Thursday, March 29, 2012

General V.K. Singh as Mir Qasim

The leaking of Chief of Army Staff V.K. Singh's top secret letter to the Prime Minister is more than the action of "a frustrated individual" as UPA minister Vayalar Ravi told reporters.

It is not a case of the General going "berserk" as former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra put it on a television panel. 

It is also more than a liar hoping to escape entrapment in his own inconsistencies by creating a diversionary alarm.

If it is proved that General Singh is the source of the leak -- and none of the four or five men involved has any reason to release it -- he should be charged with high treason. The publication of the letter can have potentially disastrous consequences for the country.

Opposition parties in Parliament have demanded that General Singh be sacked, but that does not deal with the situation he has precipitated. His bizarre trajectory over the last year signals deeper systemic problems and we must understand what they are to deal with an unquestionably serious national crisis.

 To understand the situation it is essential to see General Singh's actions in the proper context.

First, the matter of his age. He told the media the revision of his age was a "matter of honor," but the fact that he made himself a laughing stock in pursuing it to the Supreme Court suggests that honor was probably not a high priority.

If the revision had been accepted, he would have led the Indian Army for another year, and that must be seen as the objective of his graceless ambition.

Considering that heavyweight interests abroad are invested in manipulating our military decision-making, it is safe to assume that his bid to stay longer in a key post was not driven purely by ego.    

Several facts suggest who might have encouraged his unseemly pursuit of an extra year in office. Perhaps the clearest indicator is that immediately after the Supreme Court declined to support his bid to grow younger, he rushed off to Britain. (A subsequent visit to Israel was vetoed by the Ministry of Defence.)

Britain is home to the world's largest arms corporation, BAE Systems, and is a major beneficiary of Indian military procurement. It does not take kindly to losing major deals in India.

In 1987, when it lost the Indian contract for field mortars to the Swedish company Bofors, the repercussions were heavy.

Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, who had lobbied Rajiv Gandhi on the deal was assassinated.

The Indian Prime Minister was hit with charges of corruption originating from a  Geneva-based NRI stringer for The Hindu. She suddenly developed an anonymous source who provided a steady stream of entirely unsubstantiated innuendos and suggestions that led the Indian media a merry chase for over a decade.

That campaign of disinformation led to Rajiv Gandhi's defeat in the General Election of 1989 and his assassination weeks before he would have returned to power in a mid-term poll.

India finally got the Swedish mortar but by then Bofors had gone bankrupt and become a holding of BAE Systems.

A quarter century after The Hindu launched the "Bofors scandal" General Singh's peculiar antics have as background another major Indian arms deal gone sour for Britain: the Indian Air Force decision to buy the French-built Rafaele fighter jet instead of the Eurofighter Typhoon in which BAE Systems has a major stake.

The General's allegations of being offered a bribe and the letter to the Prime Minister about Indian military unpreparedness are calculated to cast doubt on the probity of the Indian procurement process, which the British, if we go by a statement Prime Minister David Cameron made in parliament, are now set on overturning. (A particularly interesting sentence in the General's letter notes that 97% of Indian Air defence is obsolete; I wonder how he arrived at that precise figure!)

Meanwhile, the slavishly pro-British elements of Indian "elite" media have been shouting from the rooftops about the need for mid-term polls: quite clearly, the Bofors game book is in use again.

But history is being replayed as farce.

General Singh has become a pathetic figure, almost clownish with cravat and swagger stick in looped television footage.

Instead of the rest of the media leaping on The Hindu's corruption bandwagon as in 1987, there is considerable scepticism about the General's allegations.

Cameron's assertion in parliament that the Eurofighter case continues to be pressed in New Delhi takes on a decidedly comic aspect when it turns out that his primary agent is Telegu Desam Rajya Sabha member M.V. Mysura Reddy, who was talking of retirement in January and has never before shown the slightest interest in military or foreign affairs. In February Reddy wrote a semi-literate letter to Defence Minister Anthony pushing for the Typhoon and explicitly raising the ghost of Bofors. It was publicized by the Gunga Dins at India Today/Headlines Today.

 This is not to say that General Singh's mischief is innocuous.

There is talk of his political ambitions, most probably in Rajasthan, where the Cairns/Vedanta "Creating Happiness" death's head is the new face of British rapacity in India.

On a recent visit to Jaipur I was told that the state had become home to mafiosi from all over the world, that Dawood Ibrahim came and went as he pleased, and that the local government seemed quite powerless.

General Singh is behaving "as if he were in Pakistan" (to quote Brajesh Mishra again), because powerful forces want India to be the next South Asian banana republic.

In a period of global economic slow-down, with China on the skids, the managers of the multi trillion dollar global black market need India to be "friendly" to their poisonous investments.

General Singh is their Mir Qasim in waiting.

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