General Sham(e)

Imagine giving your whole adult life to one of the armed forces and then ending your career, not with the adulation of your men, but the suddenly unshakeable reputation of a common thief. If Lt Gen SK Sahni and three senior cohorts in the Army Services Corps (ASC) were found by an Army inquiry to have allegedly made lakhs by purchasing second-rate masoor dal instead of nutritious cereal for thousands of soldiers, another inquiry recently found “some lapses” by other senior officer in the purchase of frozen meat for soldiers in Ladakh. The latter operation, if proved by a court, would easily match the profound disgrace of Sahni’s alleged heist.

No matter what anyone says, especially from within the Army, a Major or a Captain skimming off the top from his Mess bill is a trifle, a mere flicker compared to a General cavorting his whole life in elite military finery and bringing those decades of trust, respect and faith placed in him by his troops to a crushingly humiliating end by trading off every last shred of integrity for a few lakh rupees. And how? By playing monstrously and unfeelingly with the basic needs of those very troops.

The kinds of thievery by senior Army officers in recent times are immediately repulsive. Maj Gen Gur Iqbal Singh and four Brigadier-rank accomplices sold subsidized defence liquor by the truckload at street prices with superb self-assurance. Maj Gen KTG Nambiar and Maj Gen Rana Goswami allegedly took to cooking formation books and pocketing the difference. It probably won’t be long before probes uncover Generals getting juicy fixes from contracts for milk, or kerosene, or vegetables or any of the thousands of other items that the million-strong service buys and stocks every day.

Is this, as Army chief Gen JJ Singh was asked at a press conference recently, a complete breakdown of respectability – or simply, honesty – at the highest levels of the Army? Probably not. For every Sahni or Nambiar, there’s a full phalanx of Generals and other senior ranks who serve out their time with quiet honour, their reputations more precious than pensions or retirement benefits. Furthermore, there can be little to criticize about the swiftness and nature of the Army’s brand of justice once it finds culpability among its own.

The tainted clique of Generals all face humiliating chastisement, ranging from general courts martial, which will likely see them plucked from their uniforms and sent packing, to administrative action, with its own attendant embarrassments, including loss of seniority or the cancellation of retirement benefits.

A few rotten apples then? Yes, but that doesn’t makes each individual case any less disturbing. Wizened and retired officers wonder why these Generals, with years of necessary toil behind them, would allow themselves such reckless folly when the finishing line, as it were, was in sight. With quaintly endearing defence elitism, the retired ones will tell you that the tainted Generals won’t just have to endure being civilians in retirement, but debased and sullied ones at that. What, they ask, could really be worse? The answer, anyone will tell you, is little.

The argument that systemic flaws encourage corruption is a necessarily complex one. Does the Army’s otherwise ingenious supply chain of contracts and services allow for a quick buck as a result of uniquely empowered formations with steeply unwieldy structures? Just as countermeasures to check fraud are plentiful, cracks exist for the crooked to work the system. The private contract mafia, it is commonly known, persistently pings the Army structure for dodgy characters willing to jointly defraud the service. It’s just a black day for everyone when that person happens to wear three stars.

Notwithstanding the irreparable damage this handful of officers and others have inflicted on its ethical fabric as a whole, the Army is thankfully far yet from being perceived as a refuge for scoundrels. But with a distinct shortage of officers and a generally tapering interest in the armed forces as a career, the huge and expensive Army machinery put to use to project an upright profession, where you’ll be a “winner for life”, is gradually undermined. And there can be no forgiving that. No matter what the motivations are to enroll, the fact that the Army is a noble career option is beyond doubt.

According to a Ministry bureaucrat, on November 29, when Defence Minister AK Antony was called upon in Parliament to provide a list of senior officers in the dock for corruption, he was deeply dismayed when he browsed through the pre-prepared Parliament answers. For a man who famously and admittedly puts probity pretty much above everything else, the dozen cases the Army compiled for him must have been a source of sharp consternation. And last heard, he’s not buying the Army’s affirmation that these are but a few spoilt drops in a veritable ocean of human relationships.

Rightly so.

5 thoughts on “General Sham(e)”

  1. Good article. We should expose curruption in Indian Armed Forces.

    BTW, the Scorpene scandal seems to be having some substance. I read an Outlook issue that other day. I suppose Outlook was not entirely wrong.

    I doubt that Kaka (George Fernandes) took any money though.

  2. Hi Mr. Shiv Aroor. I have commented earlier in the blog maintained by Mr. Ajai Shukla also.

    I would like to know about your views on the eligibility of Tejas as a candidate for the MRCA tender. It is known that specifications of Tejas are comparable to Gripen. Parameters like Max. external load, range, top-speed, altitude, manoueverability, avionics etc. of Tejas are comparable to that of Gripen.

    In my view, only procedural of formal hindrances may be against entry of Tejas as a competitor in the MRCA tender. I think, Tejas must “enter the fray”, immediately after IoC is obtained by it.

    In an ideal situation, Tejas should have unilaterally been chosen as MRCA. But in Indian work culture, backtracking from stated positions is tedious, because those positions become “hardened”.

    These “hardened” positions are :

    a) Tejas is a lightweight replacement of the MiG-21 only, and nothing further.

    b) Alll Air-Forces “like to have” a light, medium and heavy-weight fighters {source : Standing Committee report on defence, 2005-06 or earlier).

    In my view, such a clubbing of role of Tejas as only a lightweight MiG-21 replacement may be inaccurate, when from all sources that are available in the in public-domain, specifications of Tejas are comparable to one contender of the MRCA contract i.e. Gripen. To an extent, specifications of Tejas also approach that of the F-16 also.

    Thus in my view, Tejas must be given a opportunity to compete for MRCA tender, and one RFP for the same must be sent to HAL also.

    Thank you.

  3. Hi Mr Shiv Aroor,
    A very good article on corruption.
    But this comment is regarding Maj Gen KTG Nambiar.This man is very dyanamic and undoubtedly the best officer who has served Meerut Cantt as Commander.As a Commander he was a against all the Land Mafias and took actions against them which can be seen by the amount of demolition done during that period.He converted the Meerut cantt into a beautiful place with broad roads,beautiful roundels and many other things.He changed Meeut cannt and is still know for his work.We feel disappointed to what has happened to him till now.We miss this officer a lot.This is not only my voice but the voice of the Meerut public.If u think all i said is not true u can take a survey.In the end, I would say that Officers like him should be encouraged to work and should not be demoralized by putting up a wrong case against him.
    Thank U

  4. hi mr shiv aroor.
    read your article, really good one … but
    this is regarding maj gen nambiar, as a citizen of meerut i have know him as one of the most honest and dedicated army officer of meerut cannt had ever seen. and i am sure that when a person like him is rewarded in such a way, no one would come forward to fight against mafias. every one in meerut has appreatiated his work… and it is really sad that his name is being reflected in this list…. at least i would request you to unearth the truth…because it people like you who can do it…and the support of the people from meerut will always be there.

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