It seems that the Defence Minister of India Mr Arackaparambil Kurien Antony was waiting for the din of the fifth and the biggest phase of elections to arrive so that the government could push its agenda of appointing a Naval Chief for which the powers that be had schemed for many months.
The appointment of Admiral RK Dhowan comes after 50 days of the resignation of Admiral DK Joshi. In any decent country the appointment of the next Naval Chief should have been immediate.
Admiral DK Joshi resigned on moral grounds, taking responsibility for series of accidents and mishaps, involving dozen vessels including two submarines. The government and most quarters in the Navy attributed these incidents to logistics, shipbuilding or age related problems. Even though, the indications of sabotage deserved serious consideration, it was disdainfully ruled out. It may be reiterated that all the accidents and mishaps had taken place on the shore. Only in February this year, the Navy conducted a massive Exercise TROPEX in which more than 70 vessels had participated, and there was not one accident / mishap in the mid-seas.
Many senior Indian Naval Officers that this author has interacted with are strong on the judgement that the accidents / mishaps are nothing unusual and are now coming to notice because of increasingly intrusive media.
If the accidents were ‘usual’, due to logistics problems or age related mishaps, then why did the Defence Minister accept the resignation of Admiral Joshi with amazing alacrity? When General VK Singh’s age issue was still with the MoD, there were babus who superciliously bandied that the General would not be allowed to resign and alter, the ‘succession plan’, as he served under the pleasure of the President. Why was Admiral Joshi’s resignation therefore not withheld by Mr Antony till his successor was found?
The resignation of a service chief by taking moral position or responsibility on any issue is huge symbolism. It is these gestures that provide impetus to integrity and moral muscle in the evolution of the organization. It does not in any way reflect any kind of guilt. The quality of inventory of the three services is more the responsibility of the government. To that extent, it was Mr AK Antony who should have resigned.
There are many stories in the air about the resignation of Admiral Joshi. Most of them portray the Defence Minister and his babus in conspiratorial roles. Admiral Joshi’s silence further deepens and fans the conspiracy theories.
The most robust theory was that the accidents and mishaps were used as a tool to compel Admiral to resign and to supersede the next claimant by Admiral RK Dhowan. This theory has now been vindicated. No upright officer would accept the position after so much of sleaze, manipulations and machinations. His appointment alters the entire ‘line of succession’, which vested interests, most significantly the ‘army lobby’ is now investing in a brazen manner.
Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha has been superseded. But for the fifth phase of the ongoing elections, this supersession story would have dominated the front page of newspapers and prime time television. The manipulators in government are advancing preposterous and bizarre logic for his supersession. They maintain that since most accidents took place in the Navy’s Western Command, Admiral Sinha as Flag Officer Commanding of that Command is also responsible. This argument nails the lie of Mr AK Antony that he did his level best to persuade Admiral DK Joshi against resigning. If Mr Antony did not find him guilty, how can he inflict that guilt on Admiral Sinha and supersede him. Moreover, why should this chain stop only at Admiral Sinha?
The moot question is: Will the new Chief Admiral RK Dhowan resign as and when the next accident takes place, or all logistics and age related problems of the naval inventory has been fixed forever?
From the sequence of events and the behaviour of principal protagonists the suspicion of subversion and sabotage becomes overwhelmingly strong. To people with Intelligence backgrounds, conversant with the machinations of ‘western arms lobby’ the sabotage angle behind the accidents was most plausible. If the accidents were not sabotage, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Indian Navy and other related organizations would have been impelled to meet the crisis on a war footing. Instead in the aftermath of these accidents increasing adversarial relationship was witnessed between the MoD and the Indian Navy. Some people in the MoD looked clearly happy, since the situation was now amenable for pursuance of their agenda.
I had followed General VK Singh’s age row case very intimately, and distinctly remember the vicissitudes. I was particularly intrigued by the machinery the ‘army lobby’ had assembled to ensure the exit of the General. This lobby included journalists, owners of television channels, some retired army officers, strangely one very senior Air Force Officer and even a former diplomat who had no locus standi on the issue. During that period, I was invited to many television channels.
To begin with, one prominent TV channel asked me whether I was ready to say on air that the General should resign. It also assured me that while taking this stand, the channel would vouch for the integrity of the General. I clearly understood the game-plan, being scripted by the government and carried forward by this particular news channel. Nevertheless, I did make myself available, but on the penultimate question on whether the General should resign or not, I said: “it is for the General to decide”. The anchor was aghast!
There were many occasions that a particular anchor of one channel while taking anti-General stand during debates, would prod me underneath the table to take on some of the worst detractors of the General. The anti-VK Singh industry also included a former national security advisor, who got himself invited to an interview by a TV channel, and during the course of which, and in an inebriated state, he led the journalist to the question: “Who has been India’s worst Army Chief?” Actually, given his own background, the answer was very simple for the anchor.
Even at that time Mr Antony could have resolved the age issue in respect of the General within hours. It may be mentioned here that the General while filing his nomination for Lok Sabha has mentioned his date of birth as maintained by him. Doesn’t it smite your conscience Mr Antony? Why is it that the names of recipients of kickbacks on AgustaWestland deal stop at the former Air Chief? Are you not interested in other names Mr Antony? How is it that most of the revelations regarding kickbacks on arms deals when they are at the verge of fruition are sabotage by some of the sleaziest countries in the world who dabble in arms business?
In reality, it did surprise everyone that why did the power behind your elevation as Defence Minister repose so much of faith in you? Going by precedence and proclivities of that power the reasons can be anything but ‘honesty and integrity’.
The extent of reach and influence that the ‘arms lobby’ has carved for itself under the present dispensation, can be gauzed by its ability to alter the ‘line of succession’ in the armed forces. Under you Mr Antony, the ‘succession plan’ has subverted the three services for posterity. This is your greatest gift to the Indian Armed Forces!
In the assessment of this author, the chain of accidents involving naval vessels will now come to an end.
Also by R S N Singh:
India's right to vote earned by dying soldiers
How Godhra carnage benefited Pakistan
Hindu terrorism: An invention of vote-bank politics
Should Indians be wary of the Aam Aadmi Party?
NEET-PG exam: A weekend fraud on India?
RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW. He is the author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan.