Focus should be on poor defence preparedness and wheeling-dealing
Prasanna Mohanty | March 30, 2012
Last few days have seen a heated debate, both inside parliament and outside, on army chief Gen VK Singh’s sundry letters and comments. The debate, in which politicians cutting across party lines, security experts and media persons have taken part, primarily focuses on a few things that can be summarised as follows:
1. That the timing of Gen Singh’s revelations is questionable as he appears to be acting out of frustration after the age-row issue went against him;
2. That the leak in the media of the army chief’s public utterances and letters to the PM and RM ('Raksha Mantri') is harming national interest;
3. That had the army chief been sincere he would have acted appropriately – to improve defence preparedness, to punish the officers he is now accusing of wrong doings – rather than indulging in slander; and
4. That the army chief be sacked for speaking too much and out of turn.
While the PM is mum, as is his wont, the RM, AK Antony, is limiting his comments to the issues outlined above. He has ordered two inquiries – one by CBI (into the bribe offer) and another by IB (into how the army chief’s letter to the PM reached the media). And he has rejected the demand for sacking the army chief, saying that all the three chiefs of army, air force and navy, enjoy the government’s confidence.
All of them seem to be missing the woods for the trees.
It doesn’t really need rocket science to see through the dust being raised, does it?
All that Gen Singh is saying is that we are awfully short in our defence preparedness and one of the reasons is that a few senior army officers are allegedly involved in murky defence deals.
Any sane debate, therefore, should address these two issues – why is our defence preparedness poor and what can be done to rid the system of corruption in defence deals.
That our defence preparedness is poor is not a secret. All one has to do is to read the CAG report on the Kargil fiasco. It talks about a mad rush to buy the basic arms and ammunitions the army required after the conflict broke out and how exorbitant price had to be paid for such purchases. Gen Singh’s letter to the PM, and earlier to the RM, reflects that no lessons have been learnt.
Antony is yet tell the nation what he’ll do (and how) to improve the situation beyond making a banal statement in parliament that whatever required would be done. The opposition parties didn’t question him. They were happy with a mere “assurance”.
Does Antony have a blueprint in mind? If so, he must share it with the people of this country for them to be really assured. For, some of the points raised by Gen Singh are truly shocking: the army’s entire tank fleet is “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks”; air defence is “97% obsolete”; infantry is crippled with “deficiencies”; elite Special Forces are “woefully short” of “essential weapons” and there are “large-scale voids” in critical surveillance; night fighting capabilities.
We have half a dozen or more PSUs involved in manufacturing and indigenising weapons and weapon systems for decades. Look at BEML, for example. It was supposed to manufacture the Tatra trucks locally, an agreement for the purpose was supposed to have been signed in the mid-80s. But all that it does today is to assemble the trucks, and sell to the army at least at twice the international price of the truck. The vehicle continues to be a right-hand drive one (that is, with the steering on the left side)!
But Antony has, apparently, nothing to say or do about it.
Antony is also silent on his plan to tackle the menace of arms dealers. Even without the benefit of Gen Singh’s letters and public utterances about a bribe offer, he should know. He would also know that transparency is what is required. Where is his blueprint?
Gen Singh has done a great service to this nation by exposing the muck. Everyone is aware of the muck but nobody speaks or does anything, apparently in the national interest!
How is it so important for Antony to order an IB inquiry into the leak of Gen Singh’s letter to the PM when he has a more pressing job of addressing the concerns raised therein and which is known to anyone familiar with our defence preparedness?
It is this frivolous attitude, rather than Gen Singh’s straight talk, that is harming the national interest. The sooner the PM, RM, opposition and the media realise this the better it will be for the nation. Because then we will be addressing the real issues.
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