A K Antony
A spate of controversies about the Indian Army may have been a result of the vicious factional feud within the force, but indications are now that the controversies are also being used as fodder to target defence minister A K Antony. Allegations of insubordination against Army chief Gen V K Singh, ranging from deployment of off-the-air interceptors to unauthorized troop movements to the capital, may have emanated from rivalries within the force, but many now suspect that these are being used to make a case against Antony for his “inaction” and his 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 principal worry of his rivals has ceased to exist. Second, because of his uncompromising stand against corruption Antony has antagonized a whole range of interests: arms lobbies, middlemen, foreign governments and armament firms. Rarely has a defence minister attracted this sort of hostility. Just last month, Antony, often accused of inaction by his detractors, did something few defence ministers have dared to do: he banned six top armaments companies, including four foreign companies —Israeli Military Industries (IMI), Singapore Technologies Kinetics, Rheinmetall Air Defence (Zurich) and Corporation Defence (Russia)—for a period of 10 years. It’s said that some warned him against this radical step, saying the backlash could be severe. But he kept the top political leadership in the loop, and blacklisted the companies in his deep belief that defence procurement by the world’s largest arms importer should be completely free of any taint. Antony has also made it clear that the gigantic $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) deal to acquire 126 French Rafale fighters, which is in the final stages of commercial negotiations now, won’t be sent to the finance ministry for clearance till an inquiry into allegations made by an MP about the selection process is completed. His quest for corruptionfree defence purchases has been attacked as impractical and he has been blamed for delaying the modernization of the armed forces. But while this argument has virtually been turned into conventional wisdom, facts prove that the armed forces have fared much better under Antony in using up budgetary allocations. Last year, the defence ministry spent the entire allocation. It would have achieved the feat this year had the finance ministry not cut Rs 3,000 crore of the committed allocation because of a larger fiscal problem. While all this should please the soldier, Antony’s tough regime has distressed those who flourished under the previous dispensations. Antony is probably the first defence minister who does not meet representatives of private armaments companies. In a ministry where even arranging meetings can reap millions of dollars, Antony has dried up the business of several middlemen and strategists. He has also been issuing warnings to armament firms that India wouldn’t hesitate to cancel deals if any allegations are proven. Over the years, Antony has also ordered a series of CBI investigations into various cases, from the Adarsh scandal to the Tatra deal. Actually, he found in Gen V K Singh a similar desire to crack down on corruption, and the combination of the two made matters worse for the arms lobby.