and functioning of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) has come under the High Court’s scanner.

Taking up a public interest litigation (PIL) questioning the “excessive control” of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the appointments, rules, provisions, infrastructure and functioning of the AFT, the Punjab and Haryana High Court today issued notice to the Union Law and Defence Ministries.

The PIL, filed by president of the AFT Bar Association, Maj Navdeep Singh, pointed out that the Supreme Court had already held that tribunals could not be made dependent upon the sponsoring or parent ministries. To ensure their independence, these could only be supervised by the Law Ministry.

There have been earlier instances where the establishment and composition of the AFT has been challenged before the High Court. The Delhi High Court Bar Association had earlier moved a petition that the establishment of the AFT was against constitutional norms.

A petition was also moved before the Punjab and Haryana High Court questioning the legality and suitability of a retired military officer to adjudicate upon legal and criminal issues. The AFT was set up in 2009 to provide swift judicial redress to members of the armed forces as well as to reduce the workload of the high courts.

The PIL averred that as all orders by the AFT were to be passed against the MoD and that the same ministry was the parent ministry controlling the AFT, it seemed more of an extension of the state rather than an independent judicial body.

The PIL points out that out of 15 courts of AFT in the country, only three are functioning as the government had not appointed judicial members to fill in vacancies arising out of the retirements of earlier incumbents.

This has resulted in absolute absence of judicial remedy to serving and retired personnel in some areas. The Chandigarh Bench, having the largest jurisdiction of five states, was also partially functional with only one judicial member holding the fort against the sanctioned strength of three.
Gen VK Singh leaves behind a divided Army
Ajay Banerjee/TNS

New Delhi, May 30
When General VK Singh retires tomorrow, his 26-month tenure will be remembered for controversies that divided the Army like never before and for breaking its working relationship with the Ministry of Defence.

The unprecedented act of the Army Chief moving the Supreme Court for his date of birth (DoB) and a series of actions, at times, shamed the very government which had elevated him to the top post of the 1.4 million-strong Indian Army.

The past 26 months have seen the emergence of divisions that will need a statesman-like approach to correct.

It all started with the DoB issue. General Singh claimed he was born on May 10, 1951. Had that been accepted, he would have retired in March 2013 and not tomorrow. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) did not agree and went by the DoB of May 10, 1950 - that General Singh had filled in his National Defence Academy (NDA) form.

In an unprecedented act, the General dragged the government to the Supreme Court. On February 10, the court did not accept the plea and he ultimately withdrew it from court.

A few days back, in a series of interviews to television channels, the General also made no secret of his unhappiness with the Supreme Court.

The first controversy erupted when the Army headquarters issued a rather unusual press release on March 5 blaming Lt Gen Tejinder Singh, a retired DG of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), for allegedly planting stories in the media regarding bugging of the Defence Minister’s office.

Within days of that, the Chief gave a newspaper interview in which he alleged that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore in September 2010 to buy “substandard” trucks for the Army.

Then, Gen VK Singh sent a letter to the CBI asking for a probe against Lt Gen DS Suhag. Antony admitted that he did not know about it and clarified that the Army headquarters had sent Gen Suhag’s name for promotion. The CBI rejected the probe.

Last week, the Army Chief imposed a Defence and Vigilance (DV) ban on the same officer in a separate case.

Even as Parliament was in session, a letter written by Gen VK Singh to the Prime Minister detailing the shortages in equipment and weapons got leaked to the media.

Meanwhile, former military secretary Lieutenant General Avadesh Prakash also accused General VK Singh of being biased against him.
Army’s readiness my priority, says Lt Gen Bikram Singh
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 30
Incoming Army Chief Lt Gen Bikram Singh says his priority is to ensure the operational readiness of the Army and to strengthen the work culture of the force.

The General, who takes over tomorrow, will anyway have his hands full in bridging the existing gap between the force and the Defence Ministry. He has been briefed by various wings of the Army and the status of projects in the past few weeks.

General Bikram Singh was given a farewell by his staff in Kolkata today. In an interview to the Sainik Samachar, the in-house fortnightly journal of the Armed Forces, he listed out his priorities. The issue of the journal is expected to be circulated tomorrow morning at all command formations and below.

Listing out his priorities, the incoming Army Chief says besides operational readiness, he will address the “hollowness” and ensure that the modernisation process proceeds as per stipulated timelines. ‘Hollowness’ is a term in the
forces to describe the gaps in its operational strategy. His third aim is to strengthen the Army’s work culture and core values “duty, honour, loyalty and integrity”.

Since future wars will be fought in close cohesion with the Air Force and the Navy, “jointness” with other forces will be top priority, says the General. And in clear message to all his top brass, the Army Chief designate says, “All commanders must endeavour to create a climate during their command tenures that hinges on our cherished core values, professional ethos and is conducive for growth and cohesion.”

The Army, he said, remains fully prepared to face and counter any external threat and deal with internal security challenges. He asked that desired attention should be given to modernisation, infrastructure development and augmentation of combat power (fighting ability).

“We all belong to the best Army in the World. To remain there, let us continue to strive for all-round excellence with added zeal,” he has asked the force.

A few days ago in Kolkata, while addressing his senior colleagues, the Chief reportedly said his prime tasks would be to “put the Army back on track”. Admitting that there have been “setbacks” of late, he is said to have added that he would not “brush anything under the carpet”.
Chachra is Western Army Commander

Lt Gen Sanjeev Chachra is the new General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Army Command based at Chandimandir, near Chandigarh. He will replace Lt Gen Shankar Ghosh on Thursday. Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, GoC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, has been moved as the new Military Secretary.

Lt Gen Shakti Gurung, GoC of the Tezpur-based 4 Corps, has been asked to temporarily take charge of the Kolkata-based Eastern Command as Lt Gen Bikram Singh has been elevated as the Army Chief. Gen Gurung has been asked to handle the work. Lt Gen DS Suhag was expected to elevated to head the Eastern Command. However, he faces a show-cause notice issued by outgoing Army Chief General VK Singh.
Army Chief downplays controversies
Says there is 'no misunderstanding' with Defence Ministry
Press Trust of India / Pune May 30, 2012, 13:49 IST

A day prior to his retirement, Army Chief Gen V K Singh today sought to downplay the controversies surrounding him, saying there is "no misunderstanding" between him and the Defence Ministry.

He also said Defence Minister A K Antony was "very clear headed" in supporting the armed forces.
"There is no misunderstanding between the Ministry of Defence and us. Army is part of the government. We are one. Whatever we say is listened to."

"The procedures are there. Sometimes you probably think that things are getting delayed because nobody is listening. That is not true and that is not the case," he said here addressing his last press conference ahead of his retirement tomorrow.

Referring to Antony, he said, "We have a Raksha Mantri who is very clear headed in supporting the armed forces."

Asked about the controversies surrounding him, he said, "Certain controversies were created...Certain controversies erupted. Certain controversies can be ascribed to my dear media friends who have great imagination to see a ghost behind every bush."

"I would say it has not concerned me at all. Somebody told me a lot of people throw insults at you. You actually deserve those insults is you react to them. If you are not concerned with those insults, don't react to them," Gen Singh said.

On his charge that Lt. Gen (Retd.) Tejinder Singh had offered him a bribe of Rs 14 crore for clearing a "substandard" truck deal, the Army Chief said, "I don't want to comment on what Tejinder Singh has done. Those of us who know him well enough know what kind of things he tries, what he has been trying and what he has been doing."

"This is not a forum to castigate him or do anything else. He is most welcome to slide into any depths that he wants to."

Tejinder Singh has denied all allegation made against him by the Army Chief.
Army chief reviews passing out parade
PUNE: A total of 361 cadets, including 21 foreign cadets, graduated from the 122nd course at the prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla near here on Wednesday. The moment was marked by an impressive passing out parade that was reviewed by the Chief of Army Staff General V K Singh.

Of the 21 foreign cadets, 10 were from Tajikistan, nine from Afghanistan and two from Kazakhstan, all of whom had started their training along with their Indian counterparts on June 30, 2009.

All the cadets will now join a year-long course at their respective finishing academies, i.e. the officers training schools at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun (for army); INS Teer at Cochin (for navy) and the Air Force Officers Academy at Dindigul, Hyderabad.

In his address to the cadets, Gen Singh said that military leaders at any level must have dedication and commitment to the service. They should be able to lead troops by setting an example in all trials and tribulations, he said. "Most importantly, a military leader has to have the right kind of moral and ethical values. In no case will self get precedence over the organization; never shall personal gains override official and professional needs," he added.

"You are fortunate to join the ranks of the armed forces in exciting times," said Singh. "India is surging forward and making an impact on the world at large while we face varied security challenges. Let each one of you feel the vibrancy and adrenalin run through you as you realise that you can do something remarkable and extraordinary."
India-China border meet held in Tawang
ITANAGAR: Extending the existing bonhomie between India and China, a special Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) was held at the historic Maitri Sthal near the Bum La pass in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh on Wednesday. It is one of the three special BPMs conducted at Bum La on the Indian side every year, a defence communique informed.

Brig J S Rajpurohit heading the Indian Army Delegation leader received the Chinese. The meeting began with the welcome address by both the delegation leaders followed by a formal interaction wherein both the sides re-affirmed their resolve to strengthen friendship and to maintain peace and tranquility along the border.

Delegations from both sides interacted with each other in a cordial environment and posed for photographs. The BPMs between the army personnel of India and China serve as a vital platform for resolving local issues and fostering confidence with a view to maintain peace and tranquility in the area.
Army chief slams BEML on Tatra, awards it Rs 1,500-cr deal
The outgoing army chief, General V K Singh, claims he scuttled a Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) bid to sell overpriced Tatra vehicles to the Indian Army. But, in February 2012, the army quietly signed a contract with BEML for an even larger and more controversial purchase: a $275-million (about Rs 1,500 crore) contract for 204 armoured recovery vehicles (ARVs).

Last week, the army chief declared in a television interview that he knew the WZT-3 ARV contract was a scam and BEML should be investigated in detail. He called the Tatra deal “a wake-up call for us to start examining other areas where things could have gone wrong”.
But in February, BEML was nominated, without bidding, for the lucrative order for additional WZT-3 ARVs. Disregarded entirely was the fact that in three previous contracts for a total of 352 WZT-3 ARVs (44 in 1999; 80 in 2002; and 228 in 2005), BEML had disregarded the contractual stipulation to indigenise the ARV. Instead, the Indian defence public sector undertaking (DPSU) imported fully built ARVs from a Polish company, Bumar, fitted cosmetic Indian components and supplied these to the army.

The WZT-3 ARVs are essentially T-72 tanks kitted for repair and recovery, rather than for fighting. Instead of a gun and turret, the T-72 is fitted with a heavy-duty crane, winch and repair equipment. This allows the ARV to travel cross-country with tank columns, repairing tanks that break down.

The purchase of these essential vehicles has been fraught with controversy. In 2003, Brigadier Inder Mohan Singh was a Deputy Director General in the Master General of Ordnance (MGO) Branch, which handles the procurement of “in-service equipment,” as the WZT-3 was since 1999. He has told Business Standard the tendering process was manipulated to ensure BEML emerged the lone bidder. The tender was sent out to only two PSUs, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) and BEML; only BEML bid. When Larsen & Toubro threw its hat in the ring, the defence ministry’s acquisitions chief ruled it out as an “unsolicited bid”. That left BEML, the single vendor, at liberty to dictate terms.

Top L&T officials verify this happened, though the company has declined to comment officially, since it had not been invited to bid.

Brig I M Singh says Ukraine then wrote in, offering their T-72 based ARV for trials. This was an attractive offer, since Ukraine was willing to use the T-72 chassis and running gear that India was already building near Chennai, while importing only the recovery gear. This, says Singh, would have made their ARV 30-40 per cent cheaper than the WZT-3. He put up an official proposal that the Ukrainian ARV be invited for trials, since this was a Rs 1,000-crore contract that should not go to a single bidder.

That idea was quickly shot down by the MGO himself, Lt General V K Jetley, whose brother, Colonel Virendar Jetley, had been employed by Bumar India, a joint venture between Bumar Poland and the New Delhi-based Chemon Group, headed by prominent Delhi cigar baron, Chetan Seth. “Within days, I was removed from the ARV cost negotiation committee,” says Brig Singh.

Chetan Seth, interviewed by Business Standard, confirms Col Virendar Jetley was his employee. However, he denies any influence was exercised.

Arms dealers have long sought a link with the MGO’s office, which controls a large chunk of the defence budget.

The owner of Vectra, Ravi Rishi, now under the CBI scanner in the Tatra case, employed two successive MGOs soon after they retired: Lt Gen R I S Kahlon, from the time he retired till his death last year; and Lt Gen S J S Saighal, who hit the limelight when Eurocopter, which employed his brother, Lt Gen H S Saighal, won a massive Indian contract for 197 light helicopters. The defence ministry overturned that decision after rivals protested.

With the contract for 228 WZT-3 signed in 2005, Bumar Poland began sending shiploads of ARVs to Mumbai. While BEML was supposed to indigenise these quickly, Brig I M Singh says BEML did absolutely no work on the ARVs.

“The Bumar ARVs did not even go to the BEML plant. When the ship from Poland reached Mumbai, we would send drivers to unload the ARVs. They would load the ARVs onto a train to Ordnance Depot, Kirkee, from where the frontline units would collect them,” says Brig Singh.

Chetan Seth admits the ARVs never went to BEML but claims some Indian parts would be fitted onto the ARVs in Ordnance Depot, Kirkee. “It took some time, but we indigenised drivers’ periscope sights; drivers’ adjustable seats; periscopes; and radios. We had a team of five Polish engineers in Kirkee,” avers Seth.

Approached for comments, BEML chief, V R S Natarajan, said he would respond in a press conference once the army chief retired. When pressed for answers, he asked for an emailed list of questions, to which he has not responded.

Meanwhile, another Chetan Seth company, Optic Electronics, was providing an illustration of how “indigenisation” worked in the WZT-3.

According to a senior Chetan Seth employee, Optic Electronics functioned from ab SEZ in Noida, importing surplus parts from East Europe depots, touching these up, and then re-exporting them at a 500 per cent profit.

“Optic Electronics would import the day sights for each WZT-3 ARV for $5,500. These stained, often rusty, parts would be cleaned up and re-exported to Bumar Poland for around $25,000. These would then be fitted onto the WZT-3,” says the Seth employee on condition of anonymity.

Chetan Seth says he built day sights in partnership with a Polish company called PCO. He admits providing day sights for the WZT-3, but denies they were surplus parts from junkyards.

Ironically, the “indigenisation” of the WZT-3, which never crossed even 20 per cent, was being done through low-tech routes like ploughs, driver sights, towing ropes and seats, even as India was running a full T-72 tank manufacturing line at Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi, and building T-72 engines at the Engine Factory, Avadi.

Business Standard learned during a visit to Avadi last November that the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) had quoted a price of Rs  40-50 lakh per engine for the WZT-3, but BEML rejected this as too high. Consequently, Bumar continues to source the engine from East Europe. The OFB’s quote has also been rejected for the latest order for 204 WZT-3 ARVs, which bodes ill for any prospect of indigenisation.

The ministry of defence has not responded to an emailed request for comments.
Indian Army chief lampoons retired officer for complaint
Pune, May 30 (IANS) Indian Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh Wednesday lampooned retired Lieutenant General Tejinder Singh for filing a complaint against him with the defence ministry for defaming him, saying he could go to any depths.

Gen. Singh also confirmed that he had extended the time given to 3 Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag to respond to his show-cause notice issued for 'abdicating responsibility' in a botched intelligence operation at Jorhat in Assam.

Throwing his weight behind the anti-graft movement in the country, the army chief noted that the battle against corruption was everybody's to fight.

'I don't want to comment on what Lt. Gen. Tejinder Singh has done. He can go to any depths. This is not a forum to castigate him. The army is apolitical, secular and impartial. Raising a voice against corruption is everybody's movement,' he said.

On the sidelines of the Khadakvasla-based National Defence Academy (NDA) passing out parade near here, Gen. Singh told reporters that controversies did not concern him ever in his service as army chief.

On the show-cause notice issued on May 19 for censure over lapss in a botched up intelligence operation under 3 Corps surveillance unit, the army chief said: 'Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag asked for extension and his request has been acceded to. Anybody who does injustice is wrong, anybody who accepts injustice is wrong.'

Suhag was given seven days' time to reply that has been extended by another 10 days.

Gen. Singh also claimed that there was no misunderstanding between the army and the defence ministry.

'Whatever we (army) say it is listened to (by the ministry), there are procedures. Raksha Mantri (defence minister) is clear-headed in supporting the armed forces,' he said.

Earlier, Singh addressed the cadets who passed out of the NDA. This was Singh's last major function as army chief before he retires Thursday.

Talking about his tenure as army chief, Singh said he wants to be remembered as a soldier and as somebody who tried to uphold what army stands for.

'Most important target was transformation of the army, change in mindset. It can't be done in one or two years, it will take at least 20 years. We have started the journey,' he said.

Gen. Singh also assured that the three wings of the armed forces were prepared to face any challenge and the modernisation efforts would help the forces further build their capacities.

'All three units of the armed forces, in whichever condition they are, are fully prepared to face any challenge,' he said.

The army chief had in March written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over deficiencies in defence preparedness and that document got leaked to the media.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

From Today's Papers - 30 May 2012
Plea in SC against Lt Gen Bikram Singh’s elevation
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, May 29
Retired Naval Chief Admiral L Ramdas and former bureaucrats today filed a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking a review of the court’s order dismissing a PIL challenging the appointment of Lt Gen Bikram Singh as Army Chief to succeed Gen VK Singh who demits office on May 31.

The PIL had opposed his appointment, citing his alleged role in a 2001 fake encounter in Jammu and Kashmir and as part of a UN peace keeping mission to Congo in 2008.

The petitioners, who include former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswamy, contended that the government had suppressed relevant material and misrepresented facts during the arguments on the PIL. On April 23, a Bench comprising Justices RM Lodha and HL Gokhale had refused to interfere with Lt Gen Bikram Singh’s appointment.
Avadesh Prakash to challenge Army Chief's decision

New Delhi, May 29
The Indian Army's former Military Secretary Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, whose dismissal from service by a court martial in a land scam was confirmed by Army Chief General VK Singh last week, said today that he would challenge the decision in court.

"I am going to take legal recourse and challenge the Army Chief's order," Lt Gen Avdesh Prakash said.

The sacked officer also attributed motives to Gen Singh upholding the court martial's order to strip him of his rank and retirement benefits after finding him guilty of a scam involving a 70-acre plot adjacent to the 33 Corps headquarters in Sukna military station in Siliguri district of West Bengal.

"Gen Singh has been interested in this case right from the beginning. This is against the basic principles of justice," he said.

"Why was a court of inquiry ordered six months after cancelling the MoU between the Army and the educational institution," he asked. — IANS
MoD sends notice to govt, stakes claim over plot
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, May 29
The Maharashtra Government and the Ministry of Defence are set for a showdown over ownership of the plot on which the controversial Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society now stands.

Both entities are claiming title to the property and the MoD on Monday sent a legal notice to the Maharashtra Government staking claim over the plot. According to sources, the state government was warned that the Defence Ministry would file a title suit in pursuit of its claim if the plot was not handed over to the MoD in the next two months.

The legal notice comes more than a month after a two-member inquiry commission set up by the Maharashtra government submitted that the plot belonged to the Maharashtra government. The order also stated that the plot was not reserved for the Kargil war widows.

The ministry contends that the Adarsh Housing Society was illegally constructed on land belonging to the Ministry of Defence.

Sources say the title of the plot on which the controversial building stands is clouded with uncertainty as crucial land records were missing from the Maharashtra government’s revenue department.
Indian Army’s unpaid spy dies in oblivion
British-born Sydney Wignall discovered the secrets of China’s expansion across Tibet to the borders of India and Nepal
Shyam Bhatia in London

India never forgets its enemies, but sometimes has difficulty remembering its friends like the recently deceased British mountaineer who risked his life to gather information about China’s military build-up in the Himalayas.

Sadly, New Delhi has ignored the death of Cheshire-born Sydney Wignall who died a few weeks ago in the UK at the age of 89. A British-born hero and unpaid spy of the Indian Army, he used both brains and brawn to discover the secrets of China’s expansion across Tibet to the borders of India and Nepal.

Wignall suffered frost bite, dysentery and regular beatings at the hands of Chinese army guards during his two-month incarceration in a rat-infested prison in Tibet. After his release, he received profuse thanks from his Indian Army contacts for the valuable data he obtained. But the only ‘reward’ he claimed and obtained was a supply of cricket bats and balls for the children of a Nepalese village school that he visited on his way to Tibet.

In 1955, seven years before the Indian Army’s disastrous rout at the hands of Chinese forces, Cheshire-born Sydney Wignall was inspired to lead a Welsh Himalayan Expedition to try and climb the 25,355-foot-high Gurla Mandhata peak in Western Tibet.

Sponsored by the Liverpool Daily Post newspaper and Life magazine, the ostensible objective of the team was to place the flags of Wales and the Chinese Republic on the Gurla Mandhata summit.

Unbeknown to his fellow climbers, however, Wignall had also agreed to gather information for the Indian Army intelligence worried about China’s secret military build up in what was then the autonomous region of Tibet.

Although he and his fellow climber John Harrop, together with their Nepalese liaison officer Damodar Narayan Suwal, were captured soon after they crossed the ill-defined Nepalese border, the information that Wignall collected was the equivalent of intelligence gold dust.

It was gratefully received and analysed by his Indian Army contact, Lieut-Col ‘Baij’ Mehta, who was later killed during the Chinese invasion of Arunachel Pradesh in 1962. It was passed on to an equally grateful Gen KS Thimayya, who later became India’s Chief of Army Staff. He tried and failed to persuade Jawaharlal Nehru of China’s aggressive intentions.

Tellingly, Wignall subsequently had little time for Indian politicians, especially Krishna Menon, who allowed their communist sympathies to blind them to Beijing’s aim of dominating South Asia.

Wignall had met Menon many years earlier in London in 1940, seven years before Independence, when India’s future defence minister and other fellow left-wing activists toed the Soviet Union’s then policy of avoiding confrontation with Adolph Hitler. Menon called 18-year-old Wignall ‘impertinent’ and Wignall formed the impression that Menon was ‘vain, arrogant and conceited.” He called him ‘A thoroughly detestable man.’

Wignall’s Indian heroes were the likes of Gen Thimayya, Col Mehta and Brig John Dalvi, who, in 1962, had only 2,700 soldiers under his command to resist a Chinese division of 12,000 that swept down on him from the Thagla Ridge in what was then known as the North East Frontier Agency or NEFA.

Brigadier Dalvi’s 7th Brigade, which ran out of ammunition, suffered 90 per cent casualties. Those who survived the immediate onslaught died overnight because they had not been supplied with adequate tents, sleeping bags or warm winter clothing. Brigadier Dalvi himself was captured and tortured. A broken man when he was released, he died a few years later much before his time.

It was while he was preparing for his Himalayan expedition in 1955 that Wignall made contact with a retired Indian Army officer, one Lieut-Col Toby Tobin, who was then the vice-president of the Himalayan Club and editor of the Himalayan Journal. Tobin told him, “You might be able to do some friends a favour” before introducing him to a contact called ‘Singh’ at the Indian High Commission in London.

What followed thereafter was like something out of a John Buchan novel. Singh briefed Wignall about the bellicose statements that some Chinese generals had been making about territorial claims to large parts of Northern India, Nepal, Sikkim and Burma. For that reason the Indian military authorities were interested in rumours of China’s intention of building a military highway in west Tibet, close to the sacred lake of Mansarowar.

“You happen to be the only one visiting what to us is the most sensitive area in the whole border region,” Singh explained. “From a vantage point on the north-west ridge of Gurla Mandhata you would be able to see, with a telescope, any sign of a military encampment in that area, and you could look for evidence of the building of that military highway to west Tibet.”

Supplied with maps provided by the British War office, Wignall and his team soon embarked on their 6,500-mile trip from London to the borders of India, Nepal and Tibet. Within days of crossing into Tibet from the Khatang Pass, however, the three lead members of the team were arrested for illegally crossing into Chinese territory.

For the next two months they were held in freezing, rat-infested rooms and interrogated by a team led by Gen Chang Kuo-hua, the military commander of Tibet. These were hard-line party supporters, very different from the likes of 21st century Chinese communist VIPS like millionaire Bo Xilai who had his son Bo Guagua educated at Harrow, Oxford and Harvard.

General Chang was made of much sterner stuff. His minions beat up and abused the British mountaineers, subjecting them to mock executions and telling them, “You intended disguising your illegal armed invasion of China so that the Tibetans would not know you are agents of a foreign power, Western Fascist Lackey Imperial Running Dogs.”

Wignall himself was told, “Sign the confession that you are a Western Fascist Lackey Imperialist Running Dog of the American CIA and we will be very good to you. Otherwise you will be severely punished.”

Although they were under close surveillance during their captivity, Wignall and his friends were able to extract vital information, both from their interrogators and from some of the more friendly guards.

In what was then the pre-satellite age, Wignall managed to accurately estimate the strength of the secret Chinese army base at Jitkot, 17 miles from Tklakot close to the Nepal border. More importantly he was able to gauge that China’s strategic highway from Lhasa would reach Tklakot within the next two years. And from General Chang he heard how Beijing laid claim to India’s Aksai Chin and NEFA regions, as well as parts of Nepal, Kashmir, all of Sikkim, all of Bhutan and parts of northern Burma.

Much of what Wignall discovered was confirmed and reconfirmed before, during and after the 1962 Chinese invasion of India. He himself neither asked for, nor was given any form of compensation by the authorities in India.

Wignall did brief members of the British Foreign Office about his adventures when he returned to London, but his main satisfaction was extracted from the belief that he had taken high risks for the right reasons. In later years he became an underwater archaeologist, uncovering wrecks in British, Portugese and Panamanian waters. A handful of Indians may still remember both his affection for the country and his perilous exploits in the Himalayas. For them he remains a much-loved friend of Mother India.
Silence is golden: PM on army chief's rows
On Board Air India One, May 29 — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday refrained from the rows over army chief Gen. V.K. Singh, saying: "Sometimes silence is golden."

He was speaking to reporters on board his special aircraft while returning home from a three-day visit to Myanmar.

Gen. Singh was involved in a messy row with the government over his attempt to get his year of berth "rectified" from 1950 to 1951. The issue went right up to the Supreme Court but the government said it had no intention of acceding to him.

Soon after, Gen. Singh was involved in a controversey over a showcause notice for a blotched operation in the northeast issued to Lt. Gen. B.S. Suhag, who is seen as the successor to army chief designate Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh.

Gen. Singh justified the notice, saying it was for the officer to reply.

Gen. Singh has also accused a retired lieutenant general of attempting to bribe him to accept deficient heavy-duty trucks for the Indian Army.

In between, a newspaper report suggested that Gen. Singh secretly moved two large army formations towards New Delhi in January to "spook" the government. The defence ministry described it as a routine exercise.
Petitioners claim apex court was misled on next army chief
New Delhi, May 29 (IANS) A group of petitioners was moved in the Supreme Court Tuesday alleging that the government misled the court during the hearing on their earlier plea challenging the selection of Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh as the next army chief.

The petitioners include former navy chief Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas, former chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami, other retired defence officers and civil servants and concerned citizens.

The court dismissed their earlier plea April 23.

The fresh petition said that 'blatantly false and misleading' statements were made by the government earlier and sought a review of the court order dismissing their plea seeking the quashing of the decision of a cabinet committee to appoint Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh as the next army chief.

The review petition said that after the dismissal of their petition by the apex court, they 'sought opinion from the people working in the army, civil servants posted with the United Nations, and also received reply/information to the applications under RTI (Right To Information) Act filed by them.'

'Based on these opinion, information and documents they have come to realise, that unfortunately and to their utter shock and surprise this Hon'ble court has been misled by the respondent authorities..,' the review petition said.

The petition said that as the Indian Army UN peacekeeping contingent in the Congo under the command of the then Major General Bikram Singh was 'highly indisciplined and had functioned more as mercenaries than military personnel bringing shame to the country in the international arena.' The troops were also accused of sexual misconduct.

The then Maj. Gen. Bikram Singh was the Eastern Divisional Commander of United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONCU).

The then Maj. Gen. Bikram Singh was the deputy force commander of the mission. However, the government in the hearing on earlier petition described his role as that of an international civil servant.

The petition referred to the apex court verdict in former chief vigilance commissioner P.J. Thomas' case where his appointment was set aside as not existing in law.

It said that eligibility was not the only criterion but the institutional integrity too must weigh in making such appointments.

Referring to an alleged staged shootout killing case in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and another matter in a court of inquiry in Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, the petition said when cases of Thomas and Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh were compared they pointed to two separate standards of institutional integrity.
“It is incorrect to suggest that my actions are destroying civil-military relationship”

When General VK Singh will demit office on 31 May, he will go down in the history of Indian Army as perhaps its most controversial chief. Not only was he the first COAS to drag the government to court, his allegations of bribery sent a government running for cover. When everyone thought peace was finally brokered between the government and Gen Singh, and his retirement would be without further incidents, he courted controversy again and issued a show-cause notice to a serving Lt General, someone tipped to be Army Chief in 2014. Not one to take things lying down, in a series of no-holds barred television interviews, Gen VK Singh made a series of allegations which rocked the Defence Ministry’s boat.

In his interview to Tehelka—one of the last before he retires—the chief tries to steer clear of any controversy and claims that the internal health of the Army has considerably improved and now there is a greater transparency.

Brijesh Pandey
New Delhi

Photo: AFP

A show-cause notice issued to Lt Gen Dalbir Suhag has become the latest controversy surrounding you. Allegations are leveled that by sending this show-cause, you are settling a personal score, especially when you had less than a fortnight to retire. It is also being alleged that by trying to block Lt Gen Suhag’s promotion you are not only scuttling his chances to become Army Chief in 2014 but also upset the line of succession.
The incident in question happened in 2011. The incident being serious, a timeline was given to submit the court of inquiry (CoI). The CoI was delayed by concerned HQ and therefore, the show cause-notice has been issued after receipt and examination of CoI. He should not have gone to the press. Other than that there is no other reason. There is no line of succession in the Army, the senior and most deserving candidate at the time of selection is chosen as the Chief.
Army chief imposes ‘discipline and vigilance’ ban on colleague

A general’s unforgettable legacy

The uneasy head that shall wear the crown

This is not the only time you have acted against Lt Gen Suhag. You had also forwarded a complaint against him by TMC MP to the CBI, bypassing the MoD.
The complaint forwarded by the TMC MP had to be investigated as no details of investigation were available against Lt Gen Suhag despite reminders to all concerned. Hence Central Bureau of Investigation was asked after giving them details of concerned authorities. On receipt of reply the case has been rested. There is no personal vendetta against anybody.

You hit the headlines when you became the first Army Chief to go to the Supreme Court against the government of the day. However, you withdrew your complaint later. What do you have to say about the age row controversy now?
The complaint was withdrawn as I saw no reason to progress further as the court was arbitrating and not going into the merits of the case. Do you think it was deliberately stoked to get even with you post Sukhna Land scam? Who do you think is responsible for the age row? I have already said that my age issue was triggered through RTI. That was motivated. Papers related to my age were illegitimately released and some papers which were marked top secret by the ministry itself was also released.

In an interview to a newspaper, you claimed that you were offered a bribe to clear a file by Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh and you immediately informed the Defence Minister. It is being alleged that this revelation was timed just to embarrass the government and to take the battle to the Ministry of Defence.
It is only a coincidence that these incidents happened as they have occurred. The interview to the newspaper was not to bring out bribe offer to me by Let Gen Tejinder Singh but to make a point as to how illegal gratification is offered to clear files.

After making the complaint and maintaining a studied silence for close to one-and-a half years, what prompted you to reveal the bribery deal to the press? Were you convinced by then that AK Antony, the Defence Minister, will not do anything about it?
After having made the complaint to the honourable Defence Minister I went into the details of the Tatra procurement and ensured that no bulk purchase were made except for those purchases which are required to meet the minimal requirements. Now the CBI is investigating the case on the directions of the MoD.

What do you have say about the allegations made by Lt Gen Tejinder Singh that he has evidence that off-air interceptors were imported by MI and the equipment was used to bug MoD?
I have no comments on wild allegations.

After becoming the Army Chief you stopped the supply of Tatra Trucks to the Indian Army. What were your basic objections to the deal? Were any complaints about the trucks being sub-standard or highly overpriced made to the Ministry of Defence before you became chief and took action?
The shortcomings in the supply to Tatra truck and the other allied vehicles supplied by the BEML came to my notice only after I have taken over as the Chief of the Army Staff. There are numbers of issues like quality, over pricing and delay in supply. The technology which was being supplied to us was outdated and prices of the trucks were very high. The same is now being investigated by the CBI.

Before you became the Chief almost all of your predecessors readily cleared the file. A majority of the retired officers I spoke to, praised the performance of the truck. So why this sudden reversal of opinion?
My stopping the supply for Tatra trucks was purely based on the merits or demerits of the case. I would not like to say anything about my predecessors. They deserve respect as former Chiefs of the Army Staff.

It is common knowledge that you and the camp of General JJ Singh and Deepak Kapoor don’t see eye-to-eye. Do you think that they are the ones responsible, first for your age row, and then of planting stories aimed to discredit you?
There are no camps. Every Chief has a vision for the Army, which is a great institution and they work towards fulfilling the vision.

What do you have to say about the coup story carried out by The Indian Express?
The coup story was purely fabricated. It is normal routine for any unit to practise mobilisation. The incident has been adequately responded to by the Hon'ble Raksha Mantri, Rajya Raksha Mantri and MoD.

This was not the only story against you. There were allegations that Defence Minister’s office was bugged by you in order to eavesdrop on what is happening inside the ministry.
The Defence Minister's office is debugged by a team of Army personnel frequently. On one such occasion, the equipment malfunctioned and an impression was generated that possibly a bug has been placed. This was reported to the Defence Secretary. This was yet another case blown out of proportion to discredit the Army.

Do you think that the people in Ministry of Defence used their contacts in media to discredit you?
I do not know. It is all for you to find out.

What do you have to say about the role of the Defence Minister in the series of controversies surrounding you?
The Hon'ble Defence Minister is a very upright and an honest person and I have a lot of regards and respect for him. His decisions have always been very mature and he gave excellent support to the Army.

Leaking of the letter written by you to the Prime Minister about the defence preparedness of India is another example. Who do you think was behind the leak and why do you think it was leaked?
The letter was not leaked by the Army. This is not how Army functions. A news agency carried the report about who leaked it. The identity of the individual should be revealed as I consider this act as no less than treason.

People who stood by you during the age row now feel that you have become vindictive and are destroying the civil-military relationship which will have a demoralizing effect on the forces.
All my actions are based on duly investigated facts and following the due legal process. It is incorrect to suggest that my actions are destroying civil-military relationship.

You started out by promising to improve the internal health of the Army. You are about to end your tenure. What has been your success in this regard?
The internal health of the Army was one of my Key Result Areas. Lot of work has been done to bring more transparency in the system. The guilty, irrespective of the rank, have been brought to book. I feel the internal health of the Army has considerably improved. I do not think anybody is after me. However, some people, who have suffered due to disciplinary issues may feel aggrieved.

Don’t you think that the morale of the Army must have been hit by a series of controversies involving the office of COAS?
[The] age issue was a personal issue. I took VK Singh the person to court and not the Army Chief. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that the morale of the Armed Forces has been lowered due to any controversy.
Indian Generals Defame Their Army
By Sajjad Shaukat

Involvement of Maj. Generals, Lt. Generals and Generals in various forms of corruption has continuously defamed the Indian Army.

In this regard, on May 23, this year, Delhi High Court refused to direct the government to withdraw the March 5 press release, issued by the army in which Army Chief General V.K. Singh had accused Lt. Gen. (R) Tejinder Singh of offering him a bribe. The court ruled that disciplinary action “can be taken” against the army chief and four others who had “exceeded their jurisdiction and defamed Tejinder Singh.”

An Indian trial court on May 19 deferred the order about defamation case, filed by Lt. Gen. (R) Tejinder Singh against Gen. V K Singh and four others, saying that it will hold an inquiry into the allegations levelled by Lt. Gen. (R) Tejinder Singh. The court said that the “only important question now is that whether among the five persons”, mentioned in the complaint, the army chief and two others—Lt. Gen. S K Singh and Lt Gen B S Thakur—had any complicity in the publication of the press release. The court further pointed out, “it appeared that the persons named in the complaint had issued the March 5 press release in violation of the Army Act and other rules.”

On May 5, while hearing the defamation complaint against Army Chief Gen. VK Singh and four others Delhi court transferred it to the court of additional chief metropolitan magistrate on the plea of former Lieutenant General Tejinder Singh when Amit Bansal indicated that the counsel for the complainant have “lost confidence over the court.”

In fact, both the Indian government and even the court want to save the skin of General VK Singh in one way or the other so as to keep the image of whole army. A probe into the leakage by the prime minister’s office has also cleared Gen. Singh of any wrongdoing in the episode.

While, Gen. VK Singh wants to rid the Indian Army of any wrong doing before his retirement on May 31. Towards this so-called clean-up effort, Gen. Singh has also sent a show cause notice to Lt. Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag who is expected to be the army chief in 2014. In the notice, Gen Singh has alleged him for the failed intelligence operation, carried out in Assam.

However in the recent past, the opposition made much outcry over the letter which was splashed across the media. Gen. VK Singh had told Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the letter on March 12, 2012 that India’s tanks lacked shells to fire, its air defences were “97 percent obsolete” and its forces “ are woefully short” of weapons, describing the army as unfit to fight a war.

Notably, on March 26, this year, Indian Defence Minister AK Antony ordered a probe into allegations by Army Chief Gen. Singh that he had been offered a $2.8 million bribe to clear a sub-standard defence procurement deal. Next day, Antony said, “we will take strongest action under laws after going into the root of the leak of the army chief’s letter.”

The army chief who has also been in a public dispute with the government over the date of his birth is again in the headlines over a bribery scandal. The general’s insistence that he had informed Antony left the defence minister facing questions as to why there was no earlier investigation into the bribe offer. It shows that the army chief along with the defence minister was inclined to accept bribery, but when it was leaked by some source, Gen. Singh decided to disclose that he was offered bribe.

In its report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) revealed on March 20 this year, “India is the world’s largest recipient of arms…India’s imports of major weapons increased by 38 percent between 2002-06 and 2007-11.”

India has continuously been spending billions of dollars on purchases of arms, planes, radars and ships from Russia, Britain, Germany, Israel and France etc. It has become potential buyer of latest military equipments from the US, also decided a major purchase of US F-16 and F-18 fighter. On November 2, 2011, the United States agreed to sell India, even the most sophisticated and the new F-35 fighter jets. So as to how Indian army chief stated that Indian ground and air defences were out-of-date. In fact, his integrity is doubtful. In this connection, the uproar is the latest blow for Prime Minister Singh’s government which has already been paralysed by a series of graft cases and high-profile corruption scandals.

Earlier Gen. Singh had also been found involved in corruption. In this context, on August 6, 2009, a report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG), tabled in Parliament indicted Indian Gen. Singh (without naming him or his current position) for misusing his financial powers when he was heading the Ambala-based “Kharga” 2 Strike Corps to sanction unauthorised construction of a golf club building at Ambala cantonment. The CAG report elaborated that the (then) commander of the Headquarters 2 Corps (GOC) was the sanctioning authority in December 2006.

Nevertheless, a number of Indian army General have also been found involved in various kinds of malpractices. On January 22, 2011, Lt. Gen. P.K. Rath was handed down a sentence including a two-year seniority loss and forfeiture of 15 years of service for pension purposes when an Indian army court found him guilty of approving the construction of a school near military land, signing an agreement with a builder without informing the command headquarters, and the court martial also found three other officers to face charges.

In this respect, the Press Trust of India reported, “Lt. Gen. Avadesh Prakash is the most senior of the four, who also faces a court martial…the other two face administrative action. It further revealed that lieutenant generals had been court-martialled after they had retired. The Sukhna land scam case came to light in 2008. Lt. Gen. Prakash and Rath were accused of favouring a private builder, based in the town of Siliguri in West Bengal state.
Besides, a report of the Controller of Auditor General (CAG) disclosed that Indian Army Headquarter had issued orders for a general court martial of Lt. General (R) Surendra Kumar Sahni including some other officers for their role in committing irregularities in procuring meat and dry rations for the troops, stationed at Siachen and other high altitude areas. The report revealed that soldiers were supplied wheat, rice, pulses and edible oil after 28 days of their expiry date—food items were bought at cheaper rates by the contractors and then supplied to various army units, while rations worth of Rs. 1.92 crore were untraceable in the Northern Command as of March 2008.

In the recent past, Maj. Gen. AK Lal was also dismissed after having been found guilty of sexually assaulting a junior woman officer. The woman’s parents had lodged a written complaint against the Major General to the then Army Chief General JJ Singh.

Surprisingly, in 2007, the defence circle was being memorised as year of corruption. During the said year, two Lieutenant Generals, S.K. Dahiya and S.K. Sahni including two Major Generals, Anand Swaroop and SP Sinha were charged in separate cases of irregularities. In the same year, the CBI sorted out Maj. Gen. Anand Kapoor for possessing disproportionate assets to the tune of Rs. five crore. In another case, Maj. Gen. Gur Iqbal Singh Multani was found guilty in smuggling of large quantities of defence liquor to his hometown. He was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment, stripped of his rank and dismissed from service by a military court.

Although lower-ranking officers of the Indian Army were found involved in malpractices, yet involvement of full Generals, Lieutenant Generals and Major Generals, particularly Army Chief General VK Singh in various kinds of corruption has not only dwindled the confidence of soldiers over their military leadership, but has also defamed the Indian Army.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations
Reporting the General
It was on the day he took over as the 24th Indian Chief of Army Staff, March 31, 2010, that I first met General Vijay Kumar Singh. Jostling with a crowd of journalists for short interviews on the first floor of the Ministry of Defence at South Block, word had spread that the new Chief was speaking his mind, and laying it on the line about just how he planned to clean up an Army that had had its image battered by a series of scandals, many of them linked in some way or the other with the office of the Chief at the time.

120326070701_blog_280.jpgVK Singh just been handed the baton in a supremely awkward change of guard ceremony in the Chief's Office, with his predecessor General Deepak Kapoor. Anyone who saw the footage of that event knew just how much the two men disliked and distrusted each other. General Singh was aware of the wave of positivity that was his to ride, and ride it he did. The most memorable phrase he used in interview after interview that day was "internal health". Without exception, all newspapers and T.V. channels led with that phrase. A subdued Army crept out of the shadows, willing, for the first time in a long time, to believe that the storm had perhaps passed.

When I had my turn, Gen Singh was hospitable, eager and supremely warm. He exuded sincerity. He spoke with purpose, but not without humour. Most journalists (certainly me) walked out of South Block that evening assured that the Army we had collectively stripped down through a series of controversial episodes over the previous two years, was now in safe, no-nonsense hands. I'm a journalist. But it is my Army too, though I can imagine how that's easy to forget for many who look at the media, on occasion with perfectly good reason, as a bunch of disrespectful bloodhounds.

General VK Singh is the first Chief of Army Staff that I did not have a direct equation with (of any kind) in the course of my career. I asked him questions at press events, but I didn't have a 'direct line' with him, as many clearly did. As a journalist, I had to ensure I knew people on his team and in his office, but I couldn't have ever said that I could dial Army House and have them connect me to the General with a toss of my name. And somehow, this was fine. Because here was an officer who looked like he was immersing himself in a task that might have made many a General pass up the offer. Rescuing a force with such uniformly battered morale was always going to be a phenomenally unforgiving job. And the one thing it was always going to require was an almost divine selflessness. This, the General had plainly shown when he took over, was something he was ready to demonstrate. Frankly, it is hard to remember that time.

The weird thing is, and I suspect that this will hold true for anyone who has had even a cursory interest in the tenure of the Chief, I cannot for the life of me remember anything about his tenure. It is a complete blank. Usually, I have a more than decent memory of events and decisions, and my mind is a usually a ready hard-drive for a lot of, well, useless information. But I simply cannot remember anything about General Singh's tenure as Chief of Army Staff.

Other than, of course, the issue with his Age.

As the age episode intensified, peaking in January 2012 with Gen Singh choosing to approach court, there was a palpable sense for many that this was an Army chief who was sticking it to the man, standing up against a feelingless, vindictive, bumbling establishment that couldn't have known military if a jawan in olives came up and slapped it. An officer who was finally doing what countless generals and officers had no doubt dreamed of doing, but rarely had the nerve: giving it right back to the netas. A little known nugget from the time -- Gen Singh's final port of call with the UPA before he chose to sue it in January, was Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, venerable trouble-shooter-at-large. Pranab, as the Chief knew well, was the US Navy SEAL of the UPA -- if all else failed, this man wouldn't. In a 15 minute meeting, Pranab Mukherjee is understood to have told the Chief to hold his horses and that a solution would be worked out. Gen Singh did not, for reasons best known to him, think that this was assurance enough. After all, the Government may simply have been trying to forestall the inevitable. And so, he sued. It was historic stuff. I was in Mysore when the bomb fell.

The case thumped down a Y-fork in the Army's succession highway. If Gen Singh won his case, he would potentially retire a year later and would be succeeded by the Army's Northern Commander Lt Gen Kaiwalya Parnaik. If he lost, the Army's Eastern Commander Lt Gen Bikram Singh would succeed him on May 31, as planned.

But something deeply disturbing, that had lurked quietly through the age dispute at South Block, bubbled to the surface with the Supreme Court entering the equation. As a journalist whose job it is to speak to officers and men across the spectrum of seniority to track the story, it became progressively apparent that the Army had been pervaded by an insidious factionalism. For several reasons, both parochial, ideological and otherwise, there were those who wanted Bikram to be the next chief. Similarly, there were those wanted Parnaik to be the next Chief. Many of these officers and men gamely participated in the dispute, leaking confidential documents, tipping journalists off about events and meetings that wouldn't otherwise have ever made it out.

It was a stealthy war within. Anyone who understands the military will know just how unhealthy, how unacceptable this is. There was mess-hall intrigue and gossip in units across the country. I saw it and heard it. Many of us who report on defence got calls from both sides. There were constant offers of nuggets, information, documents. One officer even offered me a video clip of Gen Singh at a temple in Agra, presumably in an effort to peg the Army chief as inappropriately religious. I got frequent calls from officers asking why we were "screwing" one side or the other. What was being reported had become a matter of deep interest to several in uniform. It was dark, and it continues to be. In the Army, your boss is also your god. In the larger sense, there cannot be multiple power centres. As Gene Hackman's character Captain Frank Ramsey so memoraby says in the 1995 film Crimson Tide, "We're here to preserve democracy. Not practice it." Gen Singh had and continues to have powerful enemies within his own Army. And these aren't constructive dissenters that all Chiefs presumably have to deal with.

It was inevitable that any tough official decision the Army chief took after the legal setback on his age was going to be construed as a manifestation of his anger and frustration at losing a battle he chose to take to the level it's currently at. Therefore, a man who would otherwise have been applauded for a series of hard calls that questioned the status quo (and, as it turns out, the famous 'line of succession'), is instead seen by his critics as a bitter, vengeful dog-in-the-manger with no respect for established civilian authority. Whether such perceptions will stick, perhaps only history will decide. Among everything else, Gen Singh enjoys the reputation of being the Real Deal, of being a man of redoubtable integrity, shackled by the system and therefore fully justified in hitting back in any way he thinks fit. There is a perception that finally, here's a man who has the guts and indeed, chutzpah, to put a venal, cowardly, scam-ridden government in its place. Unfortunately, and there can be little argument about this, that isn't the job of the Chief of Army Staff. There is even less argument that the UPA needs severe correcting, but it can be nobody's case that this is the responsibility of a four-star general.

Even more unfortunately, Gen Singh was almost certainly misled by a retinue of probably well-meaning advisors who saw this as a battle of good against evil. The Chief appeared convinced that this was a fight to the finish. It appeared, at several points, to consume him. The perception that this was a righteous war was helpfully fuelled by a ham-handed government that appeared to lumber zombie-like from one public disaster to another.

For me, and I suspect for anyone who cares about lessons from conflict, especially one as polarising as this one, this story isn't over. And there are no absolutes. As a journalist, let me conclude with 10 questions I wish we could all have truthful answers to. None of these are rhetorical:

1. Is it appropriate for an Army chief  to be seen to be standing-off against a government, even if it's a venal, corrupt, indecisive one?

2. Is civilian authority over the armed forces, like it or not, non-negotiable and absolute? Isn't that precisely what sets India apart from Pakistan?

3. Are all of Gen Singh's future actions fated to be linked, whether he likes it or not, to the age dispute?

4. Nobody goes to court to lose. In retrospect, would Gen Singh have done things differently?

5. Could the events of the last two months have been avoided if the Govt had simply accepted that Gen Singh was born in 1951, but that he would retire on schedule in May this year?

6. We know that the Government acted with inconsistency, and in some cases, vindictiveness. But did the Army chief maintain 100 per cent integrity throughout the age episode?

7. Was the Army chief aware that people on his team and those who sympathised were breaking the law by leaking official documents?

8. The Army chief says A.K. Antony is an 'honourable man'. Come on. What does the Army chief really think about the Defence Minister?

9. Would Gen Singh have gone the Vishnu Bhagwat way if the NDA was in power?

10. Does Gen Singh leave the Army in better shape than he found it?

And I'll end with something I've said before. Gen VK Singh has had an illustrious career, and is a soldier as solid as they come. Bright, accomplished, loved by his men and respected by his peers. His integrity and honour were never in doubt. Tragically for him, for the institution of the Chief of Army Staff, and most importantly for the Army itself, it will perhaps forever be perceived to be just that: In doubt.
Ajai Shukla: Thank God that's over...
On April Fools’ Day 2010, while taking over as Chief of Army Staff, General V K Singh identified his foremost goal as restoring the army’s “internal health”. On Thursday, in what surely will be a frosty ceremony, he will hand over to his successor, General Bikram Singh, an army whose generals are badly divided. Not even in the 1950s and 1960s, when the ambitious Lieutenant General B M Kaul exploited his proximity to Jawaharlal Nehru to split the officer community into pro-Kaul and anti-Kaul factions, did India witness the sorry spectacle of an army chief publicly denigrating his top commanders.

Where did V K Singh go wrong? Many argued (including this columnist) that the army chief was within his rights to take his government to the Supreme Court. This after the defence ministry rejected his petition to adjust his date of birth, and thereby allow him another 10 months in office. But once the Supreme Court judges rubbished his case in court, forcing him to withdraw his petition, V K Singh faced the prospect of an anonymous retirement just four months away.
His desperate riposte was ill-judged from the start. Soon after his setback in the Supreme Court, a group of illustrious citizens, including a retired navy chief, Admiral Ramdas, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court that rested on the communal narrative of a Sikh conspiracy to get General Bikram Singh into office. While the petitioners cannot be conclusively linked with V K Singh, the evidence suggests that they were at least manipulated by him. On February 10, the day V K Singh withdrew from the Supreme Court, the general’s henchmen approached me with a detailed briefing on “Operation Moses”. Reduced to its cringe-worthy essentials, this had Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife; Planning Commission Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and his wife; former army chief General J J Singh and his wife; and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (every Sikh down the chain, you get the drift?) in cahoots to get V K Singh out of office on May 31, 2012, when Bikram Singh would be poised to take over from him. I declined to pursue these improbable and slanderous allegations. Regrettably, Admiral Ramdas & Co approached the Supreme Court, challenging Bikram Singh’s appointment.

Perhaps this communalism should not have been a surprise. After all, the Rajput card was played without compunction whilst V K Singh was fighting his date of birth battle. A group of Rajput parliamentarians was dispatched to the prime minister to plead on his behalf. When a proxy was needed to file a Supreme Court writ petition on the general’s date of birth, the “Rohtak Grenadiers’ Association”, packed with the general’s fellow-Rajputs, was conveniently at hand.

Sadly for V K Singh, nothing worked. The PM politely reminded the Rajput MPs that the army must remain apolitical. The Supreme Court, less politely, dismissed the Rohtak Grenadiers’ Association writ petition. And the apex court, while throwing out the “Operation Moses” writ petition in end-April, scolded the petitioners for communalising the issue.

With avenues closing fast, V K Singh apparently decided to use his office to launch himself into politics. By end-March, he had donned the garb of an anti-corruption crusader. First an earlier interview was dusted out in which he described turning down a Rs 14 crore bribe by one of his senior generals; that was followed in short order by the leak of his letter (still a whodunit!) to the PM warning about the army’s poor state of operational readiness. The insinuation was clear: with corruption below him and indifference above, V K Singh alone was a bastion of morality. Last month, in an unabashedly political move, the chief travelled to Ballia for a Samajwadi Party function to unveil a statue of former prime minister Chandra Shekhar.

Last Friday, the outgoing chief proved that he had lost any lingering trace of judgement. Sharing a platform with R K Anand – a disreputable lawyer who the Supreme Court convicted for contempt of court after an NDTV camera caught him buying off a key witness in the notorious BMW kill-and-run case – V K Singh launched a public tirade against one of his corps commanders, Lt General Dalbir Singh Suhag, ironically accusing him of making public a show-cause notice issued to him. Suhag was apparently being targeted as the army chief who would take over from Bikram Singh. Earlier that day, V K Singh had attended an ex-servicemen’s rally in Dharamsala, where he sat listening as former Congressman Vijay Singh Mankotia flayed the government.

Fortunately, it is time to turn the page. It would be a mistake to believe (as Pakistan’s generals are prone to do) that the Indian Army will remain deflated for long. The young and mid-ranking officers, and the rank and file, remain untouched by V K Singh’s shenanigans. Bikram Singh has his task cut out for him: to apply a healing touch and to visibly and conclusively bury the vendettas that V K Singh pursued. The corrosiveness of the outgoing chief will itself make his successor look good. Above all, Bikram Singh must embrace the virtues of silence. An army chief expresses himself with tanks and guns, not in lengthy interviews on news television.


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