MPs seek Army chief's head Oppn questions his motives

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 28, 2012 19:40 hrs

Members of Parliament on Wednesday indicated they were losing patience and sympathy with General V K Singh, the chief of army staff, in the wake of the latest controversy occasioned by him, the ‘leaking’ of a letter he’d written to the Prime Minister on March 12, saying the country’s security was at stake because of the state of military preparedness.

Proceedings had to be suspended in Parliament, with the Rajya Sabha having to be adjourned twice. The Prime Minister was understood to be talking to the defence and home ministers, even as a cabinet minister called the General a “frustrated man” and even opposition party leaders clearly showed their distrust of the army chief and his motives. Many MPs, in fact, especially off the record, said he should go.

Gen Singh, after a long and bitter battle about his date of retirement, ending in a rebuff by the Supreme Court, is to quit his office on May 31. His successor has already been named.

Gen Singh has left Delhi for a couple of days, to go to Vaishno Devi, it is learnt.

The latest controversy, concerning his letter to the PM on a number of alleged shortcomings in the armed forces and the security regime, came on the heels of his telling a newspaper that a retired Lt General had offered him a Rs 14 crore-bribe for manipulating an armament purchase order.

As for the leak of his letter to the PM, sources close to the General alleged the leak was from people in the PM’s Office. However, no one, including Opposition party MPs, seemed to be buying this version. Defence minister A K Antony told the Rajya Sabha the leak was a “worrying” development. He added that, contrary to the army chief’s charges, the country’s national security and the modernisation of the armed forces weren’t going to be compromised.

In the leaked letter to the PM, the army chief has said tank regiments lack ammunition to defeat the enemy, air defence is almost completely obsolete and the infantry is short of critical weapons. Also, that there’s ‘hollowness’ in the system, a manifestation of the procedures and processing time for procurements, as well as legal impediments by vendors. Gen Singh also says work quality (of armament suppliers) is poor and there was a “lack of urgency at all levels” on matters of national security.

The letter asks the PM to “pass suitable directions to enhance the preparedness of the army”.

As mentioned earlier, it got him no expressed support in Parliament. Vayalar Ravi, minister of overseas Indian affairs, said: “(He) could not get an extension even by the court. Maybe a frustrated man's utterance”, of the letter. If that was expected condemnation, opposition parties were as unsympathetic. The Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party asked that the chief be dismissed. "He should be sacked immediately. Why was he silent all these days if there was shortage of ammunition?" RJD chief Lalu Prasad told journalists. Adding: “It seems the general wants to fight elections. If there are any issues concerning the forces, he should have taken the defence minister into confidence.”

That was the representative reaction, up to and including the main opposition party, the BJP. So much so, that defence minister Antony said he was “very, very happy” to hear the observations of opposition leaders. “This is a great tribute to out country. Whatever be our differences, whenever it comes to national security, we are one,” he said, making various assurances on procurement of arms and ammunition.

Parliament’s standing committee on defence has decided to raise the issue at its meeting next week. It intends to ask the government for a copy of the chief’s letter to the PM.

Meanwhile, on the issue of bribes being offered to him, the Central Bureau of Investigation has met the chief, who, it is learnt, has not yet decided if wants to file a formal complaint. If he does not, the CBI might seek permission from the government for a preliminary enquiry, leading up to registering a case.

Earlier, when the Rajya Sabha had convened, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Venkiah Naidu demanded the PM and the defence minister explain to the nation what action had been taken by the government. "A secret letter has been made public. We need to know what is the defence preparedness of the army, the morale of the soldiers and their families,” he declared.

His colleague, Arun Jaitley, who heads the opposition benches in that House, said in response to Antony’s statement that it was alarming to see such ‘leaked’ letters in the media. “Make sure these leaks are plugged and appropriate action taken,” was his comment.”

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