Gen VK Singh fires one more salvo; govt mulls sacking him

Another day, another bombshell from the Army chief, Gen VK Singh.

In the ongoing “war minus the shooting”, Gen VK Singh has fired one more salvo by asking the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate corruption charges against a serving Lieutenant General who is second in line to be the Army chief.

The Indian Express reports that Gen VK Singh has forwarded to the CBI a complaint against Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, the serving 3 Corps Commander and other top Army officers, that had been made out by Ambika Banerjee, a Trinamool Congress MP in a letter to the Army chief in May 2011.

In that letter, Banerjee had pointed to widespread “procurement scams” in the “secretive” Special Frontier Force (SFF), a paramilitary unit comprising Tibetan refugees that was established after the 1962 war with China to conduct covert operations behind Chinese lines in the event of another war. Also known as Establishment 22, the SFF operates under RAW, India’s external intelligence agency.

Gen VK Singh fires one more salvo; govt mulls sacking him

The General strikes again. Image courtesy PIB

The letter is a virtual live grenade, and makes damaging allegations of corruption against specific Army officers (who have been named), including a former Army chief. Banerjee alleges that the former Army chief received crores of rupees in kickbacks for defence procurements and had acquired assets disproportionate to his known sources of income.

According to the Indian Express report, Banerjee further alleged in the letter that during the time that Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag served as Inspector-General of the SFF, there had been payoffs on the purchases of a range of Army equipment, including weapons, parachutes, communication systems and night-vision devices.

Almost a year after Banerjee sent the complaint letter, Gen VK Singh has now forwarded it to the CBI, along with a covering letter asking for an investigation.

It isn’t clear why Gen VK Singh forwarded a nearly year-long complaint to the CBI now, in the midst of the many raging controversies after his sensational allegation that he was offered a Rs 14 crore bribe by a retired Army officer-turned-lobbyist. But it almost certain to mount pressure on an already besieged government to force the Army chief to step down – rather than face a daily fusillade of serious allegations that have exposed the corruption  in the defence procurement process and additionally plunged relations between the military and the civilian administration to their lowest levels.

Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag is second in line to be Army chief, after Lt Gen Bikram Singh, who will succeed Gen VK Singh in May – or earlier, if the government forces him out. Gen VK Singh and the Defence Ministry have in recent weeks been at odds over key Army appointments, including the elevation of Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag as 3 Corps Commander.

Gen VK Singh has opposed the elevation of Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag. Specifically, he has noted that Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag had downgraded the Annual Confidential Report of a senior Army officer who had been sent on deputation to the SFF because the latter had not yielded to pressure from arms cartels that were keen to sell parachutes. Although the Army officer was not named, Gen VK Singh noted that he had received a representation from him.

The dilemma that a thoroughly discredited government faces is this: should it bear the daily grenades being lobbed by Gen VK Singh until he retires at the end of May – or should it act to end the dangerous downward spiral in relations between the military and the civilian government?

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held discussions with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram and Defence Minister AK Antony on the government's  options. Government sources subsequently sent out the message, anonymously, that the Prime Minister was displeased with Gen VK Singh's actions.

On Wednesday, the government appeared to have secured vital support from virtually the entire political establishment, which was fairly unanimous in criticising the Army chief’s 12 March letter to the Prime Minister, which had pointed to serious shortcomings in the Army’s preparedness.

Some Opposition leaders went so far as to demand the dismissal of Gen VK Singh, and although the BJP did not back that demand, it made clear its stand that in its opinion, the Army chief had perhaps overreached himself.

The Army chief returns to Delhi today from his visit to Kashmir, but the government will be preoccupied with the BRICS summit. But it seems inevitable that a government at the end of its tether – and with skeletons tumbling out of its closet with alarming frequency - may be forced to act at the earliest expedient moment, now that it has secured virtual backing from the entire political establishment.

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Updated Date: Mar 29, 2012 09:45:32 IST

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