According to media reports, the Defence Ministry constituted a secret Board of Officers body headed by Lt General Vinod Bhatia to probe alleged irregularities committed during the tenure of former Army Chief General VK Singh. It is alleged that General Singh set up a controversial Military Intelligence unit, Technical Services Division (TSD), which misused secret funds to conduct unauthorised covert operations that interfered in domestic politics.
According to reports, General Bhatia has advised a fuller probe by an external agency like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The report alleges that TDS misused secret funds in an effort to destabilise the Jammu and Kashmir government, as well as block the promotion of the present Army Chief General Bikram Singh. Media reports have furnished details about how these irregularities were sought to be accomplished.
This report was played up as a first page banner in The Indian Express, and appeared as an unobtrusive single column in the inside pages of The Times of India. The Express claims that it tried unsuccessfully to contact General VK Singh, but managed to interact through a mutual contact that quoted the General as saying that the report was rubbish and the government was motivated by the fact that he had shared a public platform with opposition leader Mr Narendra Modi. General Bhatia had submitted his report to the Defence Ministry in March this year.
This is an amazing episode and offers glaring evidence of how deeply governance and responsibility to preserve national security have sunk. The following questions need to be addressed.
First, now that the report has been quoted in the media, it has to be established whether the allegations leveled by General Bhatia&’s team of officers are valid. If true, it reveals a shocking state of affairs in which a serving Army Chief can so misuse his powers to further political ends unconnected to his call of duty. If untrue, it reveals an equally shocking state of affairs, in which politics has infected the armed forces to allow such false and motivated allegations to be made in order to settle differences within the Defence Ministry.
Secondly, the report was submitted in March. Why has it surfaced only now, almost six months later after the Defence Minister reportedly got into the act? Does this validate General Singh&’s reported comment that he is being targeted only because he shared a public platform with Mr Narendra Modi?
Thirdly, if it be assumed that the report has substance, surely there are various discreet methods of addressing the issue, of even indirectly punishing the guilty, and keep the controversy away from public attention?
Transparency in governance is an excellent principle and the media cannot be criticised for playing up the report when given the chance. But does it behoove a government to throw all considerations of national security to the winds and jeopardise it by publicising such an episode if indeed it occurred as alleged? What kind of government is ruling India, and what kind of priorities does it have?
Finally, one cannot but reflect once again whether there can ever be accountability in our collapsing democracy unless the President discharges the responsibilities assigned to his post by our Constitution.
It is weeks since communal riots exposed the failure of law and order in Uttar Pradesh. Every single party spokesperson has demanded that the government be dismissed. Official spokespersons of the Congress have said that law and order has collapsed. Yet, the central government remains a mute spectator, although it claims that the rule of law has collapsed in the state. Neither the Prime Minister nor the President has taken a single tiny step to introduce Governor&’s rule.
The episode related to the TSD report has grave implications for the state of affairs in our armed forces as well as for national security.
The President as the Supreme Commander of the armed forces is directly responsible to safeguard both. Will he still remain mute?
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist. He blogs at www.rajinderpuri.wordpress.com