The former army chief General Vijay Kumar Singh’s reaction to the calculated leaking to the press of an internal army report investigating the activities of the secretive Technical Support Division (TSD) during his tenure has created needless confusion about the military losing its apolitical sheen. This is patent nonsense propagated by those who know little about the workings of the armed forces, get easily alarmed, or have political oxes to gore. In counterinsurgency operations anywhere in the world, alongside the hard job of close-quartering and eliminating armed malcontents and ferreting out their cells, the fighting forces also run programmes to marginalise the insurgents, “win the hearts and minds” of the local people caught in the crossfire who, if not pacified and weaned away from the anti-national cause, would endlessly fuel it. The vast region in which Mao’s fish-like guerrillas swim has to be emptied of water by all means.
Such “hearts and minds” campaigns to promote what Singh has called “stability” and another ex-army chief Shankar Roychowdhury called “sadbhavana”, are “aid to civil” schemes and par for the course. The Army has always engaged in schemes in J&K and the North-east overtly to encourage youth to take to sports, for instance, and, covertly, to keep tabs on local politicians. There’s nothing remotely untoward, illegal, or underhanded about these measures designed to firm up the return of order and allow elected governments and civil administration to begin functioning and mainstream politics to take root. Indeed, based on historical evidence, an army not enabled to prosecute such actions will ensure the country fails in its counterinsurgency effort.
But combine a politically fraught milieu in the country and a military-wise ignorant Indian media receptive to any sinister spin given even innocuous events by motivated political players, and voila!, a storm in a teacup started by newspaper stories interpreting normal army formation movements as attempts at coup d’etat and covert programmes to keep the rebels on the backfoot in border states as attempts to destabilise elected regimes. Such revelations are, of course, politically embarrassing to the likes of Ghulam Hassan Mir, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and other Kashmiri politicians touched by TSD programmes. It upsets their delicate balancing act between not appearing as India’s toadies and not caring to be associated with the secessionist groups. However, the view emanating from the Manmohan Singh Government that General Singh’s disclosure spells trouble is a bit rich, considering the report was, in the first place, leaked by someone within it with the express approval of those at the highest levels of the Congress party, in the hope of derailing General Singh’s political plans.
Dark stories swirling around of political ambitions of armymen are not new. In the late fifties, they were the stock-in-trade of Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon. Following on Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s apprehension that General Ayub Khan’s imposition of martial law in Pakistan in 1958 might give his Indian counterpart ideas, the deviously paranoid Krishna Menon floated rumours of the upright General K.S. Thimayya pulling a similar stunt here. In the 1970s, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was hugely augmented because, it was said, Indira Gandhi desired an armed force under her control as a foil to the Army, which was laughable, considering the non-existent fighting qualities of CRPF.
But there is more to this brouhaha than TSD as an army chief’s private “dirty tricks” department. As a concept, TSD fits into the original Roman notion of the “praetorian guard” responsible for the safety of the commanding general. Then again, a loyal cohors praetoria is, in effect, constituted by every new armed service chief when he installs his favourites as principal staff officers at the headquarters in New Delhi to advise and protect him against the machinations of Ministry of Defence (mod) bureaucrats eager to snatch decision turf and sister services to grab military roles and a larger share of the defence budget.
It is possible TSD was predated by several covert operations units that were amalgamated under the V.K. Singh dispensation, with electronic eavesdropping on politicians in insurgency-affected areas being one of its legitimate missions. It is the fear of what the Army may have thus learned about their carryings-on which, perhaps, has led the Srinagar regime to get steamed up.
If TSD was aware of the behind-the-scenes stuff in Kashmir, the mod as the higher authority that the Army reports to was in the know too-reason why Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde is noisily demanding a CBI inquiry, not A.K. Antony. The Government’s ruse of leaking the report appears to have backfired: It cannot anymore use TSD-derived information about the National Conference government to keep Messrs Farooq and Omar Abdullah & Company in line. TSD was expediently disbanded but, one can be sure, other similar units will pick up the slack.
[Published in ‘India Today’ dated Oct 14, 2013 at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/general-vk-singh-former-army-chief-j-k-politicians-bribe-omar-abdullah/1/313075.html%5D