Tuesday 3 April 2012

Update India: The Army Goes Under

Hey, people, remember some time ago when I talked about the Indian army’s chief and his two dates of birth, and how he went to the Supreme Court to try and make the Defence Ministry accept that his version of his own date of birth was the correct one? Well, you might have thought that with the government finally deciding he was born in 1950, and that he should retire at the end of this month, the whole thing was over and done with.

You’d think so, but you would be wrong.

Even his medals have medals

As the time for his retirement came closer, General VK Singh came out in public with allegations that he’d been offered the equivalent of $2.7 million in bribes by a former subordinate, Lt Gen (Retired) Tejinder Singh, now an agent for an armament company (a very large number of ex-generals and admirals end up as armament company agents in this country; those with political favour end up as governors – that’s a different post from the “governor” of states in the US – or ambassadors, or enter politics themselves; more on that in a moment). This Tejinder Singh had allegedly offered the bribe in return for the army placing orders for 600 “substandard” (VK Singh’s word) Tatra trucks. That the manufacturers claim that the trucks aren’t substandard is hardly germane; they would, wouldn’t they?

The much more interesting thing is the claim by VK Singh that he’d brought the bribe offer to the attention of the Defence Minister, the “honest” AK Anthony, a long time ago, but Anthony had refused to act on it. Anthony countered by saying that VK Singh had refused to put anything down in writing, thus making it impossible for him to act. And while this buck-passing was going on, yet another can of squirming worms popped open.

Apparently, VK Singh had written a letter to the Defence Ministry in which he’d said that the state of the Indian armed forces was, to say the least, parlous, with “97%” of India’s air defences being obsolete (that isn’t a surprise to me; during my time working for the air force I discovered that the 1960s-era SAM-3 missile was still considered “modern” by Indian standards) and, among other things, that there’s such a shortage of ammunition that the troops allegedly don’t have enough for target practice. This letter was then leaked to the media by someone; who, it’s not known. The government accused the army chief himself of leaking it; the general countered by blaming it on “treasonable elements”. I wonder what kind of “treason” that is, since Indian security is like a sieve; with the single exception of the nuclear tests of 1998 (assuming they even took place as described), just about nothing in the Indian military is secret to anybody except the Indian people.

There was, then, shouting and hollering in Parliament, where politicians competed to demand the general’s immediate sacking on the one hand and condemning the government on the other. At the moment, the stand-off, though simmering, continues; it won’t remain quiescent for long.

One of the principal casualties of this brouhaha is the alleged “honesty” of the Indian military, a carefully constructed myth that has endured for far longer than its sell-by date. Any military reflects the society from which it is drawn, and these men are from the same hyper-corrupt Indian society as the rest of us. As I’ve said elsewhere, one of the top qualifications for promotion to flag rank in the Indian armed forces is political reliability, and has been since at least the 1950s when the government grew anxious about the possibility of a military coup.

Also, in the today’s bandit-capitalist Indian system, money power is all that matters. It’s unrealistic to expect the armed forces to draw the best of candidates; only those who have few to no other career options choose a life in uniform (I’m talking about the officers here; there are enough poverty draftees to fill the rank and file). As even they are well aware, honesty may be the best policy, but it’s hardly the most lucrative one. And, with a million-man army, there’s more than enough money to be made on the side with a little creativity. (In fact, the logistics branches are now more prized as postings for officers than the combat arms, for obvious reasons.)

As for General VK Singh, he may well be on the level where these two controversies are concerned, but forgive me if I feel it’s suspicious that he waited till his birth “controversy” was laid to rest and his retirement date finalised before coming out about the bribe offer and the lack of modernisation. Would he have spoken out about either if he’d been given another year at the top? Why on earth hadn’t he spoken out before? If it isn’t because he wants to enter politics on an “anti-corruption” platform after retiring, I can’t think of his reason. The right-wing parties will welcome him with open arms; they’re already full of retired generals.

Meanwhile, there is the Defence Minister, one of the Congress Party members who owe their positions to their sucking up to the dynasty that rules this country by proxy. AK Anthony might be “honest”; everyone keeps repeating he’s “honest”. Well, maybe he’s honest in the way the so-called, unelected, “prime minister” is honest; that is, he turns a Nelson’s eye to corruption under his watch. That is not called honesty; it’s incompetence at best and collusion at worst.

I’d like to believe that the “investigations” we’ve been promised would lead to a cleaning of at least a few of the Augean stables, but given my well-developed cynicism, I’d be inclined to doubt we’ll ever hear anything of their conclusions. After all, cynicism in these things is usually more than justified.

Some superpower-in-waiting, we are!

1 comment:

  1. I read about this, and was wondering when you are going to write about this.
    Still waiting for your Mali article.


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