Government is investigating his charge that military officers had made illegal payments to politicians

Accusing the former Army chief, General (retd.) V.K. Singh, of causing “enormous damage” to the country through some of his recent statements on Jammu and Kashmir, official sources said the government was investigating his claim that military officers had made illegal payments to politicians, and would decide on what action to take once the facts were established.

Fielding questions from journalists on board Manmohan Singh’s flight to Frankfurt — the Prime Minister stops in Germany overnight before proceeding to Washington D.C. for his September 27 meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama — a senior official said, “If anyone did anything wrong, which [General V.K. Singh] is admitting he did, action needs to be taken. But we’d first have to check it’s been done or not. We can’t take his word and act on it.”

The official said the Army’s enquiry board had recorded similar claims from soldiers who were part of the Technical Services Division (TSD) set up by the former Army chief but that the one politician identified had denied receiving any pay-off. “The enquiry recorded these claims but has not proved them. This has to be probed and we are looking into this.”

Pressed to comment on the propriety of the military making such payments, the official said: “If it’s true, it’s completely wrong. The Army has no business paying politicians. But let’s not jump to that stage yet.”

The official underlined the importance of the recent statement released by the Ministry of Defence last week when news of the Army’s probe into the TSD’s activities first emerged. “As far as the systemic part is concerned, the MoD has said we have put in place systems to deal with this problem.”

Beyond this confident spin, however, it is obvious that the government is in a bind over how to deal with the fallout from General V.K. Singh’s public statements on payoffs and panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

Officials say any Pakistani query on the army’s involvement in politics will be met by a “we are looking into the General’s allegations” response; but they also acknowledge the claims of a former army chief are likely to damage India’s standing internationally regardless of their veracity.

If the credibility of the Indian state’s positions on Kashmir requires General Singh’s allegations to be disproved, the possibility of the military making payoffs that the government is unaware of raises serious questions about civilian oversight, and cannot easily be brushed under the carpet.

At the same time, escalating the confrontation with General Singh means running the risk of other real or imaginary official secrets tumbling out. That is why senior officials are bristling with anger at the situation that has been created.

The only silver lining for the government may well lie in the Opposition’s apparent change of heart on the retired officer.

Although the BJP quickly rose to the former Army chief’s defence, accusing the Congress of targeting him because he shared a dais with Narendra Modi, senior party leader Arun Jaitley has now said the secrets General Singh is disclosing should never have been made public. But it is not yet clear if the BJP will now put some distance between itself and the controversial general.

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