Time to deny or duck is over for government. An independent,impartial inquiry is the only option.
This newspaper has reported that a high-level army probe has uncovered a string of alleged irregularities by the Technical Services Division (TSD),a controversial military intelligence unit set up by former army chief General V.K. Singh in May 2010. These clandestine and unauthorised operations have included,according to the probe report,misuse of secret service funds to destabilise a democratically elected government,pay-offs to an NGO to tamper with the chain of succession in the top army brass,the purchase of off-air interception equipment and the conduct of illegal operations. In his last year as army chief,Singh had featured at the centre of a set of public controversies that shone the light on a deeply disquieting,and escalating,mistrust between the army and the civilian-political leadership during his tenure. There was the protracted wrangling with the government on his date of birth that culminated in his unprecedented step of approaching the Supreme Court,asking it to intervene in the public confrontation. Subsequently,his claims of an alleged bribe ignited a new round of hostilities between the two sides. Also last year,this newspaper had reported on a chain of events on January 16-17,when the unnotified movement of two army units towards Delhi,in violation of settled protocol,set off alarm bells at the very top of this government. Together,these episodes have taken a toll on an institutional poise that has always been delicate,but never precarious.
This is why,in the aftermath of these latest revelations about the functioning of the TSD,the government does not have the option of evasion or denial anymore. An inquiry must be instituted by an external agency say,by the CBI or a special investigative team under it. To ensure absolute fairness,one option is to get it monitored by the court. The army probe report is already being considered at the uppermost echelons of the MoD and PMO. Given the sensitivity of the questions it raises,the government should reach out to the opposition,to make it part of the high-level deliberations on the matter.
V.K. Singh is no more the army chief but his tenures legacy of mistrust between the army and the political leadership cannot,in any manner,be allowed to fester. The questions that have been raised cannot be wished away,they must be answered. Because they have unsettled the unselfconscious confidence in and happy complacency about the checks and balances built into this countrys institutional framework. Addressing them will not only allow a mending of that frayed fabric,it will also provide the opportunity to make a new beginning,to institute correctives and mechanisms of accountability in the grey zone of military intelligence. This is a moment the government can ill afford to waste.