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.