Misplaced loyalties and weeding out the corrupt in the military

NDTV 9PM news report this evening carried a story about a gaggle of retired air marshals and such trooping to the CBI Court to show solidarity with former IAF Chief ACM SP Tyagi whose police custody was extended for several more days. There were references and Twitter talk about a military service taking years to build up only to have its reputation torn up in a matter of a few hours. Tyagi has been arraigned on the charge of massive corruption in the Agusta Westland VVIP helicopter case, along with — other sissy-ish-named relatives, “Julie” and such — and a couple of other senior air force officers involved in Tyagi’s conspiratorial activity.

This was strange behviour from these former airmen, to say the least. Instead of showing loyalty to the IAF, making the case that the rotten apples needed to be discarded and the procedures that make for such scams overhaauled to render the procurement processes completely transparent, and pledging to cleanse the Armed Service of its taint for graft and corruption, we witnessed the sorry sight of these IAF stalwarts, including another Air Chief (Anil Tipnis) and several ex-AOC-in-Cs, etc. affirming their personal loyalty to Tyagi, almost condoning his nefarious actions. What does this say about the prevailing military ethos and ethics? Rather than isolate Tyagi socially, distance themselves and, more importantly, the IAF from the alleged wrongdoer, and make an example of him by hoisting him up as a pariah who had dishonoured the Service, there were his seniors and colleagues pleading his innocence before television cameras, implying that he was being vilified, unfairly and improperly treated, and hauled up for having done no wrong. Really? And, in any case, does this display of misplaced loyalty not go against the grain of IAF’s institutional attitude to corruption evident in the current CAS ACM Arup Raha’s statement that Tyagi’s doings had besmirched the Service’s name?

There was always corruption in the armed services (as elsewhere in government and society). But it had never reached the levels it has in recent times when corruption by seniormost officers is so so brazen and blatant, it is virtually perceived by many of them as a perquisite of the jobs they do. In an earlier, more innocent, time even a whisper of wrongdoing was enough to end end a military career. These days it almost seems a badge of success at climbing the slippery ladder.

The question arises: How does a “Bundle” Tyagi become CAS? Is there no scrutiny done by CBI of the records of the top ten officers theoretically in the running for the top post of service chief before the selection is formally made? Given the corruption that is now fairly routine in military circles, committed albeit by a relative minority of officers who are known to everybody, it may be a good idea for the CBI to do a thorough examination of their carryings-on in strategicall-significant posts (in the procurement decision loop, for example) they occupied, and stations and bases they headed, and the reputations they had garnered during these stints. That said, a corrupt Service Chief can clean up, make investigations difficult by co-opting his juniors in scams, etc. Even so, corrupt officers leave a tell-tale trail up from the time they are Squadron Leader rank or equivalent. Like the stink left by skunks, it is easy to follow. Only the names of officers cleared by CBI on a probity index should be cleared for appointment to two, three, and four star rank in the military. Corrupt military officers can hurt the national interest deeply in lots of ways. By, for instance, stretching the country’s arms dependency status well into the future.

After all, armed forces personnel who can feather their own nests by facilitating the purchase of this or that piece of military hardware, perhaps, pre-chosen by the politician cabals of the day, can just as easily sell India’s war plans, force disposition schemes, and anything else that is deemed of value to India’s enemies. These persons in uniform have an unseen label of “purchasable” hung around their necks and, hence, are the biggest threats to national security. Time has come for a deep weeding out of the corrupt from the military’s highest leadership echelons.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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18 Responses to Misplaced loyalties and weeding out the corrupt in the military

  1. Shekhar Sinha says:

    The retired Air Chief mentioned that if there is proof please take appropriate action. He emphasized that there should be strong and undeniable proof to arrest a former Chief since it effects the morale of whole service. He also mentioned that no single person can make changes in Defence procurement process certainly the QRs. One has to grant these statements of facts. He corrected Vishnu Shom at least twice that he was not here to support the former Chief.

    While corruption has seeped into the system over many years I suspect till our indigenous defence production becomes strong there will be room for corruption at various levels.

    • Admiral Sinha,
      Whatever the original intent of ACM Tipnis’ interjection if only to question the nature of evidence and the process of its collection, the fact that he spoke up just when CBI had taken Tyagi in to tie up his involvement in the financial scandal is, surely, in an indirect fashion to provide at least moral support to Tyagi. And why, in any case, did he connect the IAF’s morale to a former allegedly corrupt Chief’s indictment? Where’s the connection and why should upstanding IAF officers feel they or their Service are in any sense besieged?

    • Shaurya says:

      @Shekhar Sinha. ACM Tipis and some other are right to display caution. He was clear many times in the interview that he is not defending Tyagi. Questioning the need to arrest and the impact on the IAF as an institution. Nothing wrong in the telling GoI to tread very carefully. Also the fact that Tyagi could not have acted alone. Media should highlight that GoI is not targeting Tyagi alone. The title of the Vishnu Som interview is extremely misleading.

  2. Sir, isn’t vetting should better be done by IB?

  3. ML Naidu says:

    Vetting is done for all those promoted from ‘Two stars’ onwards for each appointment. For the fourth star promotion vetting is also done by CVC, in addition.
    What defies logic is that no one from uniform service is involved in procurement of big ticket items, hence where is the question of the CAS swinging the deal. This is amply evident is this particular case.
    Even if the CBI has concrete evidence against an individual, in such cases they need not go aim for TRPs to justify their actions. It seems that it is more of a ‘media-trial’.

    • ML Naidu@ — ‘Am given to understand most of the pre-promotion vetting of military officers is pro forma; in the event only the most conspicuous acts of impropriety would come to light, which last doesn’t help.

  4. http://indiafacts.org/trial-of-manmohan-singh/

    Tufail Ahmad reviews Mr Karnad’s book ‘Why India is not a great power (yet)?’

    Unbelievable for former IB chief and NSA to say this “becoming a great power is ‘an unaffordable luxury.'”

    Corruption in certain offices can have serious implications for Indian interest. It is visible in plain sight, when you read Indian history, how a nation bigger than all continents of the world except Asia, can be coerced or persuaded to concede it’s interest, unless key decision makers on the top are compromised or mislead.

  5. Brig V Mahalingam says:

    The author has already pronounced ACM Tyagi guilty. Wish he had shown the same alacrity with the bureaucrats and the politicians. Or does he believe that they are innocent and incorruptible?

  6. Gp Capt TP Srivastava says:

    Mr Karnad,

    Your post on ACM Tyagi is a sad reflection of your ill-conceived, misplaced and demented assumption that ‘MILITARY’ is ‘purchasable’ as you put it. It is ironic to learn that a person of your ‘supposed’ intellect does not have fundamental knowledge of the process of preparing and securing Military War Plans.

    To put it simply; Military War Plans of any Service cannot be transcribed in a single document by anyone, Service Chiefs included. Incidentally it is not to be viewed as a limitation/deficiency of the system rather it is the strength. Elaborating it any further will have no use for pseudo-intellectuals like yourself. Having held the top operational post at IAF base from where a nuke strike could have been launched by a manned fighter, I know what I am talking about. Incidentally that was nearly 20 years back.

    Your article ought to have discussed the politico-bureaucratic nexus in all defence deals as well. Calling Augusta Westland deal as a defence deal is a sad reflection of your extremely poor knowledge of the actual facts. IAF role was that of technical advisor. Lowering/raising of cabin and operational heights was done at the behest of successive appointees such as NSA, Def Sec, SPG Chief and so on. Kindly educate yourself from available material in public domain. Anyway even if I were to condone your basic ignorance about the nature of Augusta Westland deal, your awful knowledge of Defence Procurement Procedures ios a sad reflection of your professional and moral incompetence. You have failed, almost deliberately, to highlight the most agonizing truth because you do not have the moral courage to speak the truth, lest you be admonished by the powers that be.

    Pseudo-intellectuals of our nation like yourself do incalculable harm to the nation by appointing themselves as the self anointed spokesperson of nation. A terrorist with a gun can be identified but ‘silent social killers’, the pseudo intellectuals like yourself cannot be identified by a common man. Unfortunately they will fall prey to your verbal shenanigans and believe what you say.

    You are a near perfect example of a ‘post-event specialist’, who nonchalantly offers his/her unsolicited advice to all and sundry after the event has taken place. A genuine intellectual can analyse, predict and virtually see the future with clear vision. Persons of your ilk suffering from ‘jaundiced vision’ invariably resort to character assassination, simplest thing to do by a demented and brainwashed individual.

    It is never too late to learn; Service Chiefs are not ‘individuals’-they are ‘ institutions’. Obviously you have not been fortunate enough to learn these basic etiquette.

    Next time you decide to question the integrity of a military person, think!

    Gp Capt TP Srivastava
    former Director,Min of Defence

    • Group Captain Srivastava:

      When a person is so blinded by whatever cause — loyalty to one’s Service or, in this case,to Tyagi, even the simplest language can be twisted to reach conclusions of choice, and the larger message is lost in a welter of accusations of ignorance and process details (about my not knowing the defence procurement system, etc.)

      You charge me, in the main, with making, in your words, a “demented assumption that ‘MILITARY’ is ‘purchasable’ as you put it”. NO Gp Cptn, what I wrote — if you’d only refer to my blog, is “armed forces personnel who can feather their own nests by facilitating the purchase of this or that piece of military hardware, perhaps, pre-chosen by the politician cabals of the day, can just as easily sell [whatever] … is deemed of value to India’s enemies. These persons in uniform have an unseen label of ‘purchasable’ hung around their necks and, hence, are the biggest threats to national security.”

      Is it your case that there are no corrupt officers in the armed services and, generally, that there’s no corruption in the military? Or that, in this instance, Tyagi, is innocent? Or, that the technical advice offered by IAF was not central to the purchase, among the other shortlisted aircraft, of the Agusta Westland helicopter, and the modification of the technical specs did not provide Tyagi, his cousins, and the other senior IAF officers fingered by the CBI, the entry point into the commission-raking loop and the Finmeccanica pot of gold at the end of the Agusta-W rainbow? Does answering these questions in the affirmative amount to “character assassination”?

      I don’t know about “pseudo intellectuals” that you rail against or the “genuine intellectual” you crave for, but should you peruse my books and writings over the last nearly 36 years, you’ll find my analyses to have been correct in foreseeing the future in terms of nuclear deterrent posture, military developments, militech trends, and the turns in regional and international affairs, and in articulating in a sustained fashion over the years a clear geopolitical and geostrategic vision for the country, and of the flaws and fault lines in Indian foreign and military policies.

      And, finally, “think” is all I do both for a living and as avocation, and I am not at all sanguine about the strategic-pol-mil direction in which the country is headed, and corruption, increasingly embedded and institutionalized in the system, is one of the reasons why.

      • Well said. What is even more disgraceful than the Former Air Chief ending in Judicial Custody which means prima facie a judge saw enough evidence to keep him and 2 other accused (Mr. Tyagi’s cousin Sanjeev Tyagi and lawyer Gautam Khaitan)in jail for questioning and trial; is a Former Air Chief and other retired officers quickly declaring him scape goat.

        People are not fools to expect armed forces to be complete above board when they see how scams worth billions of dollars are taking place in defence procurements.

      • andy says:

        The inherent respect that Indians generally regard the Miltary personnel with should not be taken for granted by anyone, least of all by the Military personnel themselves.

        Corruption is the bane of Indian society at large and needs to be rooted out as,when and where it is identified,be it among the politicians,bureaucrats or the Military.Everone points to the other ,conviniently ignoring the blacksheep amongst their own fraternity,high time this stops and the guilty are brought to book.The CBI needs to follow through on this action and net everyone involved in this shameful saga,irrespective of their rank or profession.Cant have any holy cows amongst the corrupt.

  7. andy says:

    “Next time you decide to question the integrity of a military person, think!”

    The carte blanche being provided to all military personnel with this statement is beyond belief,its ok to be loyal to ones former profession but a completely different matter to bury ones head in sand.The insinuation is that there has never been a military person of questionable integrity,Contrary to the positive theme being floated around, listing some corruption scams:

    *Sukna land scam – Corruption in armed forces: How extensive is the rot? – Firstpost

    *Adarsh Housing Society scam (Air Force I think)

    *ECHS Scam – Senior Officials indicted – Fire in the Hole for Five Army Whistleblowers

    *Faulty boots causing death of 328 soldiers in Siachin Glacier – http://creative.sulekha.com/incr

    These are a few items, I am sure if you comb CAG’s report you will get more insights – Cag Audit reports| Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

  8. Gp Capt TP Srivastava says:

    Mr Karnad,

    Thank you for responding.
    I possess adequate knowledge of English language to assimilate the contents without twisting the meaning to suit my convenience. Without any doubt you have, albeit unintentionally perhaps, exceeded the brief by bringing in the INSTITUTION OF MILITARY in the ‘PURCHASABLE’ category. Your suggestion that CBI should monitor/clear (or words to that effect) is nauseating, to put it mildly.

    Professional profligacy is not my trait but calling ‘spade a spade’ is. I also scrupulously avoid defending the indefensible. I am attaching what I wrote to PM directly on the issue. Another mail, which will follow this will give you my views on my institution without mincing words.

    If you deem it fit, you may like to go through my book ‘PROFLIGATE GOVERNANCE—Implications for National Security’. If you type the title on GOOGLE, you will get the details. The book contains my original articles authored over past 30 odd years on issues ranging from international affairs, geo- strategic issues, military affairs, accidents in IAF AND SO ON. Incidentally I wrote most of these while in uniform. I am not a victim of post-retirement wisdom, which a large body of my own colleagues suffer from.

    I consider myself to be a person of extremely average intellect but God has gifted me with the wisdom to see the issues in black and white, with grey window of minuscule size.

    Imperatives of national security forced me to confront you because an average person on the street does not understand the thrust of your argument as you wanted it. His impression would be that a man of your ’eminence’ considers MILITARY to be purchasable.

    Our diametrically opposite points of view is only on professional matters and not intended to ‘insult’ your persona. Acceptance of divergent views an, obliqueness in opinion must be accepted by mature professionals. If you removed the last para from your article, I would have had no axe to grind.

    Gp Capt TP Srivastava

  9. Former Air Chief Marshal Tipnis –
    “It is an open secret that defence deals are a treasure chest to the political party in power.They invariably siphon off a cut from the total value of a contract as their “commission”.But politicians cannot do this on their own; the paperwork is done by bureaucrats. The skullduggery requires supportive file work to cover the murky waters.”

    What does he mean by this para below? Is he saying Former Air Chief Marshal Tyagi will not cooperate with CBI to name names?

    “ACM Tyagi has been astute enough not to fall prey to the flat-footed investigation of CBI and allow himself to give evidence, true or false, to implicate someone in the moneytaking. Even if ACM Tyagi wanted to do so, he cannot, because there is no link between him and the bureaucratspoliticians.”


  10. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Tyagi’s-arrest-dented-image-of-IAF-says-chief-Arup-Raha/article16947354.ece?homepage=true

    More on this saga. Here, current Air chief hoping that ACM Tyagi ‘acquit himself’ and things ‘settle down’ soon. While people are worried about image of IAF. I see no one talking of integrity being primary characteristic of officers.

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