Pains of wounded Tiger
Malicious campaign carried by men in the shadows: Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi
In his New Year eve address the eastern army commander said he was not resigning because he wanted to expose a conspiracy against him. The army commander began by wishing the new army chief all the very best and, three times in his address, termed the decision to appoint the new chief a ‘political decision’ which he abided by.
At around 11 am on December 31, shortly before General Bipin Rawat was to take over as the Indian army’s 27th chief of the army staff, Eastern Army Commander Lt General Praveen Bakshi addressed his troops.
The half-hour video address broadcast from the Eastern Army Command headquarters in Fort William, Kolkata, to nearly 3,00,000 men under the Commander-in-Chief, was eagerly awaited for one reason.
The government had, on December 17, superseded Lt General Bakshi by appointing his junior Lt General Bipin Rawat as army chief. This was only the second deviation from the seniority principle for selecting the army chief in nearly 70 years. It was widely believed that General Bakshi would follow Lt General SK Sinha’s precedent in 1983 when he resigned after being superseded by his junior General AK Vaidya. But General Bakshi, clearly, was no Lt General SK Sinha when he signaled “It will be work as usual,” in his address.
The army commander began by wishing the new army chief all the very best and, three times in his address, termed the decision to appoint the new chief a ‘political decision’ which he abided by. If General Bakshi had ended his address with the good wishes, there would have been no controversy. But the latter part of his speech raised eyebrows within the army circles both for its content and portent.
An officer from the eastern command said that the speech reflected the general’s ‘personal views’ and that the commander had nothing further to add to it.
In his speech on New Year eve, the general reeled out a bitter litany of complaints against the media and the veteran fraternity but what clearly caused him anguish was something else. He flagged, ‘a malicious campaign, a deep rooted conspiracy’, ‘whispers in the corridors’, carried out by ‘men in the shadows’. The implication was clear, the conspirators had tarnished his reputation which possibly wounded his chance of becoming army chief. General Bakshi clarified he would now expose the ‘enemies of the Indian army’.
The eastern command is second only to the northern command in troop numbers and responsibilities. The command borders four countries-China, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh, nine Indian states, including four insurgency-ridden ones. Yet, there was just a passing reference to this in his address.
“I don’t think, we in the Indian army who have been trained to fight our enemies can allow such people to survive in our own organization,” General Bakshi said, hitting out at those he held responsible for his plight. “They need to be exposed and that is why I shall continue though I shall be on leave, for the forseeable future.”
The army commander embarked on leave of absence for a month until January 29, during which period he is likely to miss out the army commander’s conference beginning in Delhi on January 23. General Bakshi however, reminded his troops that he would be ‘keeping my hands on the steering wheel of command’.
“I am falling into the trap of justifying my actions that is not the intent of my talk¦” he says, but then, goes on to do exactly that. ‘Why I am not resigning’ is a constant refrain, in explaining which, the commander’s address goes on to sow its own set of conspiracy theories.
He puts to rest the controversy over his meetings with defence minister Manohar Parrikar on December 21 to clarify that he had sought no favors and was promised nothing in return.
The general speaks of procurements in the Eastern Command under his predecessors (Lt Generals VK Singh, Bikram Singh and Dalbir Singh, all of whom went on to become army chiefs) as averaging only Rs 3-4 crores whereas he spent Rs 85 crores on procurements in the past 18 months.
He mentions a series of anonymous letters which were written against him alleging corruption in these purchases and also his proximity to a former army vice chief who he invited to address the eastern command.
“The defence forces take no cognizance of such letters,” says Lt General Raj Kadyan, former deputy chief of army staff. “And if it true that the government decision took cognizance of these letters, it is very unfortunate and we’ve harmed a good man.”
“Nobody has questioned General Bakshi’s ability to lead the Eastern Command, so it’s alright for him to continue,”says Major General Surjit Singh (retired). “There have been several cases in other world armies of superseded generals serving on but if he starts the inquiries he has promised, then he will only be embarrassing himself.”
Senior army officials confirmed that some anonymous letters had been received by defence minister Manohar Parrikar some months back. They were investigated by the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CDGDA) which found them to be untrue. General Bakshi in fact mentions this in his speech. While he continues his hunt against the alleged conspirators, there is one certainty. The eight months he will serve out are unlikely to be very quiet. (Courtesy: India Today)