New Delhi: Former national security advisor Brajesh Mishra said on Saturday that General VK Singh who currently embroiled in a bribery scam is the worst Army Chief so far and that General Singh is a failure.
Speaking with Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, Mishra said the Army Chief has come across as weak.
Here is the transcript of the interview:
Karan Thapar:Hello and welcomes to Devil's Advocate. After a week of high drama, how should we view the Army Chief and his behaviour... That's the key issue I shall explore today with former National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra.
Mr Mishra, after a week electrifying drama, how do you, as a former national security advisor, view General VK Singh the Army Chief?
Brajesh Mishra: I have never met this man before so I can't say whether it is now that he has lost his mental balance or did... there was something before also. But he has certainly behaved in a way which no Chief should ever behave.
Karan Thapar: You have used a very important phrase 'he has lost his mental balance'. You mean that?
Brajesh Mishra: Yeah ofcourse in this all episode he has lost his mental balance. But I did say, earlier I don't know the kind of man he was.
Karan Thapar: It is possible therefore this problem of loss of balance goes much further back in time?
Brajesh Mishra: Perhaps yes, perhaps no.
Karan Thapar: Now the Army Chief issued a statement on Friday, where he blames the press for creating or projecting a schism between himself and the government. Is the press to blame or do you think the problem began when he took his own government to court?
Brajesh Mishra: No the press cannot be blamed for initiating this kind of incident and demoralising activity on part of the armed forces. It's not the press, it's the man who took certain actions and who leaked them out to the press. So eventually the press is going to think, 'Oh there is a problem between the Army Chief and the government, that's a big story'.
Karan Thapar: General VK Singh is himself responsible for his problem?
Brajesh Mishra: Of course he is responsible for that and then in order to make it even more, let's say funny or jokingly, he took it to the Supreme Court. And when you take this to Supreme Court, is any body going to say 'We don't know about General Singh and we are not going to say anything about it'?
Karan Thapar: There is a view after creating a crisis for his government, it would be improper for this Chief to continue. Some people suggested that he should be sent to the compulsory leave till his retirement in two months time. Is that the right way of handling him?
Brajesh Mishra: The question is three, whether he should remain after all of sudden, whether he should be sacked or whether he should be sent on compulsory leave? Now I said to myself that if he sacked then something more may happen in the defence forces. But if he is sent on compulsory leave, he is not being sacked, he is being told, 'You go home and enjoy your vacation with government salary for two months and then take your pension and go'.
Karan Thapar: So your advice to the government is, send him home on compulsory leave?
Brajesh Mishra: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Let's come to some of the major things that general has done. I want to get your view on record. How do your respond to them? First, what do you make on the fact that he referred the case of Lieutenant? General Dalbir Singh Suhag to the CBI, without informing, leave aside consulting the Defence Minister, despite the fact that this gentleman was due to become an Army Commander?
Brajesh Mishra: I mean it's part of his activity during this time. He must be thrashing his left or right. Now as far as, whether he is authorised to do it, he is certainly not authorised to do it. The person who is authorised to do it is the Defence Secretary, who works under the Defence Minister. So the proper procedure that should have been followed was to send a letter or refer the file to the Defence Secretary and leave it for them to take action.
Karan Thapar: So in this instance General VK Singh has clearly overreached himself?
Brajesh Mishra: He has overreached on so many things that is difficult to say only this or that.
Karan Thapar: Second issue is the letter that he wrote to the Prime Minister which was leaked. Although the Army Chief denied anything to do with leak, do you believe that he, his friends or supporters must be principle suspects?
Brajesh Mishra: Lets put this way, the letter will not go to the PM it will go directly to Number 7, Race Course road. So PMO as an office which is in south block won't have received the letter, number one. The letter was deliver to him signed March 12, if I remember correctly, was it delivered the same day or not I don't know. The Prime Minister of India whom I respect so much, he is not a man who is going to leak something like that which would make the situation more difficult for the government. So I cannot accept that any bureaucrat in the Prime Minister's residence could have given... done it, they don't do this. I have experience of that. So if the General himself didn't release the letter, some of his friends might have done it.
Karan Thapar: So either the General or his friends might have done it? They remain principle suspect?
Brajesh Mishra: Yeah.
Karan Thapar: Third, the interview that he has given where he alleged that he was offered of Rs 14 crore bribe - Was he right to reveal this to the media or should he have handled it effectively or kept it under wraps?
Brajesh Mishra: We are talking about something which happened how many months ago?
Karan Thapar: Eighteen months ago.
Brajesh Mishra: And today he is coming out with in the open, just because it suits him to attack the government in that fashion. My view is that both the minister and the Army Chief are responsible for not taking action.
Karan Thapar: I will come to the minister's role in a moment's time, let me first question you about the Army Chief's role. When the Army Chief reported this matter to the Defence Minister, he was asked by the Defence Minister to take action and said that he would... did not wish to pursue the matter and in effect refused to take action. What would you make out of that response?
Brajesh Mishra: May I ask you the question, when did that meeting happen?
Karan Thapar: I believe it was in September 2010, almost immediately after this offer of the bribe had been made.
Brajesh Mishra: So it was at that time. Now, the minister says go ahead and take action - this is his version over what the minister said. He says to the minister I can't take action because he is senior officer and this and that, whatever he might have said there. Third, the minister himself should have asked the Defence Secretary or the Secretary Incharge of Defence Production set up, to pursue the matter because he was told by the General at very moment that I am not going to do it.
Karan Thapar: You are saying two important things. First, you are saying that the Army Chief should not have been reluctant to take action, otherwise why was he reporting the matter to the minister in the first place. Is that correct sir?
Brajesh Mishra: My point is if he didn't want to take action why he did he go to the Defence Minister.
Karan Thapar: In other words refusal to take action contradicts the whole purpose of the going to minister in the first place?
Brajesh Mishra: That's right.
Karan Thapar: The second thing you are saying that when the Army Chief refused to take action, the minister should have asked the Defence Secretary to take action?
Brajesh Mishra: Yeah, let's say this happened in September. In October, no result of any action there... Shouldn't the minister have gotten up and say Defence Secretary, 'What has happened to this man came and all... I asked him to do it, he refused. But I have asked you people to do it'; If he had done it that way then every thing would have been fine. But he also didn't take action.
Karan Thapar:To come back to the Army Chief for a moment again, the Army Chief refuse to take action even though his minister, his boss was asking him to do so. But in this particular case as the Army Chief himself has admitted to The Hindu, it wasn't a one-off. The Army Chief had been made away that the bribes have been made earlier, possibly even to his predecessors. So this was the case of prolonged bribe-giving to senior officers over an extended period of time. Surely that required action and this makes the Army Chief's refusal even more perplexing.
Brajesh Mishra: You are absolutely right, he is reluctant to take action against, let's say his contemporary or one and two years seniors. But why does he go and report it to the Defence Minister? I mean this is where I talk about, is there a loss of mental balance? What is the purpose of going to the Defence Minister and telling him and then say 'I won't take any action'. I mean is this a reasonable?
Karan Thapar: This suggests loss of mental balance as you said?
Brajesh Mishra: Of course. He may have decided, 'Okay I will just go and decided the minister my duty is done and finish'.
Karan Thapar: You also suggested that he is reluctance to take the action, may have stemmed from the fact that the alleged bribe-giver was a retired General and therefore a fellow officer?
Brajesh Mishra: I did.
Karan Thapar: In a sense he was protecting a fellow officer to an extent?
Brajesh Mishra: Well you know it is very difficult to go into his mind. If he was protecting as I think he was protecting, why did he go to the Defence Minister?
Karan Thapar: And he can't answer that question.
Brajesh Mishra: No.
Karan Thapar: Secondly beyond the question of taking action, should the Army Chief have blacklisted the company, on whose behalf he was allegedly being offered a bribe?
Brajesh Mishra: I don't know what their procedures are, whether it is the Army Chief who has to blacklist them or is it the Defence?
Karan Thapar: I am told the Army Chief has the power and the authority to blacklist. In that case should he have used that power?
Brajesh Mishra: Of course he should have. Even if he was suspicious of certain things going on, he should have used it.
Karan Thapar: Even on suspicion he should have acted?
Brajesh Mishra: Yeah after all suspicion also has some bases.
Karan Thapar: And here it was more than suspicion. It was a bribe allegedly offered to him face to face. So black listing was clearly called for?
Brajesh Mishra:Yes if it is within his power, he should have done that. And in fact he should have done that and then gone to the minister and said, 'I have done it'.
Karan Thapar: So in fact, he should have the order the other way round.
Brajesh Mishra: Yeah.
Karan Thapar: As a former National Security Advisor, would you say that by failing the blacklist the company and by refusing to take action against alleged the bribetaker, General VK Singh has not lived up the to the high expectations expected of an Army Chief?
Brajesh Mishra: Certainly not, he has failed in so many aspects.
Karan Thapar: Is he a failure as Army Chief?
Brajesh Mishra: Of course he is a failure as the Chief of the Indian Army.
Karan Thapar: Will he go down in the history as one of the worst Chiefs?
Brajesh Mishra: Well I don't know there have been instances before my time. There was some talk about Thimayya and Cariappa.
Karan Thapar: But he will certainly go down as one of the worst Chiefs ?
Brajesh Mishra: The worst so far.
Karan Thapar: The worst so far?
Brajesh Mishra: Yeah so far
Karan Thapar: Mr Mishra, let's come to the Defence Minister's role in this sorry saga. How much of this responsibility of mishandling this whole situation falls on the shoulder of Mr Antony?
Brajesh Mishra: Apart from the Chief himself, the other person who is responsible for non-action, for not exercising his authority as the Minister of Defence is Mr Antony.
Karan Thapar: Has he emerged as a weak and ineffective Defence Minister?
Brajesh Mishra: I don't know what is ineffective but he certainly very weak.
Karan Thapar: He is certainly very weak?
Brajesh Mishra: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Has Mr Antony also, despite his proud boast of probity and integrity, actually failed to live up to that high standard he sets for himself, when he didn't pursue the matter of a bribe offered to the Army Chief ?
Brajesh Mishra: Well obviously, as I said earlier we are not going to go back to that. It was his duty to do two things after the Army Chief said, 'I will not take action' - one to reprimand the Army Chief, which he didn't do, and second to say to Defence Secretary production that 'you now take action to inquiry in to this and there is CBI if you want'.
Karan Thapar: Should Mr Antony continue as a Defence Minister in these circumstances?
Brajesh Mishra: Well I don't know. He has been weak but I won't say that he has brought the government to the kind of phase as Raja and others.
Karan Thapar: So this is not the sacking matter in Mr Antony's case?
Karan Thapar: Let's come to the issue that the Army Chief raised about India's defence unpreparedness. In the letter he wrote to the Prime Minister which was leaked, he says that air defences are 97 per cent obsolete, he says that the tank fleet is devoid of critical ammunition, he says the state of the major fighting arms is alarming. Is the UPA government guilty of neglecting India's defence preparedness?
Brajesh Mishra: Well there is a lot of exaggeration on what the Army Chief has said in his letter to the Prime Minister. We are weak militarily, but not that kind of weakness that he is talking about, and if you have been watching all these shows in where Generals have been coming and talking, hardly any General has supported this contention on this thing. Now if the Prime Minister was convinced that this is the case, get the letter and talk to the Defence Minister. And say what action we are we going to take, whether they are doing it now, I don't know. I said this before also, probably it is going to be repetition for your audience, the real problem is that neither the political leadership nor the service leadership, the three chiefs, have acted in a manner to secure the country from external aggression. They have not. Thirty years have passed after the last war but in these 30 years they have not taken any action to get more material. You order one thing - tested in the sand, height, snow and in naval and other things - and these tests you go on for four or five years and by the time all things are obsolete, there is nothing left. So these antiquated procedures of 19th century when Great Britain was the lord of world, they are not there for now.
Karan Thapar: You are saying something very important. You are saying the Army itself, the services themselves are guilty of going by outdated testing procedure, which are prolonged and delaying and just waste time.
Brajesh Mishra: Antiquated procedures of 19th century.
Karan Thapar: Neither the government nor the services are changing this?
Brajesh Mishra: So far as the government is concern they are worried about Bofors on their shoulders. So they want to take every precaution to see that they are not named, this their....
Karan Thapar: Fear of scams has paralysed Defence procurement?
Brajesh Mishra: My final word is, the Chief ofcourse is out of his mind but the political leadership and it may not be Mr Antony, it may be others also, who have failed to take stern action to deter any kind of behaviour by either a Chief or his subordinate... I have never advocated that he should be sacked. I didn't say that we did something... He refuses to honour the decision of George Fernandes, but that is not the question here. Here the question is he was told by the Supreme Court, go and jump in the lake, this was the sum and substance of the... And he still goes on and writes a letter.
Karan Thapar: So all in all the government must find a way for sorting out this problem with the Chief promptly and immediately?
Brajesh Mishra: Not merely sorting it out but punishing him by sending him on compulsory leave although he will enjoy money without doing any work. And then he will have his pension.
Karan Thapar: Mr Mishra, a pleasure talking to you.