Monday, March 26, 2012

General V.K.Singh does a V.P.Singh

Chief of the army, General V.K.Singh, did not really do the unthinkable when he revealed in an interview to a well-established a reputedly staid newspaper published from Chennai that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore. He told what is probably a true story. By his own account he seems to have handled it quite honourably. He shrugged off the offer. And as we are to understand from his disclosure, it is only meant to illustrate the point that public morality has hit rock bottom and that even someone -- actually a former lieutenant-general -- had even dared to bribe the chief of the army staff.
Singh became general after he had handled the Sukna landscam, where a senior general was indicted for favouring a private builder in allowing to use land adjacent to defence property to construct a housing project. Singh seemed to have made up his mind that the one issue he would look at during his tenure would be corruption. It is indeed a brave and honourable thing to do. We do not how much corruption there is in the army and by how much has he been able to bring it down during his two years in office. He used the Rs 14 crore bribe offer an example.
His critics and detractors as well as neutral observers may want to know as to why he chose to reveal this fact to the public at this moment. There seem to be some personal motives as well. For example, the controversy over his date of birth which has forced him to retire this May rather than the next. The motive might be there and it may not be there. But it does not affect the truth or falsity of his charge. The charge has to be judged, accepted or rejected purely on grounds of merit.
There is also the other question. Could he have done something within the army system to bust the corruption racket? Did he find that this was a futile task, and is it a sense of despair arising from the inability to curb corruption that drove him to speak out in public, a cry in the wilderness, or is it a conscientious objector's last resort of turning into a public protestor?
Perhaps he could have waited till he stepped down and penned his memoirs, and given chapter and verse of the corruption that is eating into the army. Or he could go into politics and become a vocal MP highlighting the problems facing the armed forces.
It is quite clear that Singh is not a general who is interested in modernisation, technology up-gradation, new war games and stategies of fighting wars in the 21st century, in combating terrorism.
It is however hard not to remember V.P.Singh, the knight in shining armour, who raised a ruckus over the issue of corruption as minister in Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet. He turned into an evocative political issue, won an election and became the prime minister. V.P.Singh would have argued if someone had pressed him hard for an answer that he was up in arms against corruption because he felt strongly against corruption and that he did not think that he would end up as prime minister as a consequence. It is an honest answer because he could have aimed to become a prime minister and even dreamed of it but he could never be sure that he would become one. V.K.Singh's stand against corruption could lead to things that he does not expect though he may dream of it. Whatever it is.
The Congress would either hide its head in the sand, ostrich-like. Or it would commit hara-kiri in its bid to prove the general wrong. V.K.Singh has perhaps unintentionally played a master stroke.

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