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Interview/General V K Singh

Last updated on: May 23, 2012 11:19 IST

'I would like to be remembered as somebody who tried to change things'


Kalyani Shankar

Indian Army chief General Vijay Kumar Singh speaks to Kalyani Shankar about the age row, the Tatra issue, the letter leak, and his future plans in this first part of a free-wheeling interview.

Are you leaving the army as a satisfied man or do you think that there is something more you could do?

I am greatly satisfied. I joined the army at that time one did not even know one would rise to this level. When you look back, you find it has been an interesting journey, which was adventurous. I don't mind living that all over again.

Like what?

Everything. The army fosters a brotherhood. Even in the last two years that I have been chief, I have been able to achieve a lot. Well, you always feel that you can attain more.

There are lots of things that have been done. There are lots of things that are in the pipeline and that would fructify.

How would you like to be remembered? As a man who has been fighting for rights or as a man who faced injustice?

I see that there are some misperceptions. I would like to say that what I was doing was for organisational integrity. You can't have two sets of rules. What I was doing as far as my age was concerned was something for the organisation.

If I am affected today, it may affect someone else tomorrow. So we have got to have the same set of rules, same playing field, same goal post and you can't keep shifting it.

I would like to be remembered as somebody who tried to change things. Whether it was transformation or the mindset in the army, or whether it was bringing in probity, integrity -- all these things.

Also rooting out corruption?

Obviously, that was what I started with.

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Image: Army Chief General V K Singh inspecting a guard of honour in New Delhi
Photographs: Reuters


'We have been able to do major things'

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When you took over, you came with a lot of ideas.

You wanted to rejuvenate the army. Have you been able to achieve that or have you left behind an unfinished agenda?

To a great deal, what I started with has been achieved. I talked of transformation. It was not something that could be attained in a two-year time frame.

We have been able to do the major things. We have able to lay the time frame in more concrete terms for the future.

That has been something very good for the army. Similarly, there were a lot of things I started with, which probably deviated a little bit later. So I feel quite satisfied.

What is the unfinished agenda?

When we look at something unfinished, there are a lot of processes that have to take place. Overall, over a period of time, we become very monolithic. We have become very bureaucratic in our approach. That will take time to change. And it is changing.

I am quite sure that we will be able to change in the future. The mindset -- whether it was delaying decisions, or sitting on proposals -- all these things will change.

In hindsight, do you think that the controversies at the very end of your term could have been avoided?

I remember you said somewhere that mistakes have been made on all sides. How has the controversy affected the morale of the army?

The only real controversy was the age part. I have said that it was avoidable. It should have been sorted out as per rules of the law. The matter would have ended.

My aim was quite clear: I was not asking for extra time. All that I was asking for, was that these were the facts, and they needed to be rectified.

In my mind there was no controversy. I think that angle was played more by the media and more by people with vested interests. That is why I have always said it was absolutely avoidable.

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Image: General V K Singh
Photographs: Reuters
Tags: army

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'I am not leaving an army which is fractionised'

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You said mistakes have been made from all sides?

I did not say mistakes have been made. The question asked was do you think you feel this could have been avoided? So yes, it could have been avoided.

I never started it.

People at the top level understood what the correct stance was and they completely supported it. I am not leaving an army which is fractionised.

You alleged that some people were trying to defame you. Who were these people?

Were they within the army or outside?

You have also claimed that you knew how much money was spent and who leaked the documents.

As army chief, could you not have taken action?

There was a coterie which was at work. They had their own aims. They had the support of the arms dealers lobby.

There was a coterie, which realised that the way I worked was different from others. It did not allow them a free hand in things.

There were people who were outside the army; some who were assisted by arms dealers, and there could be some people within the army itself.

It is a segment of people who do not have clean intentions.

Why did you not take action against them?

It is difficult to take action against those who are outside the system because they all operate as shadows.

For example, if today I come to know that somebody has come to you and told you something, how do I prove it? For the media, everything is like a big bazaar. Everybody knows what is happening.

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Image: General V K Singh
Photographs: Reuters

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'The way it happened again, it was meant to defame me'

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What was the problem with Tatra trucks?

When we started getting those trucks, what was the objective? They were world-class. But we took an older model.

Since there was nothing better, they were accepted. But nobody made efforts to find out if there was anything better.

So we continued with that with the pubic sector undertaking, a defense PSU making efforts to show that they were making profit.

Moreover, it was being sponsored by somebody who was making devious efforts to make a lot of money.

I mean a truck which was manufactured for Rs 28 lakh (Rs 2.8 million) in Czechoslovakia is being sold to the army between Rs 73 lakh (Rs 7.3 million to a crore (Rs 10 million).

Where did this money go? This is disturbing, and doubts had surfaced long ago.

This was the kind of money you would get if you cleared the project, and that is what put a red flag on it.

What is the Tejinder Singh connection?

He is the one who made that statement. It is difficult for me to find out how he is connected -- a CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) inquiry is on to find that.

Your letter to the prime minister recently had created a ripple in the government.

Why did you write that letter? Was it a routine letter or were you concerned about something?

All three chiefs routinely appraise the PM and the defence minister. It is a very routine affair, ever since the time of the first prime minister.

If you feel something requires urgent attention, you write to them.

The leakage of that letter is a treasonable act and it must be fixed.

I am sure that it couldn't have gone from my office. That is the kind of faith I have in my system.

What was the motive behind it? I wouldn't leak a letter I wrote! Have I not already apprised the highest quarters?

The way it happened again, it was meant to defame me.

It generated a lot of heat: Oh, the army chief is saying this -- he must have leaked it himself.

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Image: Lieutenant General Tejinder Singh (retd)

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'There are no ladders -- there are only snakes'

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Who leaked the letter? It was between you and the prime minister...

It is not just two people. That is not the way the system works. It goes to the PM and he sends it back to the defence minister. Then it gets processed in the ministry of defence.

I don't know where it was leaked from. It is a serious offence.

Your letter to the PM has also done something good. Decisions are expedited now?

Certainly, but that is not only because of the letter.

Let me tell you, the defence minister is seriously concerned about the way the armed forces are equipped, the way things are taking place.

We gave him a presentation almost two years ago. Lots of things have picked up because of that.

So it has been a combined sort of thing. I don't think I can say it is because of the letter.

Yes, there is more awareness because of it, but that's about it.

According to your letter, acquisition of arms and ammunitions is one part of it.

Is there anything moving forward in that direction?

The procedures give a leeway for making purchases. You have got to ensure that everything is within the parameters. There are lots of steps involved.

I prefer to call this a game of snakes and ladders -- but there are no ladders -- there are only snakes.

You land up at 99 and the snake bites, and you are back to zero. So the whole process gets delayed.

We will have to make sure things work.

Don't miss Part II of the interview with General V K Singh: 'The army is NOT hated in Kashmir'

The interview was partly broadcast on All India Radio.

Image: Defence Minister A K Antony 'is seriously concerned about the way the armed forces are equipped'
Photographs: Reuters

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