Former Defence, External Affairs and Finance Minister Jaswant Singh in an exclusive interview to Dainik Jagran special correspondent Pranay Upadhayaya talks over the series of alleged scams unearthed in the Army, internal bickering among the military officials, border dispute with China and Army Chief VK Singh’s date of birth row. Excerpts:

Q:  The Army is going through a critical phase where various graft news like Adarsh and Sukna land scams and the internal bickering among the officials has come to the fore. As a former Defence Minister what is your comment on this?

A: The Army being an inherent part of our society has both merits as well as demerits. Now the concept has changed. Earlier, the youths used to enthusiastically join the Army wishing to render their service to the nation and not for making money out of it. Certainly, joining army is a service to the nation and that is why word ‘services’ has been attached with it.

Q: What is the remedy then?

A: At least awarding punishment is not the solution to the chronic problem. This reminds me of the lines of national poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, ‘samar shesh hai nahi dosh ka bhagi keval vyaadh, jo tatastha hai samay likhega unka bhi apraadh.”

Q: What are your comments on Army Chief’s date of birth controversy? Was the issue mishandled?

A: Yes, surely. It is strange to note that you can entrust a person seating on the post of Army Chief with the security of the nation but you cannot believe his statement regarding his date of birth.

My own certificate mentions only October 1938 as my date of birth instead of the exact date. Even my birth place has been mentioned as Jodhpur instead of village Jasaul.
If we talk about the technical aspects, the Adjutant General's Branch is empowered to verify the documents. The Military Service Branch has nothing to do with it. I strongly condemn the government’s handling of the issue.

Q: Do you feel both the government and the Army Chief are equally responsible for the mess?

A: After VK Singh took over the charge of Army Chief, an RTI was filed to revive the issue. The government should not have proceeded with the issue that time. Defence issues are dealt confidentially. I feel sorry that the government failed to resolve the issue prudently.

Q: Given the current defence challenges before the Army, the modernisation of Army tops the list. Why so?

A.Certainly this is a serious issue. Modernization of the Army is moving at snail’s pace due to lackadaisical attitude of the Defence Ministry. The grievous situation can be gauged from the fact that the Army has been waiting to procure 155 mm missiles for the last three decades.

Q: But this problem did not crop up in a day. How much do you hold yourself responsible for the mess?

A: I agree I am also at fault here. I do hold myself responsible for this to an extent. I remember thirty years back when I was an MP I had accompanied the then Army Chief General Sunderji to Pokharan to see the test of Bofors Missile. I had commented that the missiles were good but were the procurement procedure was not right. Later the Vishwanath Pratap Singh government ordered blacklisting of the Bofors. The issue had tarnished the image of the Army who is still paying the price for it.

Q: You are among the few who successfully handled the Ministry of Defence, External Affairs and Finance. Why is there a lack of good coordination among the important ministries over issues related to national security?

A: I successfully handled both the Defence and External Affairs Ministries for nine months during the National Democratic Alliance regime. It is difficult to differentiate policy related responsibilities of both the ministries. The present scenario reflects the clear lack of policy and decision making capacity on the part of the government. Despite being a gentleman, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna hesitates to take firm decision on foreign policy. Defence Minister AK Antony is also a very good friend. He avoids taking clear decisions on any issue.

It is very sad that the very few Parliamentarians in the either Houses of Parliament are able to have a deep understanding of the sensitiveness attached to national security.  Probably, I am the only MP in the House to have experiences of 1962, 1965 and other wars.

(JPN/Bureau)