8 controversies involving defence chiefs

Last Updated: Sat, Feb 16, 2013 20:52 hrs

1. The China debacle: 

The Chinese have a long history of border treaties and exchanging land near their border. So when they offered three times the amount of land to India in exchange for some in Aksai Chin, it should have come as no surprise to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who considered himself a foreign affairs whiz.

But surprised he was and he took offence, refusing point blank. The Chinese quietly started amending their maps and preparing for an attack on Aksai Chin. Nehru and his Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon failed spectacularly to read the writing on the wall. They were caught totally unawares when the attack finally happened.

At that time, the Indian Air Force was in a much better shape than its Chinese counterpart, but Nehru for some strange reason refused to use it to attack China.

In the end, the Indian Army was pushed into sudden action without adequate air cover and saw one of its biggest failures. Nehru needed a fall guy and General PN Thapar fit the bill. The Army chief sadly resigned in disgrace after the war.

2. Operation Blue Star: 

This was another political decision, but it had to be carried out by the Indian Army. General AS Vaidya conceived Operation Blue Star and also supervised the attack on the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar.

While General Vaidya tried his best to keep the casualties down and ensure minimum damage to the temple complex, there was a lot of collateral damage in the end. 

A lot of people never forgave General Vaidya for that and in the end he was assassinated by the Khalistan Commando Force.

3. IAF engineers' strike: 

Air Chief Marshall SK Sareen oversaw many changes to the IAF under his tenure. One of them was to increase the flying pay of IAF pilots manifold. It was initially introduced only for fighter pilots.

When the transport and helicopter pilots protested through private channels, one report said they had missed out due to a "clerical error". So they soon received their hike. Soon flight engineers also demanded a hike and one Wing Commander KR Nagesh actually led a pay strike.

While the strike was quelled and Nagesh was court martialled, Sareen has the ignominious record of being the only chief to have a strike under his watch.

4. A defence chief is sacked: 

This is the absolute low point of civil-military relations in India. After a period of tussle with the Defence Ministry, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat refused to accept a Cabinet order regarding the appointment of his deputy.

In the end, the AB Vajpayee government, in an unprecedented move, sacked him for "deliberate defiance". Admiral Bhagwat approached the Supreme Court without much luck.

5. Adarsh housing scam: 

The Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai was meant for serving and retired defence personnel. But a lot of rules were bent and civilians were allotted flats. Fingers were pointed at to military officials, politicians and bureaucrats.

General VK Singh once told the press that the "Adarsh lobby" was maligning him. General NC Vij, General Deepak Kapoor and Admiral Madhvendra Singh were allotted apartments in Adarsh and offered to give them up.

6. Sukna land controversy: When an illegal transfer of 70 odd acres of land took place near Sukna military station in West Bengal the names of many military top officials came up. One of them was Lieutenant-General Avadeh Prakash.

The then Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor was accused of being lenient towards Lt-Gen. Prakash. The Defence Ministry intervened and Lt-Gen. Prakash was indicted while facing the strongest of action against him.

7. Date of birth battle: 

This one was probably the most acrimonious civil-military tiff after the Admiral Bhagwat sacking. General VK Singh and the Defence Minister seemed to be on a collision course over the date of birth issue of the former.

General Singh took the government to the Supreme Court, but luckily the whole issue blew over after that. General Singh has also shown his support for Anna Hazare, who has been fighting the Central government for quite some time now.

8. Choppergate: 

Right now a controversy is raging over kickbacks in the procurement of VVIP helicopters from Agusta of Italy. Air Chief Marshall Tyagi's name came up in a report in Italy. According to the report, it is alleged that he had received payments to change technical specifications that would favour Agusta.

Though Tyagi has stanchly denied those allegations, it has come to light that middlemen may have visited the residence of one of his cousins.

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