Behind the veneer of
political skulduggery taking place in the wake of the dismissal of the Chief of
Naval Staff (CNS), Vishnu Bhagwat, lies the murky dealings within the Ministry
of Defence (MOD); the top echelons of the armed forces; the intelligence agency,
RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and even the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The
BJP’s desperate attempts to hide the facts, utilising the fig-leaf of ‘national
security’, finds itself helpless in the face of acute contradictions enveloping
the ruling classes.
But, even more
important than the illegitimate and anti-national dealings taking place at the
top, are the pernicious attempts to mould public opinion for a most dangerous
transformation in governance — to incorporate the armed forces within the
government structures. The media hype, by pitting an honest Bhagwat against a
rasputin-like ex-defence secretary, Ajit Kumar, creates popular opinion in
favour of the Chiefs of Armed Force’s longstanding demand to be incorporated
into the MOD. With this change the armed forces will get a greater say in
strategic planning, arms purchases and in the selection of officers.
Yet, the fact
remains, that in these 51 years of so-called independence, this is the first
time ever that a defence minister has sacked a Chief of Staff of the armed
forces (infact, Bhagwat was then, not just CNS, but a few days earlier had taken
over, by rotation, as Chairman of the Chief of Staff Committee — i.e., defacto
the top man in the entire armed forces). This shows the extent to which
contradictions have reached in the defence establishment. Here, we are not
particularly concerned with the integrity or otherwise of the individuals
involved (Bhagwat himself is being backed by a Bofors tainted Sonia Gandhi and
notoriously corrupt elements like Jayalalitha and Sharad Pawar). What is of
greater significance is that these revelations will help dispel any lingering
doubt that may exist that these scum stand for the ‘national interest’.
This realisation is
particularly important for the common soldier, sailor and pilot within the
forces, who risk their lives, under the false illusion of fighting in the
"national interest", when infact they merely act to protect these traitors from
the people’s wrath.
In this article let
us examine both points that have arisen through the Bhagwat affair — the murky
dealings in the defence forces and also the proposed restructuring.
Fernandes and the Bhagwat Episode
On December 30, ’98
Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat was sacked. On the very next day, December 31, Air
Marshal S.K. Sareen was forced to retire, though the retirement age had just
been extended by two years. The only remaining Chief of Staff, of the army, V.P.
Malik continued, due to his closeness with the Hindu fundamentalist lobby. Now,
with the changes the entire armed forces is manned by pro-hindu fascist
elements. The virtual coup by the MOD against two top chiefs of the armed forces
is basically connected with three factors — (i) arms deals, (ii) gun-running off
the Andaman coast and (iii) promotions. The three are closely interlinked; and
though the third factor was the immediate pretext for the sacking, the first two
were its major cause.
(i) Arms Deals
The villain of the
piece here appears to be one Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh, close to both the MOD
and PMO, whose promotion was the immediate cause of conflict. The battle between
Bhagwat and Singh appears a reflection of a fight over arms purchases. Bhagwat
apparently was for indigenous production while Singh is closely linked to arms
Bhagwat, it is said,
was continuously battling with what has come to be called the Newport brigade —
a lobby of senior officers who had attended the Naval War College in Newport,
Singh was on two
occasions denied promotions. The major reason given, besides incompetency, was
his admission to having accepted lavish hospitality for two months in 1997, for
himself and family of arms dealers in London, Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Surprisingly, these major naval arms dealers were none other than top officers
of the Navy, now retired. In fact the chief agent is a company called Crown
Corporation run by ex-Admiral Nanda. That such top officers routinely become
major agents of arm dealers, with full knowledge of the government, make the
entire structure of the defence forces suspect. But what ensued in the navy in
the last six months is not merely criminal it is anti-national making even the
Prime Minister suspect.
After Bhagwat refused
appointment of Singh as his deputy he was summarily sacked on December 30th.
What is then particularly mysterious is that on the day of his sacking,
Vajpayee, his foster daughter and son-in-law flew to Port Blair and spent the
new year’s Eve at the home of vice-Admiral Harinder Singh. Bhagwat was
replaced by an Ajit Kumar, a Fernandes stooge and by mid-March Harinder Singh
took over as Deputy Chief of Naval Staff. The path was thereby cleared for major
In March 1999 itself
two major arms deals in the Navy were struck with international companies, and,
not surprisingly, Crown Corporation was the Chief agent. Both deals are
highly suspect. For major purchases of submarine spare parts a deal was struck
with the German company Marlog, with Crown as agent. It is said that the rates
fixed were so exorbitant, that the items sold ranged from 20 to 100 times the
normal market price. In the second deal of a huge Rs. 2,500 crores, the
government contracted the construction of three warships to a Russian shipyard.
This is the first time ever that the government has departed from its policy of
placing shipbuilding contracts with Indian shipyards only. So much for the BJP’s
‘swadeshi’ credentials !! These purchases are just the beginning, mammoth deals
are yet being negotiated.
If we look also at
the forcible retirement of S.K. Sareen, we again find the dubious ‘foreign hand’
of arms dealers. In this case, it appears more as a fight for the spoils between
Sareen and Kumar, in the purchase of satellite-based inertial navigation systems
for the SU-30 fighter aircraft. Sareen favoured the French company Sagem, while
Ajit Kumar pushed for another French company Sextan. The order went to Sextan.
But what has been
disclosed is the mere tip of the iceberg and the net of corruption,
double-dealing and kickbacks appear also to involve leading elements of the UF
government.... who infact initiated the present feverish pitch of arms
purchases. Deve Gowda has been aggressively lobbying for the outdated T-72S
tanks, Mulayam Singh Yadav and I.K. Gujral have surprisingly supported the BJP
in opposing a debate on the Bhagwat issue. This is not suprising, as it was
during UF rule that the 1996 SU-30 MFI deal of Rs. 6,500 crores and the 1997
naval ships deal of Rs. 4,200 crores were signed. With Russia’s entire industry
and trade in the hands of a mafia, and with Russia desperate to dispose of vast
military stocks, the size of the kickbacks on such huge deals can well be
imagined. No wonder these two were afraid of a debate .... many more skeletons
in the cupboard may fall out !
(ii) Fernandes and
The exposure on this
is even more devastating for the BJP government. As it not only discloses its
cloak-and-dagger operations against neighbouring countries, its gun-running to
pro-government groups in the North-East, but also its involvement in narcotics
smuggling. And the khadi-clad Defence minister together with his rasputin ex-defence
secretary appear as the king-pins in these nefarious activities.
It was February ’98
.... ‘Operation Leech’ in the Andaman Seas. Earlier, in end ’96, Army Chief,
Roychoudhary, had asked CNS Bhagwat for help in intercepting arms shipments from
the far east being shipped to the North East via Cox Bazar. In the first week of
February ’98 RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), in order to mislead the navy,
informed that a shipment was on the way to India, coming through the Malacca
straits, south of the Andamans. The Directorate of Military Intelligence,
however, surmised that the route lay further north. The navy, acting on the
latter’s information, intercepted three trawlers carrying arms for two
‘insurgent’ groups in the North-East and one in Myanmar. The navy, till then,
unaware of RAW’s operations, was not able to distinguish between arms for the
genuine insurgents and for the RAW-sponsored ones. Surprisingly, instead of
commending a ‘successful action’, not only RAW but also the MOD displayed
It was when the navy
intercepted two more Thai trawlers on May 30, ’98 that the annoyance turned to
anger. Fernandes was particularly incensed. In this action, when the trawlers
attempted to flee, the navy sunk one. From the other it recovered ARMS AND 50
Kgs OF HEROIN. To stop such pre-emptive actions by the navy the Fernandes-Kumar
duo issued the unprecedented order not to act against arms/narcotics shipments
without their permission. When the BJP and their hangers-on say that a JPC
probe or the reinstatement of Bhagwat, goes against the ‘national security
interests’ they obviously mean against the "BJP’s interests" as all their
nefarious actions will get further exposed.
In that order, issued
on July 27, ’98 by the defence secretary, Ajit Kumar, the MOD stated that "the
service headquarters may receive specific intelligence from time to time with
regard to vessels carrying weapons,arms, et al. to Cox’s Bazar through the
Andaman Seas. Keeping in mind the sensitivities involved, it has been decided
that no precipitate action is to be taken. Service HQ IS NOT TO ACT on any
intelligence relating to gun-running and other illegal activities in the Andaman
Seas without approval of the government."
Not surprisingly, in
the two months following this order three more shipments quietly passed through.
Interestingly, at that time the Chief Commanding Officer in the Andamans was
none other than the infamous Harinder Singh !
Lately, yet again in
March ’99, inspite of a tip-off from the Sri Lankan government of an LTTE arms
trawler, the navy acted in a manner that effectively prevented its capture.
With these revelation
what has come to light are two important factors of government policy — its
covert operations against neighbouring countries, and its ruthless methods in
suppressing the just struggles of the North East. The chief tool for its
implementation is RAW acting in conjunction with the MOD. It is not surprising
therefore, that Ajit Kumar, the then defence secretary, had earlier served as a
top RAW operator for four years. And with Fernandes’s dubious political links
with so-called ‘pro-democracy’ movements in Myanmar the network becomes
complete. Let us look at both these aspects of government policy.
In the pursuance of
its expansionist interests with neighbouring countries the Indian government
adopts a dual policy. First it seeks to establish control over the governments
in power (or get a pro-India government elected); and, if not possible, indulge
in covert operations to de-stabilise existing governments. Through the Bhagwat
episode it appears RAW (with Fernandes and Kumar in tail) has been arming
insurgency operations to destabilise the existing military government in
Myanmar. What is particularly treacherous is that the Indian government while on
the surface maintained good relations with the Myanmar government it secretly
carried out covert operations. It, infact went to the extent of duping Yangon
into participating in joint military operations against the North-East national
liberation groups. Since April 1995, starting with ‘Operation Golden Bird’, such
joint military actions have resulted in killing numerous fighters. Of course,
with the exposure in July ’98 and the treachery revealed, such joint operations
With regard to the
North-East liberation movements it appears that the government will go to any
extreme to crush them. In addition to army and para-military terror, the
government is not only arming counter-revolutionary forces and vigilant groups
with sophisticated weaponry, but pitting one group against another to crush them
all. Together with gun-running to such forces it has stooped to the level of
narcotics dealings in order to corrupt and amputate their fighting capacity. If
a massive 50 kg of heroin was discovered in just one vessel, what must be the
level of narcotics pushed into the North-East by the Indian government, can well
The Indian government
has now surpassed even the British colonialists in its methods of suppression.
The arms purchased by RAW were said to be for groups in Nagaland and a
pro-government group in Tripura. The government is arming such fake ‘liberation’
groups to crush the real fighters and unleash terror on the people. It also
gives the appearance that the people are fighting amongst themselves.
These outfits can
comprise the most cruel and ruthless elements (like SULFA) through which the
government can resort to the worst kind of terror without fear of any law or
condemnation from human rights organisations. But what is more terrifying,
through these disclosures is the revelation that huge consignments of heroin are
being pushed into the North East by the very government itself. Their purpose is
to drug the entire population into passivity. They have even surpassed the
British who in the last century sought to drug the Chinese with narcotics
supplied from India (by Tata). The Indian comprador bourgeoisie appear to have a
long tradition in such nefarious dealings. While Tata made his initial fortune
in narcotics it is yet to be revealed how much has been made by RAW and MOD
officials. With thousands of families destroyed by heroin in the North East,
these government ‘pushers’ deserve nothing less than the firing squad.
(iii) Promotions –
Favouritisms – Commissions
Till now, the
government accused naxalites, Kashmiris, North East and Punjabi fighters,
Muslims or anyone who revolted against injustices .... as anti-national. Now
such accusations are even being leveled at their own chiefs of the armed forces.
At the time of sacking Bhagwat, Fernandes said that he was a "national security
risk." This charge has been repeated by the PM and home minister. If the chief
of the armed forces was a "national security risk" what about an ordinary
citizen who opposes the BJP ? The way these charges are thrown around shows not
only the utter irresponsibility of the top BJP leaders, but their total
intolerance of any who do not bow to their hindu fascist agenda. What is more,
the extent to which India has been converted into a police state is indicated by
the fact that intelligence sleuths of the IB and CBI were put after, not only
Bhagwat, but also the ex-Air Marshal, Sareen.
With Bhagwat and
Sareen out, the BJP/Fernandes/Kumar combine has acted to communalise the armed
forces further by promoting favourites. Bhagwat’s place is taken by Sushil
Kumar, a man groomed by Kumar for years. His deputy Harinder Singh is a known
communal element having placed written charges against Bhagwat — of his
‘half-muslim’ wife and for not conducting the last rites of his parents. The
Army Chief of Staff Malik has a history of links with the communalists. As far
back as in January ’96, while he was Officer Commanding in Chief, Southern
Command he had invited Bal Thackeray to the Army Investure Parade. Also, in
March ’98 he blatantly presided over the Veer Savarkar Award function. The
‘award’, the second presented so far, was incidentally given to the BJP stooge,
K. Subrahmanyam — a man notorious as a nuclear-hawk and an open spokesman for
regional hegemonism. This same Subrahmanyam was made convenor of the newly
formed Advisory Board of the National Security Council.
As seniority in the
armed forces entails not only tremendous power, but also the possibility of
making fortunes, these posts are strongly contested. The vast amounts involved
will indicate their desperation to have only their men at the top and not
re-instate the Bhagwat types.
Gigantic Leaps in Military Spending
ruling-classes, given their size, see themselves as a regional bully with the
right of domination over all countries of South Asia. Any resistance leads to
sabre-rattling and threats. Of late, with ‘economic liberalisation’ and the huge
investments of the comprador big bourgeois -TNC combine, and with continued
stagnation in the Indian market together with a slump in exports, there is a
desperation to flood neighbouring countries with Indian (i.e. comprador / TNC)
goods. To promote this, expansionist policies become an urgent necessity, which
necessarily entails increased military might. That is why there has been a major
step-up in arms purchases in the last few years. In just the 18 months from
early 1996 contracts worth Rs. 10,000 crores were concluded.
Another reason for
the burgeoning military budget is the increased utilisation of the army against
the Indian people itself, to quell the rising tide of discontent against their
exploitative rule. At present it is officially stated that 72,000 defence
personnel are directly deployed in counter-insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir,
while 47,000 are deployed in the North-East states. This, of course, in a gross
understatement; the numbers are, in reality, much more. According to their own
admission the army has spent as much as Rs. 17,500 crores between 1990 and 1997
in such operations; and currently spends Rs. 2,650 crores annually on
It is then, these two
factors that are the main cause for the gigantic increase in the defence budget
which has nearly doubled in just three years from Rs. 26,856 crores in 1995-96
to as much as roughly Rs. 47,500 crores in 1999-2000 (inclusive of Rs. 2000
crores promised later in the year). The 1999-2000 defence budget has itself
allocated a massive Rs. 17,000 crores for purchase of hardware. In addition is
the huge expenditure (included under revenue) on spares, repairs, upgradation
etc. The size of this can be imagined from the fact that just the IAF last year
spent Rs. 1,652 crores in purchase of spares.
So, if we consider
the total purchases involved, it would be to the tune of Rs. 22,000 crores ($5
billion). With kickbacks amounting to a minimum of 7% on total value, the huge
booty over which squabbles are intensifying would be about Rs. 1,500 crores.
This is for just one year.
corruption in arms deals has led to the purchase of sub-standard equipment ....
particularly from Russia. As a result of this, in just the last 2 years,
since January ’97, 39 IAF planes have crashed (mostly MIGs) leading to the death
of pilots and enormous waste of funds. Probably not in any war with Pakistan has
India lost so many fighter planes as in the recent crashes..... three have
occurred in the first four months of the current year itself. Yet India
continues purchasing such sub-standard materials. Surely, this one factor alone
should open the eyes of the rank-and-file within the armed forces, to the fact
that they are made to give their lives in order that their bosses reap fortunes
in kickbacks. No wonder discontent is growing.
Restructuring in the Defence Establishment
We have already seen
what incorporation of the army within the administration means in Kashmir and
the North-East. A brutal terroristic rule, under the garb of democracy and
"elected government." If this is now to be repeated at the centre it can only
mean more brutality and greater fascistic terror.
Bhagwat had proposed
the setting up of a separate defence intelligence agency. Malik, while speaking
at a probationers meeting in February ’99, blasted the prevalent system for its
red tape, archaic procedures and lack of financial and operational autonomy for
the service chiefs. He said that the service chiefs should be included in
security-related decision making... and called for greater delegation of
authority to the three service chiefs in financial and personnel matters,
terming it as the "most important reform" that the defence establishment needed.
between the armed and civilian wings of the defence establishment indicates the
pressures that exist for restructuring. This is particularly reflected in the
sphere of appointments to top posts. There are, at present, 5,281 pending writ
petitions in the high courts challenging promotions, transfers etc. Appointments
are done by the ACC (Appointments Committee of the Cabinet). The ACC comprises
the PM, the home minister, finance minister and the head of the ministry
concerned. The particular departmental secretary is the secretary of the ACC.
Two recent examples
of court decisions have sent shock waves into the MOD civil bureaucracy. In
December ’98 the court quashed the appointment of Lt. General HRS Kalkat as the
general officer commanding-in-chief of the army’s Eastern Command ordering Lt.
Gen. Kayan to the post instead. A little earlier, a division bench of the Delhi
court issued a contempt of court notice to Ajit Kumar and two other MOD
officials for not acting on a court decision calling on the government to
promote Air-vice Marshal PK Ghosh to the rank of Air Marshal... Such conflicts
have taken an acute form when, in September, 1998, the three chiefs of staff
jointly wrote a letter to the defence minister saying that they could no longer
work with his defence secretary, Ajit Kumar.
restructuring will not only act to diffuse these contradictions, but will also
act to give the military greater political teeth. It is proposed along the
following lines : First, setting up the NSC (National Security Council) as a
permanent body equipped to deal with external and internal ‘security’, packed
mostly with political (and military) hawks. Second, revamping the MOD to include
service chiefs. Third, making the COSC (Committee of Service Chiefs) a
functional body with a permanent chairman.
The BJP version of
the NSC is a three-tier one. The NSC itself is headed by the PM, and contains
the Home Minister, the Defence Minister, the Finance Minister, the External
Affairs Minister and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. The NSC
will also be served by a National Security Advisor, a post awarded to the
Cabinet secretary, Brajesh Mishra. The present Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC)
is to be the NSC secretariat. The next tier is the ‘strategic policy group’,
consisting of the cabinet secretary and the secretary of key ministries, besides
the Chief of the Army, Navy and Air force, the Governor of the RBI and the
Director of the IB. The third tier is the 22-member National Security Advisory
Board, comprising of non-government ‘experts’ from various fields. It has been
packed with hawks (like KPS Gill) and pro-liberalisation economists. This
fusion of the military and civilian structures, will create a dangerous
fascist-like military rule. Ofcourse this NSC got off to a rather poor start
with the 22 member ‘Advisory Board’ squabbling furiously, not only at their two
meetings, but also publicly in the media.
The MOD is proposed
to include the Chiefs of staffs with greater say in planning, financial policy
and in appointments. Fernandes has already announced that the army from April 1,
’99 can operate its revenue budget entirely on its own. With the army accounting
for 73% of the total revenue expenditure to the defence forces the pro-BJP,
Malik stands to gain control over a yearly amount of about Rs. 24,000 crores.
The COSC, which today
has a rotating chairman from amongst the three Chiefs, if it now has to have a
permanent head, it defacto means introducing the colonial-style structure of a
‘Commander-in-Chief’ of the entire armed forces. Revamping this body will give
it more teeth for purposes of aggression — whether on a neighbouring country or
on people in revolt within the country.
restructuring of the defence establishment, the Indian ruling classes hopes to
more effectively realise its dream of regional hegemony, and more efficiently
implement policies of fascist repression within the country. Unfortunately, the
present media hype in favour of Bhagwat indirectly acts to create public opinion
in favour of this transformation — by showing service chiefs of higher integrity
compared to the civil bureaucracy.
The reality is quite
different. Besides, one or two exceptions the bulk of the top echelon of the
armed forces are deeply involved with international arms dealers. The earlier
examples of ex-naval officers acting as their agents was just one such example.
In addition, the armed forces are still deeply engrained in colonial traditions
with strong bonds with the imperialists. Besides, training of top personnel
abroad, joint military exercises and dependency on foreign suppliers for the
bulk of the purchases, tightens this bond. They will always remain a reliable
instrument of the imperialists within the country, ever keen to live upto their
servile traditions of serving their foreign bosses, in return for a life of
grandeur and luxury.
Ruling class Pipe-Dream
though, will not take place easily. Firstly, the age-old entrenched powers of
the bureaucracy will not easily be shared with others. Second, with the growing
liberalisation and privatisation in the economy the existing dog-fights amongst
individuals and lobbies will multiply a hundred fold. Third, unless one
imperialist power dominates over the country at the expense of others, till
then, the numerous arms lobbies, all reflected by their representatives in the
political parties, the bureaucracy and the armed forces, will be continuously
scrambling for contracts, widening the divisions locally. And fourth, the
intensifying economic crisis, both worldwide and in India, will make the
scramble for a diminishing cake all the more ruthless, all the more desperate.
This is one aspect.
The other is the rising tide of people’s movements against these rulers.....this
discontent will also be reflected within the armed forces. Already, last year,
there was a near-mutiny in the Indian Air Force. Dissatisfaction amongst the
armed forces is growing. The army has not, for years, been able to fill officer
postings of as many as 13,000 vacancies. And with the growth of the
revolutionary forces and the gradual development of a people’s army, the
rank-and-file of the armed forces are bound to find greater justice in the
people’s armed strength. And when, one day, a section breaks off, to join the
people’s forces, the rulers’ dreams will turn into a nightmare. The
restructuring will then take place from below — not at the top.