A general disarray

Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh has called the media news report about troop movement “absolutely stupid” (a newspaper report last week alleged that the Central government was “spooked” by the movement of two key Army units towards Delhi on January 16-17, 2012).

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and defence minister A.K. Antony have been measured in their response to the news report that hinted at a possible coup, calling it “alarmist” and “baseless”. However, the public perception of this incident, which came close on the heel of a series of military-civilian disputes, is quite negative. Add to this the fact that Gen. Singh is the first Army Chief to go public about high-level corruption in the Army, and the subsequent leak of his classified letter to the Prime Minister, which has led to an investigation by the Intelligence Bureau. All these indicate the involvement of middlemen in Army deals, including the BEML-Tatra truck deal.
The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) was aware that something fishy was taking place within the Army, and he had indicated as much in an interview to a news magazine on March 13. Gen. Singh has used harsh words, but as facts become clear, it is evident that he was under attack. His attempts to clean up the system invited the ire of elements with vested interests in the Army.
Army exercises take place all the time and in my experience in the Union Cabinet, this issue is never discussed. I recall just one instance when such a matter came to the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) as the Army wanted to conduct a special exercise — Rajiv Gandhi informed the CCPA and the external affairs ministry was asked to answer queries in case any were raised. This was the right decision as special drills can cause surprises, though as satellites monitored movements on a global scale there was no room for surprise over troop movement even 20 years ago. With the kind of technology available today, you can trace a single tank or a ship anywhere in the world.
Dr Singh has direct access to the defence chiefs, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (now the National Safety Council), RAW and the IB chiefs besides his personal secretary and the Cabinet Secretary. The defence chiefs meet the Prime Minister on specific issues as required, but all the others meet him on a daily basis. This practice was started by Indira Gandhi and it continued till Rajiv Gandhi and V.P. Singh were Prime Ministers. I remember, Mrs Gandhi would often call an informal CCPA meeting with her three senior decision-makers — R. Venkataraman, P.V. Narasimha Rao and Pranab Mukherjee — at short notice.
The Prime Minister has to be kept fully informed at all times of important events. So I cannot understand why Dr Singh was not involved in the age controversy.
Questions will be asked why the defence minister did not take action following serious audit objections to the BEML-Tatra truck deal. All the reports are already with the media and we have seen some of these on television. Someone, it seems, is making sure that facts are not suppressed even as the CBI is investigating the deal.

A political storm is raging in Karnataka. The BJP government is under siege with former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and the mining lobby flexing their muscles. Despite the short-term solutions, the state is headed for elections — in which case the Congress, presenting a united front in the byelections due in June, can score an easy victory.
The situation in Andhra Pradesh, however, is grim for the Congress as it struggles in all the three regions. The Telangana region belongs to the Telangana Rashtra Samiti. The results of last month’s byelections to seven Assembly seats in the region were no surprise. In coastal Andhra, the Telugu Desam Party and Chandrababu Naidu have the upper hand while in the Rayalaseema area the YSR Congress, despite the CBI raids, will do well. In the last general elections, the UPA-2 made huge gains in the south: in Tamil Nadu, it got 28 out of 39 Lok Sabha seats; in Andhra Pradesh, 33 out of 42 seats; in Karnataka, nine out of 26; and in Kerala, 16 out of 20. The Congress continues to do well in Kerala and is set to make gains in Karnataka, but it faces severe problems in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. I think a special effort will be visible in these states.

We have a crisis brewing in Maharashtra. The Congress-NCP combine’s defeat in the BMC election was a surprise. While the Shiv Sena and the BJP beat the incumbency negatives, the resignation of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Kripashankar Singh, because of disproportionate assets of his family members, played a major role in shaping public opinion.
The situation is complicated in Maharashtra Mantralaya, as scam after scam is surfacing and many of the people involved are high profile. The Adarsh Housing Society scam and the arrest of politicians and IAS officers is already being monitored by the Bombay high court. Chief minister Ashok Chavan had to resign after it was discovered that three of his relatives, a number of VVIPs, including former Army Chief Deepak Kapoor, and other senior defence officers owned flats in the housing society meant for Kargil war widows. This is a very serious issue and may even be linked to the BEML-Tatra truck deal.
The name of former Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh is in the spotlight after the Supreme Court upheld the high court’s decision to cancel land allocation to filmmaker Subhash Ghai and the CAG rapped him over arbitrary allotment of a plot in Borivili — the CAG report is to be tabled in Maharashtra Assembly on April 15. All this is making things very difficult for the ruling party. Will we see a change in alliances in the state?

The writer is a former Union minister

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