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Army's flailing health is no BIG secret; THEY always knew

Last updated on: March 28, 2012 22:55 IST

Army's flailing health is no BIG secret; THEY always knew

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

The UPA government has been caught unawares once again. The latest salvo from Army Chief V K Singh, this time targetting the Prime Minister's Office, has left it groping in the dark for options. Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt analyses.
 
Army Chief General V K Singh had recently, in a closed-room meeting, made a detailed presentation to the central government on the Indian Army's weaknesses, all aspects of which found mention in his leaked letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, government sources informed.

General Singh's letter, which gave shocking details of India's security breaches, was leaked in a Mumbai-based daily on Wednesday.

Last week Jane's Defence Weekly, a prestigious publication on security matters, published a report by their New Delhi-based representative Rahul Bedi, who reported, "The operational efficiency of India's 1.2 million-strong army is hampered not only by severe equipment shortages, obsolete hardware and restricted night-fighting capabilities, but also by its strained relations with the Ministry of Defence, which is solely responsible for the force's long-delayed modernisation programme."

Quoting Brigadier Arun Sahgal (retd), joint director of the New Delhi-based Institute of National Security Studies, the report said, "This prevailing impasse will impinge on co-operation between the MoD and army headquarters to urgently modernise the army's armoury, artillery, air defence and infantry assets, all of which are in disarray, afflicted by a lack of timely planning and resource management."

It is clear that the sensational details of India's lack of preparedness, made public through the leaked letter, are not exactly secret. MoD officials and concerned people are well aware of it.

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Image: File photo shows Army Chief V K Singh with Defence Minister AK Antony
Photographs: PIB Photos

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What is not known is what this government did when General Singh was "exposing" his own army's vulnerability in internal debates.

By all accounts, it has done nothing, so far. That makes the government's side weak. 
 
It is also a fact that whenever a Chief of Army Staff retires, he leaves behind such letters to "alarm" the government of the day.

This exercise is usually taken as a tacit means to pressurise the civilian government not to cut the budget of defence purchases.

Since years, the Indian Army's weaknesses and its inept, inefficient and corroded system have been documented by way of the retiring CoAS's departure notes to the Prime Minister's Office or the MoD.

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Image: File photo of Gen V K Singh at the Amar Jawan Jyoti in New Delhi
Photographs: PIB Photos

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Since the day General Singh began his confrontation with the government on the issue of his date of birth many people inside and outside the government had cautioned that the confrontation will not be limited to his age. As expected, General Singh has targeted the PMO after 'hitting' Defence Minister A K Antony.
 
In fact, within the government there have been demands made for prompt and firm action against the CoAS when his actions of going to Supreme Court created embarrassment to the government. But the government failed to handle the issue, politically or strategically.

After losing the date of birth game, General Singh has successfully played his cards so far.

His issue of corruption has divided the MoD and the army brass.

People who are supporting him are also known for fighting corruption within and outside the government.

The government was shamed when the General disclosed how he was allegedly offered bribe by the previous director-general of the Defence Intelligence Agency and how Antony remained inactive.

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Image: File photo shows Defence Minister A K Antony with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a Cabinet meet
Photographs: PIB Photos

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Army's flailing health is no BIG secret; THEY always knew

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Antony's perceived inaction is now looking indefensible.

General Singh's latest complaint is the alleged inaction of the PMO on his complaints regarding serious shortages of arms and ammunition in the army due to shabby and over-cautious procurement policy of the defence minister who is always nervous to see that he preserves his image as Mr Clean and avoids important decisions that could lead to complaints against him.

The fixers in the defence sectors, who found Antony to be a 'speed-breaker', will sneer while reading General Singh's letter. 
 
Since August, the CoAS, at the various levels of the government and inside the 
national security set up, has been talking and talking a lot. He was not paid any attention due to other issues related to him and his confrontation with the MoD.

The government's apathy is now hurting the national interests. 

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Image: File photo shows Col B K Majumdar of the Kendriya Sainik Board pinning a lapel on the Defence Minister A K Antony, on the occasion of the Armed Forces Flag Day, in New Delhi on December 07, 2011
Photographs: PIB Photos

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In fact, many in the government believe that the Defence Research and Development Organisation is being pampered by the political leadership and the civilian bureaucracy; that its failure to deliver is being overlooked. 
 
General Singh is using such known facts to his advantage because the government is in the wrong. He now seems to be targeting the prime minister himself. The government is under pressure from various political class and from within to act against the CoAS -- if necessary, even terminate his services.
 
But the Congress party is divided on the issue. If the General is sacked he can still damage the government from outside.

It has now come out that General Singh had the habit of taping conversations clandestinely.

A Congress source argued, "He will be encouraged to do so, as he will turn victim. So, sacking may not help."

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Image: File photo shows General Singh inspecting a guard of honour
Photographs: PIB Photos

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The government may not be able to take any decision whatsoever immediately because of the BRICS summit, which has attracted a large number of foreign media. 

Moreover, before any action is taken against the CoAS the government will need to assess the ramifications. 

The mood inside the government on Wednesday is that the General's sacking may not really help, as he can be equally damaging out of office; so why sack him and allow him martyrdom?

One option under consideration is to send him on 'forced leave'.

The only saving grace for the government on Wednesday was that the Left parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party did not embarrass it further after General Singh threw egg on its face.

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