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Too late to ask: Is AK Antony right for defence?

Friday, 28 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

The sacking of naval chief DK Joshi following yet another submarine mishap points to the turbulent nature of defence minister AK Antony's tenure. Generally known for his calm, composed and near-reclusive nature, the Kerala strongman clearly found the defence ministry much beyond his capabilities to handle.

The various mishaps that happened to naval vessels, the long tug-of-war the minister had with former army chief VK Singh, the so-called "coup" attempt during Singh's tenure, the cancelling of various defence deals, the corruption allegation against former air chief SP Tyagi, and the perceived gulf of mistrust that developed between the army and the government have become the hallmarks of Antony's stewardship of the ministry.

"There is no denying the fact that Antony is an honest man. But during his tenure, deficit of trust between the forces and ministry widened a lot. The episode of General VK Singh and now Admiral DK Joshi has exposed the trust deficit," a retired Lt General of Indian army told dna. Another officer claimed that despite repeated demands and even an alarm raised by the forces, the defence ministry kept many crucial army acquisitions on the backburner.

"We need a person who is not pro-self, but pro-India, and can thus utilise the resources to the best, rather than sitting on files for the sake of personal, intangible gains," said Air Vice-Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak.

Antony may have achieved the record as the longest-serving defence minister of the country, but in his tenure of seven years, the nation's defence preparedness has suffered. His over-cautious approach has led to long delays, a complaint which has been following him since his days as chief minister of Kerala.

While handling General VK Singh's age row, the defence ministry was completely on the back foot as the former army chief went to the Supreme Court against the order of the defence ministry. VK Singh was the first army chief in the history of Independent India, who went to court against a government decision.

In a recent disclosure, then director general of military operations, claimed that a panicked defence secretary summoned him to know about the movement of troops on the day VK Singh had approached the Supreme Court and asked that the troops be sent back. This was the incident that gave rise to 'coup attempt' rumours.

"There was a misconception or there was perceptional difference or there may be distrust," Lt General AK Choudhary, the DGMO reportedly told the media. The very fact that such an incident happened is indication of the trust deficit between the forces and the executive which has never happened.

"If you ask me, there was no trust deficit between me and the defence minister. Deficit of trust was created by the babus of the defence ministry as I was taking on the issue of rampant corruption in the corridors of ministry and particularly in the defence public sector units. Babus do influence defence minister for their vested interest," Gen VK Singh (retired) told dna.

"The issue was highlighted by me in my book as well that babus did their best to develop a trust deficit between the defence minister and me because I was exposing them."

Even in the navy chief's resignation episode, we should look into the circumstances orchestrated by the defence ministry which led to his departure. Taking moral responsibility for mishaps is certainly a moral booster for the forces. But, the real culprits are the defence ministry officials, who did not bother to look at long-pending demands of the navy, VK Singh said.

"He is completely a self-centered man. Self revival is his first instinct. He neither has the ability to control his officers nor has faith in them. He did not take action after the then army chief General VK Singh informed him about the bribery episode. Instead, he sat on the issue and only handed it over to the CBI after it was highlighted by the media," a former Lt General told dna.

"In an attempt to protect his image of an honest man, he has blacklisted almost all major defence firms. But he has not been able to find fault in the ministry and circumstances under which these private companies bribe officials of his ministry," an army officer added.

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