V.K. Singh Being Hounded for Sharing Dais With Modi: BJP
BJP and Congress today sparred over a newspaper report which alleged that former Army chief Gen V K Singh misused funds to set up an intelligence unit, with the saffron party charging that Singh was being "hounded" for sharing dais with Narendra Modi.
While the government asserted that appropriate action will be taken against any "retired or serving" officer who is involved, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said the allegations against Gen Singh sound absolutely curious and odd, not just because of the timing but also because of the contents of the report.
"It is obvious that the hounding of the retired army chief is being done because he was seen seated beside Narendra Modi at the Rewari rally," she said.
Congress leader and Union Minister Manish Tewari reacted sharply, saying it is surprising that "whenever there is an allegation regarding the alleged subversion of an institution...BJP is found quite jumping to the defence of individuals."
Noting that he was quite struck by this fact, Tewari hoped that "behind all these incidents, there is not the alleged invisible hand of the BJP and of course the spectre and shadow of RSS always looming in the background."
Sitharaman also raised the larger issue of misuse of institutions by Congress-led UPA government, saying "the Congress-led government has earlier used the CBI to break down the IB and tried to unravel it in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case. Now it is using the same methods for Military Intelligence. This is a dangerous sign," she said.
She accused the government of setting "wrong precedents", saying this does not augur well for the country's forces.
"The government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should ponder over this. There is already a trust deficit. Government should stop using hounding tactics," she said.
The report of a Board of Inquiry into the functioning of Technical Services Division (TSD) has alleged misuse of position by Singh and unauthorised operations and financial wrongdoing by the intelligence unit.
Sitharaman also sought know why the report has come out now when it was prepared in March and justified Singh's presence at the dais with Modi a few days back, saying, "V K Singh's presence in Rewari rally was natural as it was a rally of ex-servicemen".
Gen Singh had dismissed the reports as "simple vendetta", saying some people are not comfortable with him sharing the dais with Modi to espouse the cause of ex-servicemen in the country.
BJP cautioned that this is the first time that a very serious allegation has been made about the Indian Army.
"Indian army, unlike some armies in our neighbourhood, has kept best of traditions and proudly served under elected civilian governments in free India," Sitharaman said.
"Government's record on undermining institutions", the main opposition said, is well known. The party cited the instance of Thomas' appointment as CVC despite and notwithstanding the written objection of Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj.
BJP clarified that if there are allegations on which there is enough prima-facie evidence nothing can stop the government from taking necessary and appropriate action. It further said the army inquiry report had been submitted in March and sought to know why no action was taken since then.
"BJP cautions this government that they stop playing with the morale of the defence forces by hitting at them purely because they have difficulties handling a retired or serving chief of the force.
"Institutions are under severe stress and strain due to the attitude of this government. The prevailing environment today is similar to those black days of Emergency; only this time the Emergency is undeclared!" Sitharaman said.
Tewari, however, rejected the contention that the report is politically motivated.
"Nothing can be more baseless and laughable than this allegation. UPA government never engages in politics on the sensitive issue of security...It never examines the sensitive issues related to national security in the light of politics."
"In such sensitive matters the government has a responsibility to discharge its duty, which it will do with full responsibility," Tewari said.
He also sought to clarify that this is not the question of a specific individual but it is more of a systemic and structural issue "wherein there are alleged actions which impinge upon the larger ambit of national security".
"Government does take such matters extremely seriously as it is its duty to do so and asserted that action would follow after a problem," Tewari said.
"The facts mentioned in the report are in the cognisance of the government. If it is found after the probe that facts are true, then action will be taken against those who are allegedly involved in it, whether they are in service or have retired," he said.
Singh today said that his legal team was examining the matter to take serious legal action. "I will speak at an appropriate time," he said.
Replying to questions about the possibility of a CBI investigation into the matter, Congress spokesperson P C Chacko, however, appeared cautious saying there are "certain matters of national interest, which has to be kept closely guarded secrets. Such things we cannot leave for any kind of inquiry. But the government has to take a decision very cautiously that what kind of inquiry should be there".
Rejecting BJP's charge of political motive behind the timing of the report leak days after Singh attended Modi's rally, he said while this may be a "coincidence" there is "nothing political, nothing deliberate", adding "we believe that the Army should not be used by anybody for political purpose...Trying to polarise Army under the name of anything is most unfortunate. It is unfortunate that some political parties are dragging the Army into all this".
At the AICC briefing, he also chose to stress that the report about the intelligence unit set up Singh is a "report by the Army", whose contents have been shared with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He also hailed the Indian Army for "being very supportive of democracy and governance"
'Army didn't want to take action against its former chief'
On Sept 19, the Army requested the Defence Ministry to order a high-level probe into the functioning of a top secret intelligence unit set up by Gen V K Singh, suspecting it of carrying out "unauthorised operations" and financial wrongdoings.
The Army report about the Technical Support Division, which was accused of illegally tapping phones of senior Defence Ministry officials was submitted to the Defence Ministry and it recommended a probe into the functioning of the unit.
When contacted, Army Headquarters said the matter was closed on its part and it would not like to comment on it.
Sources said the Army does not want to carry out inquiry against the unit on its own as it does not want to be seen as taking action against its former chief.
The Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia report
The report was prepared by Director General Military Operations Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia as part of a Board of Officers (BOO) formed by Gen Bikram Singh to review the functioning of the top secret unit set up under his predecessor.
It is learnt that the report submitted by the Bhatia-led committee has stated that TSD was allegedly involved in "unauthorised operations" which may have taken place even across the border without the proper clearance from the higher-ups in the Government.
The operations carried out by the unit in Jammu and Kashmir have also been questioned by the Bhatia committee and it is learnt that the unit has been accused of using funds against top serving officers.
The unit has also been accused of being involved in financial wrongdoings to the tune of Rs 8 crore.
The funds for the unit had been stopped at the time when present CAG Shashikant Sharma as Defence Secretary had refused to provide finances to it due to lack of clarity on the way they were being spent by the formation.
At the time of reviewing the operations of the TSD, it is learnt that the Bhatia Committee was also looking into the alleged misuse of Military Intelligence funds to file court cases during Gen V K Singh's tenure against senior officers.
The TSD was formed during the tenure of Gen V K Singh and its existence came to light in March last year when it was alleged that the unit had tapped the phones of Defence Ministry officials at the height of the controversy over the then Army Chief's date of birth.
The process to disband the TSD was initiated recently after the new Army Chief took over and its officers and men have been posted out from there.
The TSD was reporting directly to the then Army Chief Gen V K Singh and it was alleged that the unit may have snooped into the conversations of people even outside the Defence Ministry using its off-the-air interceptor equipment.
Defence Minister to decide on the issue
Stating that the matter was of "highest concern", External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid hit out at BJP for its allegation saying the opposition party was accustomed to saying "silly things".
"He shared the dais (with Modi) 48 hours back. Can you make a report like this in 48 hours?...I think BJP is getting accustomed to saying silly things," he said.
He said the issue will be examined by the Defence Ministry following which government would firm up its position.
"It is a serious matter and is of highest concern. Government has taken the matter seriously as it raised questions about internal functioning of the army," Khurshid said.
"This is very worrisome thing. It is not a matter of an individual. This is a matter of our security. This is a matter of our security agencies and security services."
"We hold the army in the country in the greatest repute and greatest esteem. To have such question raised about the internal functioning of the army of course is something that we take very seriously," Khurshid said.
Asked whether the report will be discussed in the Cabinet Committee on Security, he said Defence Minister A K Antony will take a decision on the issue.
"If he wishes to bring it to the CCS, may be he will. This is frankly his call and we will have to wait for it," he said.
Gen Singh's lawyer questions report's legal sanctity
Gen V K Singh's lawyer raised questions over the legal sanctity of the Army report which has recommended a CBI probe into allegations of misuse of intelligence funds.
"If the Army and the Government were sincere, they should have come up with a report which would have had legal sanctity. The Board of Officers' report has no legal sanctity. It is not a Court of Inquiry which has legal sanctity," Vishwajeet Singh said.
He said the BOO set up by Gen Bikram Singh has hastily made a summary of the whole report and given their findings but it has no legal validity.
Gen V K Singh is also mulling legal action against the people and organisations levelling "baseless" allegations against him.
Vishwajeet also sought a probe into the way a top-secret report concerning covert intelligence operations came out in public domain after being "selectively leaked".
National Conference demands a CBI probe
J&K's ruling party, the National Conference (NC) demanded a CBI or judicial probe headed by a sitting Supreme Court Judge to ascertain the veracity of the reports.
"NC demands a high-level probe into the functioning of a top secret intelligence unit set up by then Army Chief General V K Singh, which is alleged to have been using secret service funds to destabilise the Omar Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir," party provincial president, Kashmir Nasir Aslam Wani told reporters.
According to the report, an intelligence unit of the Army had paid Rs 1.19 crore to state agriculture minister Ghulam Hasaan Mir for changing the government in Jammu and Kashmir.
"This is a very serious issue and cannot be brushed aside or dismissed. As such, we demand a judicial probe under a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court or at the least by the CBI, and the findings be made public without any delay," he said.
"Jammu and Kashmir has suffered at the machinations of people who have tried time and again to demean the elected government and this alleged report substantiates that there are people who want to dent the credibility of democratic institutions that India is known for," Wani said.
Wani expressed apprehension that the alleged fake encounter case in 2010 at Machil in which three youths were shot dead, after being lured on the pretext of high paying jobs with the Army and passed off as infiltrators from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, was part of a design to destabilise the state government.
Full text of the statement by BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman:
The BJP has every now and then, when the occasion so warranted has cautioned the government on undermining institutions in our country. This time again, the government even as it is on its way out has engaged brazenly in accusing yet another institution vital for our national security.
Only a few months ago, in May 2013, we saw the government blatantly misusing the CBI trying to unravel the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Now we see an expose in the media about a Board of Officers inquiry into the activities of the Technical Services Division (TDS) of the Military Intelligence (MI).
This expose shows this matter shall now be brought under the CBI scanner! This sets a dangerous precedent and undermines the autonomy and the credibility of the institution which is critical for the national security. There are several questions which get raised in this matter:
This is for the first time that an allegation of very serious nature is being brought in about the Indian army allegedly misusing secret funds meant for covert and counter intelligence operations to topple an elected government. Indian army, unlike some armies in our neighbourhood, has kept best of traditions and proudly served under elected civilian governments in Free India. This is an unbroken tradition which all Indians hold the services, rightly in high esteem.
This government’s record on undermining institutions is well known. It is worth recollecting that notwithstanding the written objection raised by Smt Sushma Swaraj the Leader of the Opposition (LS) the government insisted on appointing an official as the CVC of India when allegations against him were yet to be cleared then.
Later we had the constant running commentary from ministers, Congress party office bearers and even once by the prime minister himself on the CAG. Its objective could not be anything but bring pressure on a constitutional authority such as the CAG, which was fearlessly bringing out the big ticket corruption of this government.
It is well vouched by serving and retired officials that there exists complete autonomy and confidentiality on matters related to source operations, funding, raising/disbanding of a unit in the armed forces. This is a feature which is part of armed forces all over the world. However, the BJP wishes here to clearly state that if there are allegations on which there is enough prima-facie evidence nothing can stop the government from taking necessary and appropriate action.
In the case of this Board of Officers’ inquiry report, since it was submitted by March this year, as reported in the media, several steps seem to have been taken by the then defence secretary before his demitting office.
By then or soon after then, as reported, if the allegations are serious enough nothing could have stopped the government from taking action.
To see a BJP conspiracy in every one of this government’s failure just highlights how this government fast losing the trust of the people of this country is getting very desperate.
The BJP cautions this government that they stop playing with the morale of the defence forces by hitting at them purely because they have difficulties handling a retired or serving chief of the force.
Institutions are under severe stress and strain due to the attitude of this government. The prevailing environment today is similar to those black days of Emergency; only this time the Emergency is undeclared!
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