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Kuldip Nayar is a senior journalist, human rights activist and author.

Time to talk of our poor defence preparedness

The government should stop trying to find out who leaked the letter General V.K. Singh had written to the PM.

owever unhappy, I cannot comment on the Indian Express story hinting a coup because I do not have access to the paper's sources. I confine myself to the witch-hunt going on about who leaked the letter written by Army chief V.K. Singh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about India's defence unpreparedness. Instead of asking why the armed forces have failed to acquire the much-needed equipment, the government is trying to find the journalist who was able to get hold of top secret papers and disseminate the information.

As a journalist I feel proud that someone from my fraternity had the contacts to reveal what the general said. A mediaperson is a communicator; it's his or her duty to inform the public about what is happening behind the scenes. The government does not want secret documents to become a part of the public domain. Yet that does not mean that the journalist who has the courage to disclose such information should be punished. In a free society, free information is essential because it evokes free response. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said, "I would have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated press."

The unedifying controversy between General V.K. Singh and Defence Minister A.K. Antony has exposed the system and those who occupy powerful positions. Nearly the entire retired military top brass has taken Singh's side and the "civilians" Antony's. In fact, the debate has been reduced to some kind of a confrontation between civil and military.

This is unfortunate. That both sides have mishandled the situation is an under statement. It looks as if the two have been going out of the way to hurt each other. Some of the observations made by ex-Army officers smack of Bonapartism, which, they should realise, does not fit into the parlance that a democratic system demands.

I do not want to raise the issue of the general's age. I am confining myself to two points: corruption and substandard equipment. Take the case of corruption. The general's contention is that a certain retired officer offered him Rs 14 cr as bribe for approving trucks that did not meet the required norms.

The unedifying controversy between General V.K.Singh and A.K. Antony has exposed the system and those who occupy powerful positions.

To demand that he should have filed the complaint himself or should have given it in writing is evading the issue. The Defence Minister could have done that when the general informed him about the bribe offer. The exercise of filing the charge to the CBI — the general has done it now — is a bureaucratic approach. It is meant to underline that the bureaucracy is superior to the armed forces. This is a childish prank in which the IAS and the members of other Central services have been indulging for years.

Officials working in the Ministry of Defence and the military headquarters are public servants, whether they are civilians or are a part of the military. Lack of cooperation between them leads to differences that flare up every now and then. They should not try to score points against each other, because that is harmful to the country. Both have been yoked to the same chariot and have to walk in tandem to take it forward so that the armed forces are in fine fettle.

Substandard equipment or not procuring weapons in time is the fallout of petty differences between top civilian and military officials. They stand on false prestige and delay the supply of much-needed weapons. The 1962 war against China was lost because the Indian forces fought with old, substandard equipment. Then Prime Minister Nehru was not aware of the deficiencies. The current Prime Minister has also been in the dark.

The general's letter is categorical about the delay in the procurement of equipment. The general says that our artillery, tanks and air defence systems are obsolete. The infantry has outdated weaponry. That the enemy has come to know of our deficiencies is no reason for closing the stable after the horse has bolted. The fault is the lack of preparedness, not the disclosure of it.

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