That defence procurements, like other government purchases, are not exempt from corruption is hardly a secret. But Army Chief General V.K. Singh's revelation that he was directly approached with an offer of a Rs. 14 crore bribe to clear the acquisition of sub-standard vehicles is a shocker. His disclosure, made to The Hindu in an interview and the subject of an uproar in Parliament, deserves a thorough and scrupulous investigation. While a CBI probe has been ordered, the controversy raises questions that are crying to be asked — both of the defence establishment and General Singh himself. For instance, if it is true that the Army Chief had reported the attempt to bribe him to Defence Minister A.K. Antony, why wasn't a probe ordered at once? Did it require a newspaper expose and a parliamentary upheaval to initiate one? What was Mr. Antony's response when he heard the Army Chief's story? As for General Singh, why did he choose to go public with the bribery charge now and not earlier? The question is pertinent because as early as March 6, 2012, the Army put out a press release accusing a retired Lt. General of offering a bribe on behalf of a company that supplies trucks. Inexplicably, while the press release did not fight shy of naming the person who allegedly offered the bribe, it was silent on who he tried to induce. Moreover, the bribery charge was virtually an aside in the press release, which focused on the alleged bribe-giver's role in putting out false stories relating to de-bugging operations at the Defence Minister's office.
An officer of impeccable integrity, General Singh's attempts to crack down on corruption in the Army, particularly the Sukna land and Adarsh Housing Society scams, shows he has what it takes to be a tough reform-oriented leader. Which is what makes the seemingly casual handling of an alleged attempt to bribe him somewhat puzzling. If the Raksha Mantri did not take his complaint seriously, the Army Chief could have pursued the matter in a variety of ways. Whatever the reason for this reluctance, it is clear that the controversy over his age — a matter strictly between himself and the defence establishment — has caused collateral damage in other areas and spawned unrelated disputes that have the potential of causing divisions in the Army, particularly in the top echelons, and in the Ministry of Defence between uniformed men and babus. Too much dirty linen has been already washed in public. While it is important to establish the truth about General Singh's allegation, it is just as important to ensure that civil-military relations are not unduly strained.