Just when commentators were concluding that Gen VK Singh will be remembered for posterity as the Chief who went to court for getting ten more months in office, the General has yet again managed to spring a surprise. Going public with allegations that he was offered Rs 14 Crore as bribe for accepting sub-standard vehicles for the army, he is back in headlines. While he did not go as far as naming the perpetuators of the tantalizing offer, a recent official press release by the Army claimed that the offer was made by a retired Lt Gen on behalf of a PSU and a foreign firm. The release also claimed that the recent stories about communication interception equipment being used without authorization by the Army in the capital have been fabricated by the very same people who offered him the bribe. So now he also has the chance of being remembered as the Chief who was offered a bribe (and turned it down).
As a close observer and occasional commentator on the recent shenanigans by the leader of one of the largest armed forces in the world, one is led to wonder what kind of a creature is Gen VK Singh’s conscience. Or his sense of honour for that matter. Both these animals seem to lie dormant for long periods of time after being aggravated, only to rise suddenly and start baring their fangs in full media glare. One wonders what is it that dictates the timing for their sudden awakenings. Or what is it that motivates them, for that matter.
As mentioned in one of my earlier posts, the much professed sense of honour was claimed to have been aggrieved by the authorities insisting on following the laid down rules, taking into cognizance an unfavourable date of birth amongst the two different ones held on record. However, the affront did not manifest itself when the stakes were high and the appointment of Chief of Army Staff was hanging in balance. It did so, in fact, a few years later when there was very little to lose. Except, of course, the dignity and sanctity of the high office occupied by him. Unfortunately for him, the Supreme Court cut through the hype and jargon weaved around the facts by his spin doctors, and did not get taken in by the facetious arguments citing, amongst other things, honour and morale of the armed forces to seek a favourable decision. It stuck to the facts of the case and the result was there for all to see.
The awakening of the conscience, likewise, waited for an unfavourable decision in the age row. And if that wasn’t enough, the revelation of unauthorized snooping in the capital by military intelligence using top secret espionage equipment meant for use on the borders probably roused it. As did ongoing investigations into reports that at the height of the courtroom drama, there was an unexplained movement of a mechanized battalion and paratroopers from Hissar and Agra respectively towards the capital. The General obviously knows that attack is the best form of defence. Or a better strategy still, confuse, cofound and then play the ultimate victim.
The present revelations have raised many questions, most of which are already being asked by the media and political parties on both sides of the political divide. Chief (no pun intended) amongst them is why no immediate action was taken by the General after such serious provocation. Well, he did walk up to the Defence Minister and ‘inform’ him. But this was not followed up by a written report. Nor was any complaint or FIR lodged. Even if the ‘offer’ was made in a manner that it could not be proved, the obvious thing to do for someone who has repeatedly vowed to wage a war against corruption in high places would be to set up a trap by pretending to go along with the offer, after taking the Defence Minister into confidence. In fact, as per latest reports an audio recording of the alleged conversation has been handed over to the CBI – one wonders that if such a recording did exist, why was did he wait for 18 months to hand it over to the investigative agencies. Instead, the General spent his time and energies in fighting the system on his date of birth issue, which obviously was more important to him than the alleged attempts of bribery at the highest level. The sudden expose now, after suffering a public loss of face (and continuing to cling to office thereafter), seems to be more of belly aching than a crusade against corruption.
One further wonders what has been the motive behind the General’s controversial moves in the past year or so. In the age row, anyone who had an understanding of the facts of the case and belief in the wisdom of the Supreme Court knew that he had no chance of a favourable verdict. Yet the General went ahead and fought a very public and acrimonious battle, unperturbed by its effect on the image of the high office he was holding. And now this – media revelations obviously aimed at embarrassing the government rather than any attempts at belated whistle blowing. Questions have been raised about who his advisors are, and about the quality of advice he has been receiving that has prompted these actions. But one finds it difficult that a person in his position would take such steps merely on faulty advice. Since the arguments of honour and crusade against corruption do not hold much ground given the circumstances and backdrops of the actions, there is one other possible explanation.
It is possible that the General harbors political ambitions, and has used his time in office to set the stage for launching his second career. Viewed against this possibility, his actions suddenly begin to make a lot of sense. Not only has he received more media attention than all the chiefs before him put together, he has also supposedly projected himself as an honourable, fearless and honest crusader against injustice and corruption. Having thus carried out his personal brand building (at the cost of brand Army), it could be a simple matter to step out of uniform and into politics. All will probably be revealed in Act three. Meanwhile, the only saving grace is that the there isn’t too much time left for this drama to play out.