Its high time Prime Minister,Antony and the General talked to each other,not at each other
With Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony declaring that all the three service chiefs enjoy the confidence of the government, it appears that he is trying to lower the temperature in the hothouse of allegation and counter-allegation that has marked the stand-off between Army Chief General V.K. Singh and the government. That is welcome,given the damage done in the wake of the extended and ongoing public confrontation between General Singh and the ministry of defence. There are just about eight weeks left for the generals retirement and it is as much in his interest as it is in the governments that these days pass without further controversy. That may be wishful thinking,though.
For,General Singh,who once said that the controversy is not about him,has gone on to underline that it is about him. A confrontation that began with the issue of his date of birth,which had been settled gracefully in court,has now snowballed into this heady sequence of disclosures about a rot in the brass and dangerous obsolescence in the army. Of course,General Singh raises very valid questions about policy and procurement,but the timing and the needlessly dramatic display of displeasure naming a former colleague for a leak tinges them with motive. He has now picked up an eight-month-old letter alleging corruption by a serving Lt General,who is in line to be Chief,and forwarded it to the CBI for a probe. All this pre-emptively harms the tenure of his successor.
And what is the defence minister doing through all this? He holds his head in his hands when the chief alleges that he has been offered a bribe; he watches helplessly as companies supplying critical equipment and spares get on to a never-ending blacklist. All because he is an honourable man. Ironically,the Supreme Court,in the date of birth case,gave both sides the space to withdraw and negotiate to mend their ties. Back then,both general and government spoke highly of each other. Within days,however,General Singh appears as an adversary of his senior colleagues in the army and of the ministry of defence which,in turn,looks clueless. The relationship between the armed forces and the government is a delicate one where supremacy of the civilian government is unquestioned. That is why the onus is on the government to nurture this relationship. And to have institutionalised mechanisms to listen and to talk to the armed forces. Instead,Antony has said he will ascertain the source of the leak of the letter to the PM, a hunt that is hardly going to help matters. As former defence minister Jaswant Singh wrote in these pages on Thursday,both Antony and the prime minister are good men but good nature is not what will defuse this crisis. Both have to stand and deliver,they could begin by welcoming the Chief of Army Staff for a little chat.