GEN VK SINGH
Q&A Gen VK Singh
“It is incorrect to suggest that my actions are destroying civil-military relationship”
When General VK Singh will demit office on 31 May, he will go down in the history of Indian Army as perhaps its most controversial chief. Not only was he the first COAS to drag the government to court, his allegations of bribery sent a government running for cover. When everyone thought peace was finally brokered between the government and Gen Singh, and his retirement would be without further incidents, he courted controversy again and issued a show-cause notice to a serving Lt General, someone tipped to be Army Chief in 2014. Not one to take things lying down, in a series of no-holds barred television interviews, Gen VK Singh made a series of allegations which rocked the Defence Ministry’s boat.
In his interview to Tehelka—one of the last before he retires—the chief tries to steer clear of any controversy and claims that the internal health of the Army has considerably improved and now there is a greater transparency.
A show-cause notice issued to Lt Gen Dalbir Suhag has become the latest controversy surrounding you. Allegations are leveled that by sending this show-cause, you are settling a personal score, especially when you had less than a fortnight to retire. It is also being alleged that by trying to block Lt Gen Suhag’s promotion you are not only scuttling his chances to become Army Chief in 2014 but also upset the line of succession.
The incident in question happened in 2011. The incident being serious, a timeline was given to submit the court of inquiry (CoI). The CoI was delayed by concerned HQ and therefore, the show cause-notice has been issued after receipt and examination of CoI. He should not have gone to the press. Other than that there is no other reason. There is no line of succession in the Army, the senior and most deserving candidate at the time of selection is chosen as the Chief.
This is not the only time you have acted against Lt Gen Suhag. You had also forwarded a complaint against him by TMC MP to the CBI, bypassing the MoD.
The complaint forwarded by the TMC MP had to be investigated as no details of investigation were available against Lt Gen Suhag despite reminders to all concerned. Hence Central Bureau of Investigation was asked after giving them details of concerned authorities. On receipt of reply the case has been rested. There is no personal vendetta against anybody.
You hit the headlines when you became the first Army Chief to go to the Supreme Court against the government of the day. However, you withdrew your complaint later. What do you have to say about the age row controversy now?
The complaint was withdrawn as I saw no reason to progress further as the court was arbitrating and not going into the merits of the case. Do you think it was deliberately stoked to get even with you post Sukhna Land scam? Who do you think is responsible for the age row? I have already said that my age issue was triggered through RTI. That was motivated. Papers related to my age were illegitimately released and some papers which were marked top secret by the ministry itself was also released.
In an interview to a newspaper, you claimed that you were offered a bribe to clear a file by Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh and you immediately informed the Defence Minister. It is being alleged that this revelation was timed just to embarrass the government and to take the battle to the Ministry of Defence.
It is only a coincidence that these incidents happened as they have occurred. The interview to the newspaper was not to bring out bribe offer to me by Let Gen Tejinder Singh but to make a point as to how illegal gratification is offered to clear files.
After making the complaint and maintaining a studied silence for close to one-and-a half years, what prompted you to reveal the bribery deal to the press? Were you convinced by then that AK Antony, the Defence Minister, will not do anything about it?
After having made the complaint to the honourable Defence Minister I went into the details of the Tatra procurement and ensured that no bulk purchase were made except for those purchases which are required to meet the minimal requirements. Now the CBI is investigating the case on the directions of the MoD.
What do you have say about the allegations made by Lt Gen Tejinder Singh that he has evidence that off-air interceptors were imported by MI and the equipment was used to bug MoD?
I have no comments on wild allegations.
After becoming the Army Chief you stopped the supply of Tatra Trucks to the Indian Army. What were your basic objections to the deal? Were any complaints about the trucks being sub-standard or highly overpriced made to the Ministry of Defence before you became chief and took action?
The shortcomings in the supply to Tatra truck and the other allied vehicles supplied by the BEML came to my notice only after I have taken over as the Chief of the Army Staff. There are numbers of issues like quality, over pricing and delay in supply. The technology which was being supplied to us was outdated and prices of the trucks were very high. The same is now being investigated by the CBI.
Before you became the Chief almost all of your predecessors readily cleared the file. A majority of the retired officers I spoke to, praised the performance of the truck. So why this sudden reversal of opinion?
My stopping the supply for Tatra trucks was purely based on the merits or demerits of the case. I would not like to say anything about my predecessors. They deserve respect as former Chiefs of the Army Staff.
It is common knowledge that you and the camp of General JJ Singh and Deepak Kapoor don’t see eye-to-eye. Do you think that they are the ones responsible, first for your age row, and then of planting stories aimed to discredit you?
There are no camps. Every Chief has a vision for the Army, which is a great institution and they work towards fulfilling the vision.
What do you have to say about the coup story carried out by The Indian Express?
The coup story was purely fabricated. It is normal routine for any unit to practise mobilisation. The incident has been adequately responded to by the Hon'ble Raksha Mantri, Rajya Raksha Mantri and MoD.
This was not the only story against you. There were allegations that Defence Minister’s office was bugged by you in order to eavesdrop on what is happening inside the ministry.
The Defence Minister's office is debugged by a team of Army personnel frequently. On one such occasion, the equipment malfunctioned and an impression was generated that possibly a bug has been placed. This was reported to the Defence Secretary. This was yet another case blown out of proportion to discredit the Army.
Do you think that the people in Ministry of Defence used their contacts in media to discredit you?
I do not know. It is all for you to find out.
What do you have to say about the role of the Defence Minister in the series of controversies surrounding you?
The Hon'ble Defence Minister is a very upright and an honest person and I have a lot of regards and respect for him. His decisions have always been very mature and he gave excellent support to the Army.
Leaking of the letter written by you to the Prime Minister about the defence preparedness of India is another example. Who do you think was behind the leak and why do you think it was leaked?
The letter was not leaked by the Army. This is not how Army functions. A news agency carried the report about who leaked it. The identity of the individual should be revealed as I consider this act as no less than treason.
People who stood by you during the age row now feel that you have become vindictive and are destroying the civil-military relationship which will have a demoralizing effect on the forces.
All my actions are based on duly investigated facts and following the due legal process. It is incorrect to suggest that my actions are destroying civil-military relationship.
You started out by promising to improve the internal health of the Army. You are about to end your tenure. What has been your success in this regard?
The internal health of the Army was one of my Key Result Areas. Lot of work has been done to bring more transparency in the system. The guilty, irrespective of the rank, have been brought to book. I feel the internal health of the Army has considerably improved. I do not think anybody is after me. However, some people, who have suffered due to disciplinary issues may feel aggrieved.
Don’t you think that the morale of the Army must have been hit by a series of controversies involving the office of COAS?
[The] age issue was a personal issue. I took VK Singh the person to court and not the Army Chief. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that the morale of the Armed Forces has been lowered due to any controversy.
Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.