The government needs to be complimented for maintaining its cool and dignity in the face of some of the recent ill-advised actions and public comments of General VK Singh, the outgoing Chief of the Army Staff, who will be retiring on May 31.
Any hasty action against him or a slanging match with him will lower the dignity of the office of the COAS. National interest demands that this dignity of this high office must be maintained in the eyes of the officers and jawans of the army as well as the public. An army marches and fights on its pride in itself in its officers and in its chief and this pride should not be damaged.
Whatever be his ill-advised actions and comments, Gen Singh enjoys a high reputation for his personal integrity and his professionalism. These positive qualities of his have to be recognised and respected. In the government's feelings of hurt over his ill-advised actions and public comments, his record as an officer in leading his men and serving the country should not be forgotten.
Certain worrisome issues have come to the fore during this controversy. These relate to the slowing down of the procurement process in the armed services as a whole, which seems to have had an impact on the arms and ammunition and other equipment holdings of the army and the casual and non-serious manner in which allegations of corruption are handled both in the army headquarters and the defence ministry. There have been serious sins of commission and omission in both and by both, which have at least partly contributed to the present controversy.
Not only members of the public, but also the soldiers and officers of the armed forces in their barracks and cantonments would be discussing and analysing the merits of some of the issues raised by the COAS, the validity of which cannot and should not be questioned. These issues have to be addressed seriously and the public and the armed forces convinced that the government has not been and will not be indifferent to the serious and worrisome issues projected by the COAS -- whatever might have been his motive in projecting them from the roof top instead of across the table within the confines of the offices of the South Block.
The government should immediately initiate action to address the deficiencies in the state of our defence preparedness pointed out by the COAS. The action has to be two-fold -- immediate procurement on an emergency basis of the various items mentioned by the COAS in his letter of March 12 to you and short and medium term measures for removing the bottler necks and speed breakers that seem to have crept into our procurement process during the last 10 years.
I would strongly recommend the appointment of an eminent chiefs group of the armed forces consisting of one past chief each of the army, the air force and the navy headed by the nominee of the army to go into the contents of the COAS letter of March 12 and recommend a time-bound plan of action.
While it is important to establish how the contents of the letter leaked
to the media and initiate disciplinary action against the person found responsible for the serious breach of security, the government should not allow its anger and discomfiture over the leak to divert its attention from the need to address immediately the worrisome state of affairs pointed out by the COAS.
Another issue calling for action is to go into the procedure adopted by the armed forces headquarters and the defence ministry for dealing with complaints of corruption so that the public and the three forces are reassured that there is no attempt to cover them up. This enquiry could be entrusted to an eminent retired judge of the Supreme Court. He could go into various issues such as the role of the Central Vigilance Commissioner in checking corruption in the armed forces and the defence ministry, the existing vigilance mechanism in them and the trigger mechanism by which action is triggered when there is a complaint. While it is important to weed out corruption, it is equally important to ensure that motivated allegations and suspicions planted with an ulterior motive do not slow down the procurement process to the detriment of the armed forces.
During the course of the public debate on the sequel to L'Affaire COAS certain lingering issues from the past have also been raised -- such as the non-implementation of the recommendations of the Arun Singh Task Force regarding the reorganisation and modernisation of defence management and an alleged disuse of the past practice of the prime minister personally interacting with the three chiefs on various issues relating to the three services and the state of our defence preparedness.
Arun Singh is a highly regarded expert on matters relating to the modernisation of defence management and enjoys tremendous respect in the armed forces as well as among the civilian bureaucracy. I would suggest that he should be requested to go into this aspect once again and suggest remedial measures. It is important for the prime minister to take the initiative for periodically interacting with the three service chiefs.
Many countries including Japan and China have the practice of periodically issuing a white paper on defence to create greater transparency about defence matters. This is a practice, which is worthy of emulation by us. The government should quickly come out with a white paper on the various measures already taken or proposed to be taken for the modernisation of the armed forces and the defence management.
I know personally that some of the allegations being made projecting the civilian bureaucracy as the villain of the piece in the tardy implementation of the recommendations of the Arun Singh Task Force are due to misperceptions for want of transparency and accurate information. The well-informed among us know that the non-implementation of some of the recommendations was not due to any stonewalling by the civilian bureaucracy, but because of a lack of consensus on the follow-up action among the three services.
A white paper and a debate on it in the Parliament and outside would go some way in removing these misperceptions.
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