Of Pliable Generals: Splitting the Anatomy of Military Corruption

"The seeds of pliable military leadership were sown when the ‘Jeep scandal’ took place in the 1948. This scam, by the turn of the 21st century, had snowballed into multiple scams, involving many defence deals in which senior officers were involved."


Of Pliable Generals: Splitting the Anatomy of Military Corruption
“I hope the seeds I have sown will be taken up by those who will follow me because the journey I have begun cannot be undertaken in isolation.”  

— Evelyn Glennie —

The journey of the Indian Army’s pliable leadership was not in isolation and not of recent origin either. It came in hordes and with regular periodicity. The seeds of pliable military leadership were sown when the Jeep scandal took place in the 1954. This scandal, by the turn of the 21st century, had snowballed into multiple scams, involving many defence deals in which senior officers were involved.

To cite, one such case is of the HDW Submarine deal of 1980. This deal was finalised by the SS Sidhu Committee (additional secretary in the Ministry of Defence). It had two seniors serving defence officers.

There was a Lieutenant General SG Payara and a Vice Admiral MR Schunkar, who were members. In the AgustaWestland Helicopter case, around seven-eight years ago, the name of Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi had figured.

"The journey of the Indian Army’s pliable leadership was not in isolation and not of recent origin either. It came in hordes and with regular periodicity."
The Jeep scandal was the first to rock independent India; Archival Image

The list is long and has slowly caused a moral degradation in the higher echelons of the armed forces from 1954 onwards. Personal agendas superseded organisational interests, whether it was General KS Thimaiyya, Gen. PN Thapar or even JN Chaudhary, and it was across the Tri-services.

A few years ago, a naval senior commander was honey-trapped in Russia. An Air Chief Marshal was allegedly involved in the Augusta Westland Helicopter scandal.

The issue of moral bankruptcy in the armed forces came to head when Chief of Army Staff, General VK Singh alleged that a retired Lt Gen had offered him a ₹14 Crore bribe for approving a tranche of sub-standard Tatra trucks. The said Lt Gen had been Director General Military Intelligence (DGMI).

It was revealed that already some 7,000 such vehicles had been purchased in the past at a whopping sum of ₹1 Crore each while the market price was ₹40 Lakhs each.

A few years ago, an army commander had made accusations against his Army Chief for some serious irregularities, who had preceded the complainant as Army Commander. However, the matter was suppressed and the complainant was shifted to a nondescript Army Command.

As a compensation for his silence, the complaining army commander was made a member of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) after retirement. Silence has its own reward, and they are handsome too. Who cares for moralities in today's officer cadre?

It may be noted that the said Army Chief’s name had figured in Adarsh Housing Society (Mumbai) scam as well. It was during his tenure only that his military secretary (a Lt Gen) and a Corps Commander (another Lt Gen) were involved in the Sukhna Land scam.

He got himself declared as a Low Medical Category (LMC) for hearing impairment, just a few weeks before he retired. He is not alone in such incidents. There are a plethora of senior officers who follow such unethical practices.

"The issue of moral bankruptcy in the armed forces came to head when COAS, Gen VK Singh alleged that a retired Lt Gen had offered him a ₹14 Crore bribe for approving a tranche of sub-standard Tatra trucks. The said Lt Gen was a former DGMI"
The media has acted as the true fourth pillar of democracy by uncovering defence scams

The Tehelka Expose, dubbed Operation West End was the mirror which gave some glimpses of rot in the army, particularly our Generalship and it has trickled down to lowest rung. If Generals do this, can the rest of the rank and file be left far behind?

Newspaper reports on May 21, 2020, gave out a case of forgery by 9 JCOs and Jawans in a Unit CSD of a Medium Artillery regiment of a Tibri Cantonment. Amongst them, they cheated the unit of ₹90 Lakhs over two years between 2016-18.

It shows as to how deep rooted the moral degradation was in the armed forces, and one could be suspect that they could not do so without the connivance of some officers. If a Court of Inquiry is conducted properly, officers' names would tumble out.

Do not forget as the children learn watching their parents, so do the men in the armed forces by watching their officers, and officers learn from the Generals. It is a trickle-down effect. But to say that it was a recent ailment would be unjustifiable. It is deep rooted since the days of the Jeep scandal of 1954. This is why the above quote, by Evelyn Gennie, becomes very important.

Introspection and review of history is often unkind to great names and their legends. When the facts ooze out of the cupboards, the hidden skeletons fall on the ground. The myth of their greatness is torn apart. Hither to fore known heroes, look like zeroes. It might be harsh to expose the legends and iconic figures but unless it is done the wrong will not be corrected. Indians are very slow to learn from history.

"Do not forget as the children learn watching their parents, so do the men in the armed forces by watching their officers, and officers learn from the Generals. It is a trickle-down effect."
Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon with top Generals of the era; Archival Image

I am reading Jai Ram Ramesh’s book on Krishan Menon, ‘A chequered Brilliance — Many lives of VK Krishna Menon’. Pages 503 to 510 are remarkably interesting, as it lays bare the intrigues of our Generals of the time. It exposes many big names of military leadership of the 1950s and 60s, who were worse than the ordinary officers. It was these scheming and sleeping generals who led Indian army to the 1962 debacle.

It is unfair to only blame VK Krisna Menon for the 1962 debacle, when his own army chief was plotting against him. Yes, it was General KS Thimaiyya, who had direct access to the Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru. Going over the head of his Defence Minister.

He had exploited his direct connection to make complaints against VK Krishna Menon. When the Defence minister came to know that he was being short circuited by General KS Thimaiyya, he turned against the General

His links with Jawaharlal Nehru have been brought out earlier in Jai Ram Ramesh's book 'A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of V.K. Krishna Menon', when as a third Junior most in army hierarchy, Nehru began cultivating him. His widowed sister was employed by Nehru in his own office. In 1956, he accompanied the Prime Minister for a retreat in the Kaziranga wildlife sanctuary.

Also, Gen Thimaiyya was made the Chief of the Army by superseding two senior Generals to him. One was Lt Gen Sant Sint Singh Pantal and the other was Gen Kalwant Singh. Both were equally competent but Thimmaiyya’s proximity to Nehru went in his favour.

Krishna Menon and Gen Thimmaiyya’s animosity comes out very clearly in Jai Ram Ramesh’s book. Going behind the back of his Defence Minister, Gen Thimmaiyya gave an interview to ambassador of the United Kingdom, Malcolm McDonald in October 1959.

He alleged in his talk with the ambassador that VK Krishna Menon was planning a coup against the Prime Minister with the help of the army. Jai Ram Ramesh observes that had it come to the knowledge of the Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Gen KS Thimmaiyya would have been sacked unceremoniously.

"It is this fear (of Coup) which led political leadership to create a counter weight to the army in the form of the CAPF, such as the ITBP, BSF and the SSB under the Home Ministry"
CRPF contingent during the Republic Day Parade; File Photo

This was a very shocking allegation made by Malcolm McDonald in a secret cable to the UK Government. The fear of an army coup, since then, has been always haunting the political leadership of the country. No wonder the post of Chief of Defence Staff was kept hanging fire for 60 years, and even now the post created is toothless and lifeless.

It is this fear which led political leadership to create a counter weight to the army in the form of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), such as the Indo Tibetan Border Police, Border Security Force and the Shasastra Seema Bal under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Thus, national security was bisected into internal and external security. The result of this is what one sees on activities of these police forces on the borders/Line of Actual Control. Smuggling and terrorist infiltration is rampant. Chinese intrusion in Eastern Ladakh in May/June 2020 owes itself to inactive ITBP.

Coming back to Thimmaiyya and Krishna Menon slanging conflict, it led to affect the junior Generalship. VK Krishnamenon started cultivating Generals junior to Thimmaiyya. The two prominent names were Lt Gen PN Thapar and Major General BM Kaul. Both were sent home unceremoniously after the 1962 war.

BM Kaul was an Army Service Corps officer, and he had no operational record. He was posted at Ambala and was made incharge of ‘Project Amar’, which was the construction of married accommodation at Ambala station. He did this job in the shortest possible time.

Prime Minister Nehru, along with Defence Minister Krishna Menon inaugurated the completion of the project. He was promoted and posted at Army HQ —- later he was posted as Corps Commander of Newly raised 4 Corps HQ at Tezpur. Unfortunately, he fell sick and was evacuated to Delhi during Chinese attack.

He continued to command from his hospital bed. However, the total rout of the army led to Lt Gen SHFJ Manekshaw to replace him.

As for Gen PN Thapar’s case, he superseded Lt Gen SP Thorat to become the Army Chief. It is said that General Thimmaiyya had recommended the name of Lt Gen SP Thorat as his successor.

He made this recommendation not to the PM or RM but the Supreme Commander, President of India, who had accepted it. But the Prime Minister and Defence Minister overruled the President’s approval.

Gen PN Thapar, on being prompted by Krisna Menon, had made certain allegations against Generals Thimmayya and SP Thorat —- his immediate superiors. Though nothing came out of this, Lt Gen SP Thorat became a victim.

It is said that PN Thapar was not only close to Defence Minister Krishna Menon but he had an oblique relationship with Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. Gen PN Thapar was married to the sister of Gautam Sehgal, who in turn was married to the daughter of Vijay Lakshmi pandit and everyone knows that Vijay Laxmi pandit was Jawahar Lal Nehru’s sister.

It is said though he had advised against the ‘Evict The Chinese’ order of the Government but he was not strong enough to forcefully impress upon them. Thus, he paid for his lack of courage of convictions in 1962.

The person who replaced Gen PN Thapar was Gen JN Chaudhary. As a Lt Gen, he wrote for The Statesmanof Calcutta, under a pseudonym, whereas the Army Act and army rules prohibit such communications with the Press or civilians.

Jai Ram Ramesh reveals in his book that it was he who clandestinely broke the news of resignation of Gen KS Thimmaiyya, which led to a political storm and Nehru had to face an angry parliament.

What moral authority could he enjoy over his subordinates when he himself was violating laws. No wonder he had chickened out in the 1965 war with Pakistan.

In the face of Pakistan’s armoured offensive opposite the Amritsar sector, he asked Western Army Commander, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh to fall back to the River Bess Line. Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh refused to obey and saved the day for India and Bhikhiwind became the graveyard of Pakistani Patton Tanks.

This kind of Generalship carries on. Someone had rightly observed that competence alone is not enough to become a General or the Army Chief, one has to be pliable too.

For some years now, a false narrative on modern war has been the favourite of the Indian Government. It was being peddled around that owing to nuclear weapons, modern war will be limited to insurgency and low intensity conflict.

Therefore, Indian Government built up a narrative to neglect the defence needs. There are no doubts that the Government had the nod coming for this narrative from its army.

"This kind of Generalship carries on. Someone had rightly observed that competence alone is not enough to become a General or the Army Chief, one has to be pliable too."
CDS Gen Bipin Rawat during Republic Day celebrations; File Photo

Thank god the Chinese action in Eastern Ladakh in June 2020 has falsified this narrative of the Government and its advisors within and outside the uniform. In its bid to meet Chinese threat, the Defence Minister rushed to Russia to buy weapons and ammunition. India requested USA for latest drones and missiles; urged France for expediting delivery of Rafale fighter Aircrafts.

It had happened in 1962 too. And the lesson was never learnt which is: When a nation has pliable Generals, national security is definitely endangered.

China gave us a wakeup call in 1962 and it has done it again in 2020. Would India have a Genal like Douglas MacArthur, who in 1931 had requested President Franklin Roosevelt not to go ahead with a cut in the defence budget.

When the president refused to do so. General McArthur walked out of the office, turned back and said, “Mr President! When in the next war, an American soldier lay prostrate with an enemy bayonet in his abdomen and he spelt out his last curse, I do not want the name to be Mc Arthur but Roosevelt”. No gainsaying the fact that President Roosevelt rescinded his order.

Perhaps Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw came closest to General Douglas Mc Arthur. But he was disgraced by the politicians and army after the BanglaDesh war. It is “Sad” that his entry was banned, for some time, in army officers’ messes.

There were others too, like Lt Gen Nathu Singh Rathore, who refused to become Chief over the head of KM Cariappa. Unfortunately, he was made to retire by giving a three-month extension to Gen Rajendrasinhji. It is obvious that a constant fear of a military coup guides bureaucracy and politicians to pick up a weak and a pliable General as a Chief.

National Security is never a concern and the nation pays for it when bureaucrats and police officers head the National Security apparatus. Is it because of the known incompetence of the Generals. Obviously. because everyone knows how political connections play their role.

Who does not know amongst the bureaucrats and politicians as to how these Generals have risen to these positions? Recent upward move of some Generals shows that only pliable ones with political connections have made the cut.

(Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran of the ’71 War & has served extensively in various counter insurgency environments across the country.

He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert and a regular contributor at the 'Fauji India' magazine, ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: rajee749@yahoo.com)

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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