Thursday, May 7, 2009

Is it a bird? Is it a brick? Is it a Sukhoi?

The question which is haunting many of our esteemed defence correspondents in Delhi is whether the Sukhoi-30MKI is grounded or not. Several of them are vexed over the question, many have taken various postures over the issue, some have gone ahead and done stories saying the fleet is indeed sitting on ground, others have gone ahead and printed/published vehement denials from 'sources' in the IAF denying any 'grounding'. Well the fact of the matter is that the SU-30MKI squadrons are not flying as of now. Till the fault which led to the unfortunate crash and the loss of life is identified these flying machines will have to wait on the tarmac. It is nobody's case that these jets have been grounded for an indefinite period. But the basic point remains that as a precautionary measure these aircraft have not been taking to the skies immediately after the accident in Rajasthan. Now, even if in a knee jerk reaction some 'sources' in IAF choose to let it dawn on some correspondents that the aircraft is not grounded, even then the discretion to question this assertion lies with the journalists. Carrying the official version need not be done in a servile manner which is akin to kow-towing. There is indeed something known as informed dissent. And the official version can always be questioned. But the nice part of it all is that there is no official version. The IAF will not comment officially on the crash till a preliminary report on the cause of the crash is revealed. So till then, there will be a battle fought in the defence correspondents community on the semantics of 'grounding'.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Army takes on MHA?

Are Army and MHA on a collision course? Is there a difference in opinion among them? Well the events in the past few days leading upto today seem to confirm this. On one hand the home secretary, Madhukar Gupta, goes on record to dismiss reports of heavy influx of infiltrators in J&K, which were being run in section of the electronic media. And lo and behold, just a few days later, the Army conducts a press conference of a militant caught near Gurez, who announces that there were nearly 120 militants waiting to cross the LC and that there were 31 of them who crossed over the India. This take the fizz out of the comments made by the home secretary who was at pains to suggest that the reports of electronic media were exaggerated. He had pointed out that he and the defence secretary had visited the valley and had been briefed on the issue and that the actual number of militants waiting to cross over was very low. but the manner in which the press conference was conducted, and the fact that select television news channels were represented by their reporters all the way from Delhi, seems to suggest that the event had been planned in such a manner that it deliberately contradicted what the MHA was saying. And the Delhi reporters were tipped off in advance of the conference so that they placed themselves in Srinagar a day in advance.
Anyway, these silly games apart, this brings us to the question as to who is right, the Army or the MHA? And why is there a sharp difference of opinion on the facts and figures. Is MHA playing down the numbers or is Army hyping them up? To add to the merry go round, the defence minister is hopping across to the valley to take a first hand look at the situation. The ball now seems to be in the court of P. Chidambaram and his babus.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Issues before Army Commanders conference

The Army Commanders conference which concludes today had a number of issues to deliberate, some of which can be discussed in this blog, others, for reasons of secrecy, cannot. There are two of them on which I wish to touch upon. The first which I find interesting is the point relating to officers not reporting for mandatory courses. The Deputy Chief of Army Staff (P&S) wants some action to be taken against such officers and hence this agenda point was up for discussion in the conference. What came of the discussion will be know in a couple of days time and will be published here for all to see. But it is quite intriguing why officers will not report for courses which they have to do in order to progress in the arm or service they are serving in. These courses, like the YOs, JC, courses run by technical arms like SODE for Signals and the like for officers of Engineers and EME, weapons courses for infantry and armoured corps officers etc. There seems to have been an increase in the number of officers skipping these courses which seems to have prompted the DCOAS to raise the issue at the commanders conference. Often officers do skip these courses due to reasons like illness, injury etc but sooner or later they do have to complete them. There has been at least one instance in my knowledge where a SSC officer did not attend the YOs course and hence was not recommended for permanent commission when the time came.
The second issue which I want to discuss relates to the re-structuring of the Military Farms. There has been rampant corruption in military farms and perhaps more than any other branch/service of the Army. Why the Army continues with this organisation is beyond my understanding. It would be much cheaper and logistically easier to outsource the requirements being fulfilled by military farms. Just a couple of months back, a Lt Col of military farms posted in Dehradun was sentenced to eight years rigorous imprisonment by a general courts martial on charges of corruption. There is also a tussle for power between the civilian officers of this branch who are often at loggerheads with the uniformed ones and vive versa. Though the deliberations on this issue too will be known in the days to come, I seriously doubt whether military farms will be shut down. Perhaps they are too lucrative!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

An officer and a gentleman

There are numerous officers, serving and retired, who epitome the title given above. But no one matches the senior-most officer on the active list, Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh. Till he was alive, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw definitely gave the Marshal a run for his money when it came to wit and charm, but after his unfortunate demise, Arjan Singh defintely has the entire field left to him. And the Marshal was certainly on a "witty offensive" when he came to a function to mark the release of a book written on him. The presence of all three service chiefs and several senior and retired officers of the three services was a sign of the esteem in which the veteran fighter pilot is held by the men in unifrom. It is always fascinating to hear the Marshal talk about the days when he was flying biplanes and when he commanded a squadron in the Second World War in Burma. Days gone by, an era...which can only be relieved through the words of such legends. As he himself pointed out, the war in Burma produced three highest ranking officers in the Indian defence forces. Field Marshal KM Carriapa and Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw from the Army and he, himself, from the IAF. Not used to the hurly-burly world of electronic media demanding sound bytes, Arjan Singh still held his fort against them after the function. His wit intact despite the hour long function, which must have been draining for a 90-year-old person, he responded in character to the barrage of Happy Birthdays from Correspondents. Thank you very much, he said, "but it makes me feel old and I don't like it".

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Delhi Area throws its weight around

It is amazing to see that some senior officers in the Army just cannot avoid throwing their weight around. The Wednesday's incident in Delhi Cantonement where school buses were held up for hours by the Corps of Military Police and not allowed to proceed for the alleged want of security passes is an example. The Deputy GOC's version that these are security drills and that they will continue for the next month or so should be treated with the ridicule it deserves. Especially since the obviously vindictive act is butteressed by the school Principal's statement that even the electricity supply to the school has been tinkered with lately.
Could it be that this is a case of "admission-not-givinitis"? Has the ward of some senior Army officer been denied admission to the prestigious convent schools located in Delhi Cantonment? Or is it a case of the school over-reacting and running to the press to shift the blame on Army authorities?
Well since another school located in the cantonment has also made certain allegations against the authorities it seems that the Delhi Area has been rather fair in giving the rough treatment to the schools. Everyone has got a share of the rod.
But what one would like to ask the venerable Deputy GOC of Delhi Area is that even if it was a security drill and even if the teachers were not in possession of security passes, was it neccessary to put the children through such ordeal in the heat? Could that have not been prevented by the goons wearing red-beret? Should not the OC of the provost unit be asked for an explanation?
And why only the OC of the provost unit, the GOC of Delhi Area himself should be answerable for this shameful act.

Friday, April 10, 2009

From journalist to activist

Now that the dust has settled down on Jarnails Singh's shoe throwing act, it is perhaps time to introspect on it. First of all it really does not seem that this was a lapse of reason and that he did this out of a momentary flash of anger. No. It was planned and Jarnail was quite prepared to face the consequences, which involved, going to jail, but, unfortunately, Chidambaram did not oblige and the Congress did not over react.
Was it by chance that Jarnail went to a press conference where he was not supposed to go?
Was it by chance that he chose to sit on the very first row just a few feet away from the dias?
Was it by chance that he took off his shoe and kept it ready to be lobbed at the Home Minister?
Fat chance!
He acted out of pure reason, a calculated move, carefully thought out not only by himself, but surely with a group of planners. Whether these co-planners were politicians or not cannot be said with authority but most probably, he did not take advise of or consult politicians before this move.
This brings us to the question whether journalists should do "such things" or not.
Well why not? Are they not part of this society? Do they not see what is happening around them, especially when they are reporting most of it? It would require a superhuman effort not to get affected by the events that unfold, even more so when you or your family has gone through a trauma of riot.
It is very much possible to get swayed by emotion. And one has to be prepared to face the consequences of it. The immediate consequences could be losing one's job but even that would not affect the basic career as a journalist in the long run.
So, in essence, one can make the short journey from being a journalist to activist, but one should also not try to dovetail it by taking shelter behind "momentory loss of reason" and statements like "it was a right issue but wrong way of projecting it".
Accept it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Air Chief doubts if India needs CDS

The Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, has given an entirely new twist to the controversy over the government's alleged dithering when it came to taking the issue of Chief of Defence Staff forward. In an interview to NEWS X, the air chief has said it was highly debatable whether India needed a CDS at all!
Now this is a comment which is absolutoly at divergence with what the military intelligentsia has been saying all along. They have been unanimous in their belief that India does need a CDS. And this belief has been reflected in the various reports of the Standing Committees of Parliament as well as the Kargil review committee.
Air Chief Marshal Major has taken the line that the countries which have the office of CDS do not have similar strategic challenges when compared to India. He is of the opinion that India has two active borders-Pakistan and China-and this situation is not replicated in Western Countries.
It is not known whether the two other services Chiefs, Gen Deepak Kapoor and Admiral Sureesh Mehta, share the opinion of the air chief. And all this time there was a feeling amongst the media and the defence analysts community that the service chiefs down the line have been unanimous in the view that a CDS was must to ensure jointmanship in future wars.
Well, Air Chief Marshal Major has certainly given a new dimension to this debate which must be taken up vigorously and debated upon. Till now, the political parties were facing the ire of the serving and retired military personnel for causing delay to the announcement of a government decision on CDS by not responding to a government letter seeking consensus on the issue. It would be interesting to see the reactions from various quarters to the air chief's comments.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

High-handedness of senior officers

Often some senior officers in the defence services feel that they can get away with anything. And more often than not, they do get away. And this emboldens them.
Take for example, the case of a Lt General who is serving as Chief of Staff in one of the commands of the Army. He, under the influence of pliable officers, who have compromised his position as well, has posted an officer of the Judge Advocate General's branch to the Quartermaster General's branch in the Command HQs. Now, all of us who are familiar with the way the Army functions know that this is absolutely ridiculous. Can, for example, an officer of the Army Medical Corps be posted to command a supply battalion? JAG branch officers can only be posted to appointments which are contiguous with their legal qualifications. But then, the less said about the JAG branch and the influence it generates over officers of the other arms and services, the better. It is a vice-like grip which gets its nourishment from the illegal acts and rampant corruption on part of senior officers.
There has been an ongoing battle between the direct-entry JAG branch officers and those who get side-stepped in the branch from other arms. The present instance of the JAG officer being side-stepped is one of the symptoms of this disease which has now all the signs of consuming this branch. Not that the Army HQs does not know about the happenings in this particular command and the high-handedness of the three star general. But the rot is too wide-spread to be contained.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sullen BDR Chief, servile BSF top boss

It was hard to miss. The mutiny by BDR personnel in Dhaka last month has left Bangladesh Army officers sullen and looking very cross. This behaviour was on display during the press briefing at BSF headquarters yesterday where the DG BDR, Maj Gen Mohd Mainul Islam was present along with DG BSF, ML Kumawat. While the BDR contingent was truncated for this bi-annual conference, which is not hard to understand given that almost all their top officer contingent were massacred by the mutineers, it was quite an experience seeing the head of BDR castigating his force in front of a foreign media in a foreign country. He was quite categorical in saying that the BDR had failed to do its primary job in securing the countries borders. However he was quite chary of revealing what the re-structuring exercise of BDR would be and what would be the name of the new force. But the Bangladesh Army does seem to have been hit very hard by the BDR mutiny. Maj Gen Islam termed it as the "worst incident in the world".
But while the BDR chief had a reason to be looking downcast, there does not seem to be a reason for the BSF boss, ML Kumawat, to be pampering the BDR DG. It is a phenomenon often seen in meetings held by the BSF with their counterparts in Pakistan Rangers too. Why they fawn on them while the other exercises restraint bordering on indifference, is inexplicable. But it does not look good to the onlooker. Hospitality is the keyword when a foreign delegation pays a visit but it should not be exceeded or 'overdone'. Also, an intriguing comment was made by Kumawat when he said that BSF would help Bangladesh to restructure BDR. Now what possible help can the BSF do in this regard? Will they offer their expertise in structuring the new organisation on the pattern of the BSF? Would Bangaldesh Army take their help in the first case? sadly, the BSF chief did not amplify his comments. But it will be interesting to find out what he meant.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Is Lt Col Purohit going to be dismissed?

I was not intending to make two posts in one day but some developments, of which i have learnt just now, force me to do so. As has been reported in all news channels (the newspapers have not paid much attention to it) Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, the Military Intelligence officer linked with Malegaon blasts, is now facing a Court of Inquiry. Well that is not true in the strict sense. The Army has not been given permission by the court to examine Lt Col Purohit. Given the fact that the inquiry is being held against him, it does not make sense to go ahead without the person facing the inquiry.
The grapevine has it that the Army top brass has made up its mind to dismiss Lt Col Purohit from service under the relevant rules. While there is no doubt that the officer has severely embarassed the service by way of his affiliations and political and ideological leanings, but he still remains innocent till proven guilty. It would be patently unfair if the Army chooses to dismiss him at this stage without affording him a chance to explain his stand or prove his innocence. Interestingly it is also being said that the 17 points of reference under which the inquiry is being conducted by the GOC 6 Mountain Div have nothing to do with the allegations against the officer in the court of law. They all relate to flaws in procedure and irregularities in his official duties which put him in contact with the undesirable elements.
There are eno9ugh examples of miscarriages of justice in the courts of law but the Army has to stand above all that. Let's hope the inquiry does not turn out to be witch-hunt which may hurt the image of the Army as a fair organisation.

What's the big deal about the deal?

Oh, the discussions, arguements and counter arguements that are being put forward on the MRSAM deal with Israel. Defence journalists, like those on any other beat are a divided lot but many are unanimous in the view that the news reported by DNA is old news. It may be or it may not, this blog will not take a definitive line on that, as it is outside the scope of this blog, but the deal itself is an important development. And the timing of the deal is very curious too. So the crux of the matter, as Josy Joseph, the author of the series of the articles in DNA, would surely agree, is whether Rs 600 crores have been paid a 'business charges' or not. But strangely this aspect is not being raised in the public fora. Political parties, which in normal course of action, are quick to take-up issues which may be crucial in the run-up to polls, have remained silent on the deal and the alleged pay-off. What could be the reason for this? Why have ther not reacted to the stories which have appeared in DNA and its sister publication, Dainik Bhasker? Is the main opposition party, BJP, too preoccupied with the Varun Gandhi issue and containing the fall out of the Gujarat minister resigning following cancellation of bail by the High Court? Whatever the reason may be, the UPA government must be heaving a sigh of relief that not much muck has been raked regarding the deal. But will it remain so through the election process. As far as I can see it, there will be definitely some attempt by the opposition parties to gain milege from the controversy highlighted by DNA. Some right-leaning journalists are already rubbing their hands in glee in anticipation.