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Thursday, March 29, 2012

General reduced to guerrilla - Army chief virtually deactivated as leaked letter to PM opens fresh flank

General reduced to guerrilla
- Army chief virtually deactivated as leaked letter to PM opens fresh flank

New Delhi, March 28: The government is seeing a "rogue" general in its army chief.

Like Barack Obama in the US who sacked his chief of Afghanistan operations, "runaway" Gen. Stanley McChrystal in May last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is seeing a general warring on Raisina Hill.

For two days in a row, defence minister A.K. Antony has had to defend himself in Parliament for actions of the army chief — the latest being the leak of a letter that Gen. V.K. Singh wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointing out critical shortages in the military arsenal.

The CBI is now set to question both the army chief and the defence minister.

In the defence ministry, a quiet word has been sent to officials to virtually cease all advice and communication with the army chief whose actions the government is finding consistently embarrassing.

"To us, he is the chief of army staff. He should be able to decide for himself what is good and what is bad," a senior defence ministry official said this afternoon after Antony spoke in Parliament.

The government has not accused the army chief of leaking the letter that Antony said was "top secret" but officials in the defence ministry and politicians Lalu Prasad and Shivanand Tiwari have insinuated that he leaked the letter.

Lalu Prasad (RJD) and Tiwari (JD-U) have also demanded that Gen. V.K. Singh be sacked.

Buoyed by the political support in the Rajya Sabha, the government may well be tempted to. In the US, Obama sacked the decorated Stanley McChrystal last year because of the general's intemperate remarks on politicians and bureaucrats that were quoted inRolling Stone magazine. Gen. V.K. Singh has done no such thing, except of course that he had taken the government to court. But his words have hurt the government no less.

The calendar for the near future is full of public occasions for both the defence minister and the army chief in which they will interact with the media and/or speak in Parliament. The army chief is also scheduled to give interviews to news outfits over the next few days.

The ministry-hosted prestigious event, Defexpo (an exhibition of weapons and systems for land and naval warfare and internal security), is to be inaugurated by Antony tomorrow. Antony is also scheduled to address a media conference after the inaugural.

The chiefs of the army, navy and air force, delegations from as many as 15 countries and representatives of global defence companies would be thronging New Delhi for the four-day event. Defexpo 2012 is also being held concurrently with the Brics summit for which the heads of government of four countries are in the capital.

In the middle of this international gathering, the focus is, however, on the army chief and his continuing tussle with the government.

In the letter that he wrote to the Prime Minister on March 12, Gen. V.K. Singh said the army's air defence capabilities were eroded because the missiles were outdated.

There isn't enough ammunition for the army's night-blind tanks and the special forces lack the equipment for their missions. In effect, the army chief said, that for a country that has potential adversaries on two fronts in Pakistan and China, India's military is too impoverished.

The statistics the army chief had cited showed the extent of erosion — 97 per cent in the case of air defence capabilities — but they were known over the years. The erosion of capabilities is not limited to the army.

In 2006, then Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi had written to the defence minister and the Prime Minister saying that the air force was running out of fighter aircraft at such a pace that it risked losing the edge it had over the Pakistan Air Force.

Gen. V.K. Singh was today in Jammu and Kashmir and is expected to return to New Delhi on Thursday. He is scheduled to address a meeting of veteran soldiers on March 31. From the first week of April, Gen. V.K. Singh is expected to be on farewell visits across the country.

The general has two months to go before he retires on May 31. The government has found that even two days can be torrid.

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