NEW DELHI: A spate of controversies about the Army may have been a result of the vicious factional feud within the force, but there are indications that the controversies are also being used as fodder to target defence minister AK Antony.
Allegations against Army chief Gen VK Singh, ranging from deployment of off-the-air interceptors to unauthorized troop movements to the capital, may have emanated from internal rivalries in the Army, but many now suspect these are now being used to make a case against Antony for his “inaction” and inability to handle the delicate equation between the political leadership and the Army.
The reasons for the suspicions are twofold. First, with the Army chief set to retire on May 31, the main worry of his rivals has ceased to exist. Second,Antony’s anti-corruption stand has antagonized a whole range of interests: arms lobbies, middlemen, foreign governments and armament firms.
Last month, Antony banned six armament companies, including four foreign firms – Israeli Military Industries, Singapore Technologies Kinetics, Rheinmetall Air Defence (Zurich) and Corporation Defence (Russia) – for 10 years.
It’s said that some warned him against this radical step, saying the backlash could be severe. But the defence minister factored in the warning, kept the top political leadership informed about every step taken by him, and went ahead and blacklisted the companies in his deep belief that defence procurement by world’s largest arms importer should be completely free of any taint.
Despite the growing criticism about his handling of defence ministry, Antony remains unapologetic. Only this week, he acknowledged that blacklisting Israel’s IMI had derailed a Rs 1,200 crore project in Nalanda, Bihar, for an ordnance complex of five plants to manufacture propellant charges for heavy-calibre artillery ammunition for Bofors Howitzers and other guns. However, he defended the decision.
“Blacklisting IMI has further delayed our Nalanda project. We are determined to modernize our armed forces fast but there will be zero tolerance on corruption. So, sometimes delays will take place,” he said at the induction ceremony of nuclear submarine INS Chakra at Visakhapatnam on Wednesday.
His quest for corruption-free defence purchases has been attacked as impractical and he has been blamed for delaying the modernization of the armed forces. But while this has argument has virtually been turned into conventional wisdom, facts prove that armed forces have fared much better under Antony in using up budgetary allocations. Last year, the defence ministry spent the entire allocation.