Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 | Last Update : 10:41 AM IST
Shock and dismay about sums up the reactions to the startling and politically embarrassing disclosures made on television by former Indian Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh this week.
Shock and dismay about sums up the reactions to the startling and politically embarrassing disclosures made on television by former Indian Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh this week. Appearing before prime time television, a somewhat flushed General had flabbergasted viewers by informing them that politicians in the state of Jammu & Kashmir are routinely paid by the Army to help keep peace, create “goodwill” and so on. Gen. Singh’s astonishing disclosure that “paying ministers” was nothing new in J&K was in response to an allegation that he had paid over a crore rupees to a Kashmiri minister for toppling the state government. While he did not deny paying that politician, the former Army chief maintained the money was not meant for toppling the elected state government. The General had declared: “It [paying money to Kashmiri politicians] has been happening since Independence and everybody would have known about this. It is not something invented by V.K. Singh. Funding ministers is to get people together in Kashmir.” The suggestion that the Army routinely paid off politicians in Kashmir could not but be a huge political embarrassment for the country, which has been fighting insurgency and secessionist politics in Kashmir for over two decades. “The allegations by V.K. Singh have put mainstream political parties in a very difficult position,” said Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, adding: “Most of us have no financial dealings whatsoever with the Army. These statements and accusations only cause us great difficulty here.” He said he would demand an thorough enquiry into the issue. Other Kashmiri politicians, including those in the People’s Democratic Party expressed deep anguish at Gen. Singh’s statement, arguing that the credibility of mainstream politics in the state had been jeopardised and so had the credibility of elections. The general consensus in New Delhi is that Gen. Singh had greatly harmed national interests by his intemperate outburst. Most maintained that “he should not have done it”, especially, given that he was Army chief at one time. Others were simply dismayed. “It’s bunkum! I don’t believe a word of it,” exclaimed former Army vice-chief Gen. Shantonu Choudhry, referring to Gen. Singh’s claim that Kashmir politicians are routinely paid money by the Army for various “tasks”. Gen. Choudhry should know because he both commanded the counter-insurgency force in south Kashmir and headed military intelligence (MI). “No payments are made to Kashmiri politicians through MI funds; it was never done and it cannot be done even now”, Gen. Choudhry maintained. “Occasionally a politician in Kashmir might approach us for help in ensuring there is no disruption of a public meeting and that sort of thing. In those cases we do help out in conjunction with the police. But paying politicians money is rubbish”. Former Army chief Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury concurred: “The Army is of course heavily involved in civic action in Jammu & Kashmir but that is done through the Sadbhavana initiative directly funded by the Union government; funds are distributed on a project basis and there is no scheme for paying politicians.” The general might have paid money to a particular politician but this might not an established practice as he claimed. Gen. Choudhry said: “If Gen. Singh paid money to a minister, I cannot comment but to the best of my knowledge this kind of thing did not happen in the past and nor is it a matter of practice.” If this is indeed the case, the question naturally arises as to what could have prompted the General’s extraordinary garrulity before television cameras. Most believe that his response was partly motivated by a desire to justify his payment of money to a particular Kashmir minister and partly by his belief that he was being targeted. “My name is being tarnished. I know what I have done for J&K. Those who are accusing (of toppling the state government) have an agenda,” Gen. Singh said. “We must not forget the background in which Gen. Singh’s statement was made,” says Gen. Roychowdhury. “Certain allegations were leaked to the media after he shared a public platform with Narendra Modi. But nobody is talking about who leaked secret documents and nobody is being held responsible. This is dangerous for national security.” “Maybe the General was cornered and he reacted,” agreed former RAW chief and old Kashmir hand, A.S. Dulat. “But paying people is not the Army’s business and he should not have brought all this to public notice. This would damage many intelligence operations.” Disputes between military and civilian leadership are nothing new. In this case, however, it is not so much the larger issue of civil-military relations that is of concern but the conflation of political failure and public apathy regarding Kashmir. While mainstream Indian opinion feigns shock at reports of politicians being paid off in Kashmir, it shows little inclination to comprehend the actual ground conditions in that region or address the more fundamental question as to why the Army continues to remain in a counter-insurgency role in Kashmir and other states even 67 years after Independence. Political failure in Kashmir and a few areas of the Northeast has led to the continued dependence on the Indian Army and as the politician’s dependence on the Army has grown, so has the role of cash. Nowhere was the role of hard cash so well illustrated as in the telegrams sent by former US ambassador to India, David Mulford, to the state department in February 2006 where he declared that “Kashmir politics is as filthy as Dal Lake”. In another cable, Mulford had alleged: “Money from Pakistani and Indian intelligence agencies and foreign extremists has distorted Kashmiri politics and incentivised leaders to perpetuate the conflict”. Dirty money, he believed, was delaying the solution of Kashmir row: “While this dirty money has led to a boom in Kashmiri household income and real estate prices, it also calls into question whether the Kashmiri elite truly want a settlement. The minute a deal is struck, some must surely worry that the funds will dry up.” These allegations revealed by WikiLeaks were shrugged off in New Delhi and Srinagar. A few newspapers reported the leaks and the matter was soon forgotten. Gen. Singh might have raked up a lot of muck but given our characteristic insouciance this episode too is bound to eventually fade into oblivion without anything changing.