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Uneasy vibes between Antony & forces
Double-edged move by VK

New Delhi, Feb. 28: Former army chief General (retd) V.K. Singh is set to formally join the BJP tomorrow.

The move betrays the general’s political ambitions after repeatedly stating that he was not taking the step. But it is also a statement on his relationship with the government and defence minister A.K. Antony.

Antony has so antagonised the armed forces during his tenure that the top brass in all three services — the army, navy and the air force — are wondering how they might strike an equation with him.

So far, in Antony’s tenure with just weeks before he demits office, a navy chief has resigned, an army chief famously challenged his own government in the Supreme Court and a former air force chief is being investigated for having allegedly accepted kickbacks in the VVIP chopper scam.

Singh’s friends claim he will join the BJP “along with 190 other retired army, navy and air force officers”.

The resignation of Admiral D.K. Joshi this week has strengthened the belief that the defence minister is unwilling or unable to exercise his political authority.

“The defence secretary has been sending the chief letters asking for explanations. What business does he have doing this when he does not know how the navy is run? Also, the ministry could have had the courtesy to say ‘we deeply regret’ that the admiral has resigned and acknowledge his services. The fact that they have not, shows utter disregard for the navy,” says Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, who was sacked by George Fernandes in 1998 as the chief of naval staff.

Bhagwat’s privileges were later restored on the orders of a court.

His views are important not only because of his experience.

Joshi had served under Bhagwat in different postings for almost 15 years. “We were shipmates,” says Bhagwat. In fact, Bhagwat was Joshi’s commanding officer on at least two postings.

Bhagwat believes that arms dealers have so much undue influence in the security establishment that they can fix the tenures of service chiefs and decide on postings.

He suspects Joshi’s ouster was engineered so that the ministry may bring in a more pliant chief. He believes the navy may not find a chief of the calibre of Joshi for the next 50 years.

“I am not saying Antony is influenced by them (arms dealers). But people around him are. Why not ask Shashikant Sharma who was director-general (acquisitions) and then defence secretary and who is now the comptroller and auditor general?” says Bhagwat.

The former navy chief echoes the sentiments expressed mostly in private by those in the armed forces. A tussle between the armed forces and the bureaucracy has almost always been a feature in the defence establishment. Joshi’s resignation indicates that the armed forces feel that bureaucratic grip on matters military has now turned vice-like.

Top of the mind in the navy is their proposal to procure six submarines under “Project 75i”. The proposal was sent from the naval headquarters to the ministry as far back as 2006. In the seven years since then, the file has been flung from desk to desk. A tender is yet to be issued.