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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 41, September 28, 2013

A New Opening


Tuesday 1 October 2013, by SC

“Political slugfest over V.K. Singh’s intel unit ops”—read the headline in one of the inside pages of The Times of India of September 21, 2013. A day earlier The Indian Express had a frontpage lead story under the heading: “Unit set up by V.K. Singh used secret funds to try and topple J&K Govt, block Bikram Singh: Army inquiry”. The report read thus:

Misusing secret service funds to destabilise the Omar Abdullah Government in Jammu and Kashmir, to pay off an NGO to try change the line of succession in the Army top brass, to buy off-air interception equipment, to conduct “unauthorised” covert operations—a string of alleged irregularities by the Technical Services Division (TSD), a controversial Military Intelligence (MI) unit set up by former Army Chief General V.K. Singh in May 2010, should come under the scanner of an external agency like the CBI.
This is a key recommendation of a secret Board of Officers inquiry report into the functioning of the TSD. The inquiry was led by Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia, DG, Military Operations.

A couple of days after The Indian Express report, the retired Army Chief came out with his rebuttal. Speaking to news agencies, General V.K. Singh trashed the report. As The Times of India pointed out, he “ridiculed the allegations that he had tried to topple the Omar (Abdullah) Government in J&K” and quipped: “I have (earlier) being accused of trying to topple the Indian Government and now the J&K Government. It is laughable.”

On September 24, The Indian Express informed that the previous day the ex-Army Chief had told the Times Now TV news channel that the Army had “paid all Ministers in J&K since independence” and that “everyone in the system, including the Defence Ministry, have been in the know”.

The following day he clarified that some Ministers and politicians in the State were paid money and that money “was not meant for their personal or political purposes”, “not for lining their pockets or bribes”, adding: “It was meant wholly and solely for stability... for social schemes to win over the hearts and minds of people under the overall umbrella of sadbhavna (harmony).”

These sordid events of the last few days highlight the presence of groupism in the Army. The Indian Express report has acted as a trigger to bring out this unfortunate fact in the public domain. General V.K. Singh’s public response has only helped to reinforce the prevailing infighting within this Army. At the same time the unfolding drama on this score has also revealed the political angle: the Congress demanded ‘strict action’ against the former Army Chief while the BJP smelt a ‘conspiracy’ behind the timing of the revelations—the report in The Indian Express appeared precisely five days after General V.K. Singh had shared the dais with the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, at a rally in Haryana, and the party spokesman alleged that he was being “hounded” for this “crime”.

One tends to agree with the BJP’s Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, that the covert intelligence operations in the J&K, as mentioned in the leaked report, should not have been spelt out in the media. But General V.K. Singh’s aggressive posture and pronouncements had made matters worse. Secrecy in such cases was of paramount necessity in national interest. Whatever has come out in the public domain on this issue will now be used by the enemies of the country, notably Pakistan, to denigrate India. But how many have a broad, clear vision and can look beyond one’s nose?

Meanwhile on September 24, the Union Cabinet cleared an ordinance to neutralise the Supreme Court’s order mandating immediate disqualification of MPs and Members of State Legislatures convicted for offences carrying a sentence of two years or more. This has drawn protests from the Oppositions with the BJP describing the government’s decision as an attempt to make ‘cheats, frauds, murderers’ lawmakers. It is widely believed that the move is designed to protect RJD chief and erstwhile Bihar CM Laloo Prasad Yadav because the ordinance (to be signed by the President for promulgation) has come a week before a trial court in Jharkhand is expected to deliver its verdict on Laloo’s complicity in the fodder scam.

The most lucid opposition has come from the Left. While the CPI-M Polit-Bureau said that the matter should have been discussed in Parliament, the CPI Central Secretariat maintained

A Bill to this effect had been introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament and it was referred to the parliamentary Standing Committee. Under the circumstances, the government should not be in a hurry to issue an ordinance to protect convicted legislators from immediate disqualification as per the judgment of the SC, ... this matter requires discussion within Parliament following its consideration in the Standing Committee.

This in brief is most deplorable and is bound to further tarnish the image of the politicians (MPs, MLAs) before the public at large.

As we go to press, there are serious reports from J&K. Twin terror attacks at Samba and Kathua in Jammu have killed 12 persons, most of them security personnel (one Lieutenant Colonel and one civilian are among them), and all three terrorists are reported to have been killed in the Samba encounter. In view of the fact that the PM is scheduled to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss bilateral issues, the twin attacks have evoked widespread protests and the demand that the PM should call off the meeting as a token of disapproval of Islamabad’s complicity in such assaults has been voiced across the nation; those articulating this demand are not only the avowed jingoists. While the Congress leaders have defended the meeting, convincing arguments in this regard are, however, yet to come. In this context the views of a retired Indian diplomat, Satyabrata Pal, a former High Commis-sioner of this country to Pakistan, as expressed in The Hindu, are noteworthy:

It is important to stress... that talking to Pakistan does not mean that we are soft on it. Trying to make peace with Pakistan is not a sign of weakness. These are imperatives, which every government in India has acknowledged over the last three decades. The government that comes to power after the next election will do the same. It too will try to make peace with Pakistan. If it does not, it will be abdicating its responsibility and charting a course that diverges so completely from its predecessors that it is unlikely to get broad, political support.

This government must therefore reach out to the country and explain why it must continue to explore options of making peace with Pakistan. It is a given that if the Prime Ministers agree to meet at the UN General Assembly, there will be outrages at the LoC or in India, to torpedo the meeting and ensure that, if it does take place, no substantive discussions are possible. If the Prime Ministers do agree on the next steps, the provocations will increase. These are inevitable. We can certainly urge the Government of Pakistan to stop these, but should know that, realistically, they currently cannot. We may nevertheless perserve so that they eventually can.

On the international plane there has been an exceptionally important development similar to the Russian initiative on Syria that staved off the imminent Western military attacks on that Arab state. It is the beginning of a historic rapproche-ment between the US and Iran. Bilateral negotia-tions on Teheran’s nuclear programme are to begin soon. As The Times of India has observed:

Iran shares a border with Afghanistan and has a stake in the country. It serves as a counterpoise to the Taliban’s influence, a factor that everyone with an interest in a stable Afghanistan needs to consider as the US withdrawal proceeds apace. Iran has one of the largest petroleum reserves in the world. At a time when global economic recovery is fragile, it makes no sense to keep intact barriers between a petroleum exporter and energy-hungry economies of Asia. An understanding with Iran will also clear the way for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Time for Obama to grasp the nettle and end a pointless blood feud triggered more than three decades back, when Iran took hostages from the US embassy in Tehran.

From the Indian standpoint this development would help New Delhi to buy Iranian crude under a long-term deal thereby enabling us to cut costlier purchase from the spot market; as a result Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily expects to save an estimated $ 8.5 billion.

This has been the most encouraging news to reach us of late. Definitely a new opening that can substantially promote peace and cooperation in the region.

September 26 S.C.

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