New Delhi, Apr 5 (ANI): The Army has been in the newspapers headlines for the last three months for all the wrong reasons. The controversy relating to the date of birth of the Chief of Army Staff, General Vijay Kumar Singh, triggered news reports, at regular intervals. It died down finally after a directive from the Supreme Court to him to give up his claims to prove that he was a year younger than what was mentioned in the commissioning documents. .
The controversy surrounding the date of birth of the Army Chief was projected as an issue of 'honour' for him regardless of the implications of the issue.
Hardly had the controversy died down, and General V.K. Singh was in the news again following a disclosure by him in a newspaper interview that he had been offered a bribe of Rupees fourteen crores during his conversation with Lt. Gen. (retired) Tejinder Singh, a former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency.
The offer was made over sixteen months ago and General V. K. Singh, disclosed that he had communicated it to Defence Minister A.K. Antony. An embarrassed Antony revealed that he had asked General Singh to take action, but it was not followed up. The whole issue is now in the domain of the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Hardly had the 'bribe' offer died down, the media was seized of a report that General V. K. Singh had written a 'secret' letter to the Prime Minister, pointing out how unprepared the Army is to face a war.
The top-secret letter was 'leaked'. Antony tried to repair the damage by calling a meeting of the service chiefs to streamline procedures for acquisition of equipment.One expected that peace would return to the South Block where the Defence Ministry and the Army are housed. But the report in the Indian Express on April 4, that the Army had moved mechanized forces from Hissar and paratroopers from Agra towards the Capital on the intervening night of January 16 and 17 for a 'fog time exercise' without notifying the Government put not only South Block, but the whole country on alert.
The Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister A.K. Antony reacted immediately and assured the country that the 'movement' of the troops was 'routine' and it would not be correct to interpret it as a 'coup attempt on Raisina Hll' to coincide with the apex court judgement on the birth date controversy of the Army Chief. The Prime Minister even went to the extent of saying that 'everyone has an obligation to not lower the dignity of the Army Chief's office'.
The Defence Ministry spokesman called the report 'completely baseless' and categorically denied the same. The Public Information wing of the Army Headquarters called the movement of troops 'routine' to check the effectiveness of mobilization.
The controversies that erupted during the last three months have damaged the image of the Army in the country, and also hurt the morale of Armed Forces personnel.
The confidence of the people in the Army was severely undermined for the first time in 1962 following the reverses suffered in the fight against the Chinese. It took a lot of effort to rebuild the morale of the Armed Forces. That the effort was not in vain was proved in the wars that India fought in 1965 and 1971.
The image of the Army has not suffered due to reverses in the battlefield, unlike in 1962. The damage has been done because of poor communication. Indira Gandhi, who was the Information Minister in 1965, had appointed committees to streamline the information flow of the Armed Forces during the war. The restructured information set up handled the information flow during the India-Pakistan war in 1971.
The system evolved then to have the "Technical Publicity Rules (Defence)" for peacetime and "Operational Publicity Guidelines" to be followed during a war. It also provides for training for media correspondents - both print, and visual - in covering defence matters. It is expected that the media persons who have undergone the 'war correspondent's course' would be deployed by the media organizations to report on matters relating to defence.
Rules were also framed to enable the Army to react to situations during counter-insurgency operations by creating a public information set up.
Simultaneously, efforts were made to make the officers of the Armed Forces aware of the importance of communication, both in times of peace and in war. Special orientation courses are being conducted at the Indian Institute of Mass Communications and talks are arranged at the National Defence College.
With the change in the media scene, the Defence Technical Publicity Rules were revised in 2004.
The Defence Minister discussed the necessity for streamlining the acquisition of weapons and equipment for the Armed Forces. It is not an easy task. There are 'middlemen', 'lobbies' and pressure groups, which operate at the highest level internationally. Blacklisting of firms that offer bribes is hardly the answer.
It is also time that the Defence Minister take stock of the rules concerning the flow of information on defence matters and ensure that they are followed strictly. Information in today's world has widespread impact and can affect the morale of the nation.
A case filed by Lt. Gen. (retired) Tejinder Singh is pending in court concerning a press release by the Army Headquarters Liaison Cell accusing him of offering a bribe.
Should these matters be left to the courts to decide? . It is time corrective steps are taken, before there is further damage. By I. Ramamohan Rao (ANI)
By. I. Ramamohan Rao, former Principal Information Officer, Government of India. mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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