RAVI NAIR | 19 NOVEMBER, 2019
Olive Green and Constitutional Propriety
Major Gen with a loud mouth
One would like to believe that a particular retired Major General of the Indian Army was being just a loose cannon. Many others have been crude on the electronic media in a manner that does little credit to their erstwhile training. A few senior retired officers have called him out. Army Headquarters (HQ), however, has been disingenuous. It has stated that as he is not a serving officer it can do little under the Army Act. It adds that it is drawing up a code of conduct for retired veterans.
It does not require more than a mere administrative order from Army HQ to deny a loud mouthed veteran access to his or her erstwhile regimental mess and other army facilities and most importantly for many, access to the Canteen Stores Department (CSD ) specifically set up for veterans. While that is a mere slap on the wrists, it should suffice unless the ex-officer concerned is rogue and needs sterner action. Fortunately, he has since apologized, half heartedly.
The draft code of conduct for veterans as it stands at present is meant more to address the critical blogs of retired officers and their public pronouncements and positions on political issues not in tune with the saffron wind.
However, all the signals portend many problems for the more professional brass hats as well as the civilian leadership still sworn to uphold the Constitution. An Army officer or soldier represents the milieu that he or she comes from. So far, most serving officers have commendably kept their political opinions close to their chests and soldiered on.
There have been a few bad eggs. The most recent being Colonel Purohit, who seemed to have discarded his regimental colours for a hue symbolising hate, intolerance and more importantly, the negation of constitutional values. Curiously, after his release from prison, the army intelligence officer seemed to have been taken into the army’s cavernous bosom without any public explanation as to what he was doing training extremists in explosives. If ever there was a case for summary dismissal from service, this was it.
Lest we forget, the Vajpayee government made the former naval chief, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat walk the gang plank for alleged nsubordination. General Stanley McChrystal was asked to resign as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan by President Obama for much less. General Douglas MacArthur was also asked to leave by President Harry Truman when the war hero attempted to tilt the balance on civil-military relations.
At home, it would be errant to forget the supersession of General SK Sinha by a more politically pliant General Arun Vaidya as Chief of Staff in 1983. Even though an imperious Indira Gandhi was in power, the red tabs at that point of time were worthy of their spinal columns. Over 30 serving Generals and numerous other officers in full uniform were at Palam airport to give Lt General Sinha an unofficial but gracious sendoff.
Juxtapose this with the supersession of two outstanding Generals, Lieutenant Praveen Bakshi and Lieutenant General PM Hariz, both of whom were senior to General Bipin Rawat, the present Chief of Staff. Thereby, hangs a tale.
The Modi Government in its first incarnation hit the wrong notes with the appointment of retired General VK Singh as a junior minister in the first cabinet. General Vijay Kumar Singh was no stranger to controversy. He was the first serving Indian military Chief of Staff to take the Government of India to court, with regard to a dispute over his date of birth and subsequent retirement.
In 2013, it came to light that the Indian Army had requested the Defence Ministry to order a high-level probe into the functioning of a top secret intelligence unit set up by General (retd) V K Singh, suspecting it of carrying out "unauthorised operations" and financial wrongdoings.
The Army report about the Technical Support Division (TSD), accused of illegally tapping phones of senior Defence Ministry officials, has been submitted to the Defence Ministry.
The Indian Express went into details that secret service funds were used to destabilise the Omar Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir and even pay an NGO to try change the line of succession in the Army top brass and buy off-air interception equipment.
Army HQ has not been blameless. The Kunan Poshpora mass rape case of 1991 has yet to see closure. The Justice JS Verma Committee report of January 2013 stated that the continuance of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) needed to be revisited. AFSPA requires sanction by central government for initiating prosecution against armed forces personnel. The Committee recommended that the requirement of sanction for prosecution of armed forces personnel should be excluded when a sexual offence is alleged. Complainants of sexual violence must be afforded witness protection. Special commissioners should be appointed in conflict areas to monitor and prosecute for sexual offences. Training of armed personnel should be reoriented to emphasise strict observance of orders in this regard by armed personnel.
Instead of acting on these recommendations there has been a nudge and wink from Army HQ when 355 serving personnel of the army in an extraordinary petition attempted to subvert the import of the EVEFAM judgement of the apex court. In November 2018, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition filed by army personnel seeking the recusal of judges hearing the petition.
Earlier in July 2016, the Supreme Court had directed a time bound probe into 80 killings by the Central Bureau of Investigation from the list of 1526 extrajudicial killings submitted to it. For over a year now, the Supreme Court has not found the time to hear the case further.
Article 311 of the Constitution and relevant provisions of the Army Act should have been used to summarily dismiss all the petitioners if they had not taken sanction from the Defence Ministry. And if they have, we need compose a dirge for the constitutional order.
Ravi Nair is with the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre