The corridors of Parliament and South Block, which houses the offices of the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister are agog with intense speculation that Army Chief V K Singh might be sacked.
The talk about his dismissal was strengthened by a hush-hush meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had with seniors ministers including Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambaram and, of course, Defence Minister A K Antony.
A section of the government and the Congress were firming up their mind to show the door to the general following the leakage of a letter he wrote to the PM, which lay bare the state of the Army’s preparedness because of procurement delays and obsolete equipment.
Fortunately for the government, the opposition joined hands with it to virtually single out Gen Singh for unleasing a “havoc” on the defence services.
Aiding the section of the government, which wants Gen Singh sacked without delay (though he retires in May this year), allies like the Samajwadi Party and the Lalu Prasad Yadav openly called for his removal. Lalu even went before TV channels to allege that Gen Singh was “nurturing” political ambitions.
Those backing for action against Gen Singh suggested that the leak of the March 12 letter to the PM had come from his end but those backing him said it could be from the government’s side. A retired general said, “don’t shoot the messenger.”
The PM does not want to precipitate the situation because of his preoccupation with the Brics Summit and when leaders from China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa have arrived in the Capital. Even Antony does not want the matter to become ugly.
The developments cheered the arms lobbyists who said Gen Singh had become a “thorn in the flesh” and his removal would at least ensure the government’s procurement process is completed before the financial year ends on March 31.
According to a newspaper report, the Army Chief has contended in the letter that the entire tank fleet is “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks”, the air defence is “97 per cent obsolete” and the infantry is crippled with “deficiencies of crew served weapon” and lacks “night fighting” capabilities.
Gen Singh has also alleged that there is “hollowness” in the procedures and processing time for procurements as well as legal impediments by vendors.
First, Gen Singh embarrassed the government about an alleged offer of Rs 14 crore as bribe to him from a general and later, Antony saying that the general did not want to pursue the matter when it happened. in September 2010. Anycase, Antony ordered a CBI inquiry.