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Maoist-shy army prefers Games toilet

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  • Published 17.04.10
A security person stands guard during the inauguration of a venue for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi

New Delhi, April 16: The army is enthusiastic about taking command of the Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi in another five-and-a-half months in sharp contrast to its reluctance to go into battle against Maoists in the Dantewada jungles.

Among the responsibilities the army is prepared to take in the Games are such challenging tasks as guest management, venue management, management of toilet facilities, spectator services and opening and closing ceremonies.

A section of the top brass has proposed deploying nearly 500 officers and soldiers in the Games management hierarchy following a request by Suresh Kalmadi, the chairperson of the Commonwealth Games organising committee.

But the defence ministry is miffed with the campaign mounted for such a move after former generals in the Games’ organising body — including a former vice-chief of the army — began pulling strings through the old boys’ network to involve the army because its management is in a shambles.

“We have constituted a task force (after receiving the Games request) that will make a realistic evaluation of the service to be given by the armed forces in the national effort to host the Games,” a source in the defence ministry said. The task force includes the vice-chief of naval staff, Vice-Admiral Dalip Kumar Dewan, who also heads the Services Sports Control Board, and joint secretary (training) in the ministry, Upamanyu Chatterjee. They will give a report to the cabinet secretary who has called a meeting next week to review the preparations for the Games.

As soon as the request from Kalmadi was received, a department in the army prepared a powerpoint presentation in which it listed how the officers and soldiers could be involved. The Games management is desperately short of staff (nearly 600 vacancies) and the army is acting on Kalmadi’s proposal by suggesting that it will not only fill up the vacancies but also take charge with a deep involvement in an event “in which the nation’s prestige is at stake”, an officer said.

The officer explained that the Games request had come because of the army’s experience in hosting the Military World Games in Hyderabad and Mumbai in October 2007 in which 101 countries were represented, making it the largest sporting event (in terms of participating countries) to be held in India. About 50 countries are expected to participate in the Games this year.

For the army, the experience in counterinsurgency teaches lessons that are different from those learnt from managing an event of fun and games likely to be opened by the queen of England.

Just this morning, defence minister A.K. Antony repeated that the involvement of the armed forces in counter-Maoist operations was still an open question being dealt with by the Prime Minister and the Union home ministry.

In response to a question on the justification to use airpower, the defence minister said: “The government will take a decision after considering all aspects.”

Asked if that meant a possibility of deployment of the armed forces was still there, Antony replied: “Our Prime Minister has taken a decision that regarding the ‘Maoist thing’, the MHA (ministry of home affairs) is the nodal point. So I am not here to have a public debate on this. I can only say the government will take an appropriate decision after considering everything.”

But last week after the killing of 75 CRPF troopers in Dantewada, army chief General V.K. Singh had practically ruled out deployment of troops in the hinterland in an offensive “against our own people”.

Apart from former army vice-chief (who was also the engineer-in-chief), Lt General (retired) Noble Thamburaj, there are at least three other lieutenant generals, including a former deputy chief, in the top management of the Commonwealth Games. Lt General Shammi Dhillon is Kalmadi’s chief of staff, Lt General Raj Kadyan, a former deputy chief, is in charge of the queen’s baton relay, Lt General Ashok Kapur, a former chief of staff at the Pune-based southern command, is in charge of the Games village and Lt General Vasudev is in charge of venue management.