Indian Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh set to retire in a sea of controversy
As he prepares to leave his post at the end of May, Indian Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh’s tenure has been fraught with allegations of corruption, a controversial arms deal, the leak of a top secret letter to the prime minister and a suspected coup.
Singh lost a court battle against the government over his disputed age. Government records show he was born on May 10, 1950, while he claims his date of birth is May 10, 1951.
He is set to retire May 31, but he is not going quietly.
In March he alleged that a senior retired army officer offered him Rs. 140 million [$2.7 million] to clear a deal of 600 sub-standard trucks. Singh claimed the offer was made in 2010 and he immediately informed Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony about it.
Antony confirmed Singh had told him about the offer, but insisted Singh did not want to take up the matter with the authorities.
Defending his decision to avoid filing a complaint with the police under the Prevention of Corruption Act, Singh said: “I could not take any action as it was an indirect offer. I just told him to get out. And then I informed the defense minister.”
Antony has called for a Central Bureau of Investigation [CBI] inquiry into the allegation.
On March 30, Singh filed a formal complaint with the CBI. He alleged retired Lt. Gen Tejinder Singh offered him the bribe.
Tejinder Singh, who retired as the director general of the Defense Intelligence Agency two years ago, allegedly offered the army chief the bribe on behalf of Tetra Vectra, a joint venture between Russian truck manufacturer Kamaz and an Indian firm.
Tejinder Singh has denied the allegation and filed a defamation claim against the Army chief and other officers.
6 arms firms blacklisted
Just days before Gen. Singh’s disclosure of an attempt to bribe him on March 5, India banned six armaments companies for 10 years for their alleged involvement in a 2009 weapons bribery scandal.
The six firms banned from doing business with the Indian Ministry of Defense include Singapore Technologies Kinetics Ltd, Switzerland’s Rheinmetall Air Defense, Israeli Military Industries Ltd, Russia’s Corporate Defense [CDR], and India’s RK Machine Tools Ltd and TS Kisan Co Private Ltd, according to a government statement.
“The firms were recommended for blacklisting by the CBI on the basis of evidence collected against them,” the statement said.
India halted deals worth $1.5 billion from seven companies in 2009 after police arrested a senior defense ministry bureaucrat on charges of accepting bribes from these firms.
Army chief’s letter to prime minister leaked
Meanwhile, a letter dated March 12, 2012, to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was leaked to the press.
The letter listed shortcomings of the Indian armed forces.
“The state of the major arms, i.e. mechanized forces, artillery, air defense, infantry and special forces, as well as the engineers and signals, is indeed alarming,” Gen. Singh wrote in the letter.
He added that the army’s entire tank fleet is “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks while the air defense system is 97 percent obsolete and it doesn’t give the deemed confidence to protect … from the air.”
The letter further stated that the infantry is crippled with deficiencies and lacks equipment to fight at night and the elite special forces are “woefully short of essential weapons.”
Gen. Singh urged the government to “find and ruthlessly deal” with the person responsible for the leak, which he said should be treated as an act of high treason.
“The leakage of the official communication to the prime minister should be treated as high treason. This cynical approach to tarnish my reputation should stop.”
Government officials have not determined who is responsible for releasing the letter.
Army movement ‘spooks’ New Delhi
Meanwhile, The Indian Express reported on April 4 that a Haryana state-based Mechanized Infantry and elements from the airborne 50 Para Brigade in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, had moved toward New Delhi on the night of Jan. 16 – the same day Gen. Singh asked the Supreme Court to determine his date of birth.
The report titled, “The January night Raisina Hill was spooked,” said the movement took place without following the standard operating procedure of informing the Defense Ministry in advance.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh dismissed the news.
“These are alarmist reports. These should not be taken at face value,” he said.
Defense Minister Antony called the report baseless.
“Absolutely baseless,” he said. “It [the army movement] is usual, natural activity … nothing unusual, and we are absolutely sure of the patriotism of Indian armed forces.”
Military officials called the actions a normal drill, stating there was not need to get defense ministry clearance to move the troops.
Gen. Singh termed the newspaper report baseless and stupid.
The Indian Express stated it stands by the authenticity of its report which was a result of a six-week investigation.
Congress party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi reacted to the report saying, “Army is the hallowed institutional pillar of Indian democracy and it is our pride and our neighbors’ envy. Those who speculate by innuendo in sensitive matters must realize they are causing serious damage to the national fabric.”
On April 10 a high court ordered the central government and media to refrain from reporting on troop movement.