New Delhi: With the clock ticking down, the fate of 542 candidates that will be sent to the next Lok Sabha hangs in the balance. Amidst the shrill, high-pitched drama with various candidates attacking their rivals, the one issue that is omnipresent is the multiple scams in Defence deals.
The Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi went a step further, accusing India's long standing Defence Minister AK Antony of being so incompetent that he might well be a Pakistani Agent. Fighting for a seat from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh under the BJP banner, former Army Chief General VK Singh brought back some sanity by subsequently saying Antony was a good man, though unfortunately surrounded by a web of bureaucrats that virtually hobbled the Minister and his good intentions.
Marya Shakil spoke to Kunal Verma, the co-author of the General's autobiography, Courage and Conviction:
Marya Shakil: The General is obviously new to the rough and tumble of politics. Not too many politicians would have made a comment that contradicts what Mr Modi had said.
Kunal Verma: Only time will tell if Mr Antony can seriously challenge Krishna Menon's place in the country's history as the worst ever Raksha Mantri.
Even though the General himself was the victim of Mr Antony's indecisive and waffling nature, I think the fact that the Defence Minister was always willing to look at how to improve the lot of the troops struck a deep chord with him. When we were working on the book and had to comment on his actions, the General maintained it was important to understand the mental make up of the man and view his actions accordingly. That Mr Antony was completely at the mercy of the machinations of the then Defence Secretary and his pals in the PMO comes across quite clearly. These people were ruthless in achieving their own objectives and protecting the institutional integrity of the Armed Forces was no where on their radar.
Marya Shakil: So is Mr Modi's statement uninformed?
Kunal Verma: Well, when one looks back at some of the events, one can only hold ones head in ones hands. I think the most absurd statement to ever come from his was that bit about raiders in Pakistani army uniforms when our boys were killed and beheaded. What the hell was he thinking? Even a spokesperson in the Pakistani government could not have done such a slick job of exoneration and deflected the attention towards non-state actors.
The examples are endless - but in a way, the RM's performance will have to be viewed as a part of the UPA's manner of functioning where all the Ministers seemed to have collectively sworn allegiance to a family rather than the Constitution of India. Here we had a PMO which had it's hand on the head of a Track-II team headed by the former Air Chief, ACM Tyagi which was happily negotiating India's withdrawal from Siachen in October 2012. When the balloon went up and some of us made a noise about it, we copped a lot of personal abuse from some of the main protagonists. The story was ignored by the national media completely and other than Mr Modi and Mr Subramaniam Swamy, no one in the political circles seemed to understand what was happening.
Marya Shakil: After the dust settles post the election, do you see most of these charges just fading away. After all the noise around the Bofors scam, no one was really booked during the subsequent six years of NDA rule.
Kunal Verma: If the country needs to take itself seriously, both at the national and international level, whatever shape the next government takes, all these scams need to be looked at in all earnestness and the culprits brought to book ruthlessly. Unless that is done and time bound enquiries are put into place with sweeping judicial and executive powers, the people of this country will never know the truth. The biggest failing of the UPA has been its unwillingness to probe any scam seriously, maybe because there was always someone 'higher up' in the scam-chain. The real challenge here lies not just for the new government but also for the judiciary and the bureaucrats who have to redefine their roles keeping the interest of the country in mind.
Marya Shakil: Considering the fact that most people involved in these mega-scams are those in high positions in the current government, will it not look like a witch hunt?
Kunal Verma: When details of the Sukhna scam initially began to emerge, VK Singh was the Eastern Army commander and was faced with a Hobson's choice. He was cautioned by some very senior well wishers in Army HQ that should he take the bull by the horn, the 'system' would close ranks and do its utmost to destroy him instead. If anything, it was VK Singh who stood to loose the most. We touched upon this briefly in the book, but frankly in my opinion, it was the defining moment. As far as VK Singh was concerned, I don't think for him the option of not doing anything was ever on the table.
There are multiple layers involved in most of these scams, and the politician is just one of those layers. Those who have been manipulating the system will come hard at the new government in many different ways and will not just fade away - it would be naïve to expect that. I think the key to the entire process will have to be transparency, and the media will have to play an extremely important role.
Marya Shakil: After having thrown himself into the electoral fray in Ghaziabad, do you see a different side to VK Singh, the man?
Kunal Verma: Just as a leopard never changes its spots, a tiger doesn't change his stripes either. Frankly, I was surprised when someone sent me a mail pointing out his statement about the RM, for I was not aware he had commented on that. I couldn't help but burst out laughing, for it was so typical of the man. I've never ever heard him say or do something that is even remotely against his principles, most of which are very clearly etched in his head. He has always been like that - as a young Company Commander he stood up to everyone, then he did it again as a Commanding Officer so much so that his Brigade Commander virtually fixed him. Even in these two-three years when the government threw the kitchen sink at him, he stood there steadfastly absorbing all the nonsense they could hurl at him.
For those who have known him in the army, he is not the sort of man who gets affected by either triumph or disaster. What I feel really good about is that in the Armed Forces, especially at the junior level, we have hundreds of VK Singh's who are as committed to the country as he is. His success will hopefully encourage them never to loose sight of their goals.
Marya Shakil: Some of his political opponents have been quite vocal in criticizing him. The General's labeling of the AAP as anti-national seems to have particularly ruffled Shazia ilmi's feathers.
Kunal Verma: I've not heard a single comment that punches holes in what the General has been outlining to the people as his vision for the future. Shazia Ilmi has been referring to the General as 'the guy' who did this and that. Being deliberately disrespectful towards a former chief is one thing, but she seems to be parroting the very charges the UPA government had thrown at the General when they were desperate to somehow sully his reputation. If anything, General VK Singh's stand against corruption would have found resonance within the Aam Admi Party which at first claimed it was fighting against corruption.
Members of AAP have made some stunning statements about Kashmir and plebiscite. These statements are not only irresponsible, they undermine everything the Indian Armed Forces and the country have fought for since Independence. There are nine parties in the fray from Ghaziabad - each with his own thinking and ideology. There are bound to be differences, but we must also recognize that each brings to the table what he or she sees as being the best for themselves and the country. Shazia should realize that the only reason she has been fielded by AAP from Ghaziabad is the large muslim vote which they think she could tap. If that is not cynical politics, what is?You only get nasty when you have nothing to say about policies, or if you don't have any yourself. Its then up for the people to decide.