Is the Army entering politics?
by R Hariharan on 29 Sep 2013 9 Comments
The sensational title of the discussion “Is Army entering politics?” is an insinuation against the Indian Army, a national institution which has earned its reputation for professionalism after shedding blood and sweat in many battlefronts. A more appropriate title would have been “Is politics entering Army?”


There is every reason to think this, as we see a series of classified official documents containing sensational allegations against former Army chief General VK Singh, the army, and national security, all of which have been systematically leaked to the media since 2012.


The latest controversy has been triggered by a report in the Indian Express (September 20, 2013) carrying shocking revelations (sic) of General VK Singh misusing the Technical Support Division (TSD) to unlawfully tap phones of ministers and to pull down the government of Jammu and Kashmir. It quoted a Secret report of an inquiry ordered by the Army chief General Bikram Singh to review the functioning of the TSD during the tenure of his predecessor. The report prepared by Director General (Military Operations) Lt General Vinod Bhatia is said to have recommended a probe by an external agency like the CBI. It was submitted to Defence Ministry in March 2013.


The Ministry sat on it for six months, which shows either lack of seriousness of purpose or the frivolousness of the allegations. But after the media report (leak) raised a lot of noise, the Government promised an inquiry to bring the guilty to book.


Curiously, the latest Indian Express allegation against General VK Singh appeared immediately after he was seen on the stage alongside the Congress party’s bête-noire Narendra Modi, when they addressed a massive ex-servicemen’s rally at Rewari in Haryana. This was not the first time such informed leaks were timed to coincide with some of General VK Singh’s revelations or acts that reflected badly on the Government.


For instance, when his case against the Government on correcting his date of birth came up for hearing, the same newspaper made a laughable but mischievous and alarming allegation by interpreting the routine movement of some military unit to Delhi as a plan of the General to carry out a coup! Though such leaks and reports were aimed at him, they also dragged the Army’s name in mud. The stoic silence of the Minister of Defence and the Army only fed the rumour mills.  


General VK Singh has not helped himself in rebutting such reports. In a television interview on September 23 regarding the latest Indian Express report, he made a rather sweeping statement that the Army had paid all ministers in J&K since independence, and that everyone in the system, including the Defence Ministry, was in the know. This not only sustained the controversy but also kept it in public focus. As a person who has held the high office of the Chief of Army Staff, people expect him to be more circumspect in his public statements. But apparently his views are different. Probably as an aggrieved party he feels he has to counter the allegations through the same media that carry them. A little more homework on his part would have helped him to project his viewpoint and his case better.


From the national security point of view, this is a disturbing development as it undermines public confidence in the armed forces at time when Jihadi terrorism is trying to stage a comeback in Jammu and Kashmir. It is a mystery why the Government of India does not appear to have made serious efforts to either plug the leakages or bring the culprits to book. In the case in point, the Government took no action for six months after the report was submitted; this gives rise to suspicions of official patronage for the whole exercise at some senior level.


The credibility of the regime can only be restored by carrying out an impartial enquiry into the whole affair and bringing the guilty to book. However, credibility in such inquiries has been eroded as controversies have been dogging national investigative agencies. In view of this, the enquiry should be conducted under the supervision of the Supreme Court and expeditious action taken on its recommendations.  


Over the years, partisan politics has eroded the effectiveness of the administration. Police forces have been rendered ineffective and national institutions like the Intelligence Bureau, Central Bureau of Investigation which are the pillars of good governance and security, have been systematically degraded. Now the armed forces, the symbol of national integration and unimpeachable integrity, appear to be facing the same fate. This has saddened over two million veterans; it is likely to adversely impact the minds of soldiers defending our troubled borders.


Col R Hariharan, a retired MI officer, is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group.

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This article is based on comments made by the author during a television panel discussion on “Is the army entering politics?” on September 24, 2013; the panel includes persons from the Congress and BJP 

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