Hell Hath No Fury Like an Army Chief Scorned; A like genuine concern at The Wall Street Journal via humanrescueintermedia

Hell Hath No Fury Like an Army Chief Scorned


Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
General V.K Singh’s accusations suggest that the military, long a symbol of the nation’s pride, is fast developing the taint that now sticks to so many other national institutions. Mr. Singh, right, with Defense Minister A.K Antony, in this picture from Dec. 16, 2011.

Another day, another scandalous allegation.The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government woke up to yet more embarrassment Monday with an interview in The Hindu of the soon-to-retire army chief, General V.K. Singh, in which he alleged he was offered a bribe of 140 million rupees ($2.73 million) to clear the purchase of military vehicles.

Gen. Singh said a lobbyist for an unnamed equipment supplier to the Indian Army offered him the money to clear an order of 600 “sub-standard vehicles of a particular make.” He also claimed that 7,000 of the vehicles were already in use in the Army and “had been sold over the years at exorbitant prices with no questions asked.”

Gen. Singh claimed the “brazenness of the act shocked him out of his wits.”

Gen. Singh said he had informed Defense Minister A.K Antony about the incident. Speaking to reporters outside Parliament Monday, Mr. Antony termed the allegations as “serious” and said “we will handle it.” A report by the Press Trust of India said that Mr. Antony had ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the matter.

Manish Tewari, a spokesman for the Congress party told reporters that the incident was “most unfortunate” and “shameful,” but questioned why Mr. Singh didn’t filed a case against the man who offered the bribe so that the matter could be investigated under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The allegations come at a terrible time for the Congress party, which not only turned in a poor performance in state assembly polls earlier this year but is battling allegations of corruption on multiple fronts. Just last week, the government was accused of more chicanery in the allocation of coal mining blocks.

The revelation that the nation’s senior army officer was offered a bribe shouldn’t really be that surprising given the extent of corruption in public life. But it raises two very difficult issues for the government.

If Mr. Antony was indeed informed by Gen. Singh, the defense minister will need to explain why he is only moving to investigate now that Gen. Singh has gone public. Television channels reported that the incident happened two years ago.

Moreover, Gen. Singh clearly is determined not to go quietly after the embarrassing public spat between himself and the government over his date of birth.

A quick recap on that: The Army Chief had two dates of birth in his official records and had claimed that one marking his birth year as 1951 was accurate. The government disagreed, saying he was born in 1950. The discrepancy made a difference to when Gen. Singh would have to retire. The spat went to the Supreme Court, which backed the government. Gen. Singh is scheduled to retire at the end of May.

In The Hindu interview, he claimed the government targeted him over his date of birth because he had “cracked down on corruption.” But he added ominously: “Things are fast unraveling and you will soon see the hand behind the drama. You will soon see who the ‘sutradhar’ [narrator] of the play is.”

Clearly, we can expect to hear more from him before he departs the official scene – which can only spell bad news for Congress.

For the country more broadly, Gen. Singh’s accusations suggest that the military – long a symbol of the nation’s pride – is fast developing the taint that now sticks to so many other national institutions.

Gen. Singh says he told Mr. Antony at the time he revealed the bribe offer that, “If you think I’m a misfit, I will walk out” — the implicit misfit being Gen. Singh’s unwillingness to tolerate corruption. He also expressed shock that the lobbyist who allegedly offered him the bribe was an ex-Army man himself.

“Just imagine, one of these men had the gumption to walk up to me and tell me that if I cleared the tranche, he would give me [the money]. He was offering a bribe to me, to the Army Chief. He told me that people had taken money before me and they will take money after me,” he was quoted as saying in the newspaper.

He claimed that the man had recently retired from the Army. “Obviously somewhere our standards of probity and integrity have fallen,” he said.

Some saw sour grapes in the general’s remarks and criticized him for taking them public. Brahma Chellany, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, told television news channel NDTV that the timing of Mr. Singh’s allegations will “raise eyebrows.”

“The Army Chief cannot go public with such allegations,” Mr. Chellany said, though he added that he was “shocked” the defense minister didn’t pursue the matter before when he was informed.

Ashok K. Mehta, a retired major general of the Indian Army, told India Real Time: “After what he has been through at the hands of the Supreme Court, he would have well been advised to keep his mouth shut.”

But the opposition saw another opportunity to have a go at the government. Both houses of Parliament were temporarily suspended Monday amid the furor. Venkaiah Naidu, former president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, said: “The matter is very serious. You cannot ignore it. The country deserves an answer.”

Copyright 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved


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