What started off as a political fight is now threatening to derail New Delhi’s fragile Kashmir policy. Former army chief Gen (retd) VK Singh’s explosive revelations that the Indian Army directly funds politicians in Jammu & Kashmir have left many shocked and outraged.
“This is not something that VK Singh has invented… it has been happening since the time of Independence,” he told a TV channel, adding that everyone from Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to the defence minister are aware of this practice.
The general was reacting to accusations levelled in an internal inquiry report, which was scooped by The Indian Express. The report, prepared by a factfinding Board of Officers headed by the Director General of Military Operations, Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, alleged that the Technical Support Division — a secret intelligence unit that worked directly under Gen Singh — paid Rs 1.19 crore to Independent MLA Ghulam Hassan Mir (currently the state agriculture minister) to destabilise the Omar Abdullah government.
Gen Singh refuted this claim and said at a press conference on 24 September that during the widespread protests in 2010, it was the army that helped bring normalcy to the Valley and that is why Abdullah is still very much in power.
Gen Singh clarified that sums of money were given to carry out certain jobs with the intention of getting people and the youth together. He explained how it was part of the army’s attempt to win hearts and minds in the Valley through holding cricketing events such as the Kashmir Premier League.
He said the money was meant for social schemes, infrastructure and events that provided stability in an effort to wean people away from separatist activities.
“I find it hard to believe. Why should an army general ever find motivation to destabilise a state government?” asks Lt Gen Raj Kadyan. “Agreed, it is Jammu & Kashmir and they are opposing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). But that’s not some personal issue that a General has to deal with. It’s an institutional matter. A state government gives a view and the Central government takes it. I’m perplexed that even this task was given to a secret unit. That cannot be a reason for it. That’s why there should be a thorough investigation.”
While the ruling National Conference and Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde have challenged the General to name the ministers who were given money, Maj Gen (retd) G D Bakshi has come to VK Singh’s defence saying “the General has said something that anyone who has operated in J&K already knows”.
Meanwhile, former cm Ghulam Nabi Azad feigned ignorance. “This is news to me,” he said. “I was the cm for two-and-ahalf years, but even I didn’t know about it. I’m not saying he (Gen Singh) is lying, but there should be an investigation.”
Claiming that the accusations were politically motivated, Gen Singh questioned the credibility of The Indian Express, which leaked the report. The story also alleged that the army paid Rs 2.38 crore to set up an NGO, which was instrumental in filing a PIL against Gen Bikram Singh for his role in an alleged fake encounter (see box). It is perceived that the PIL, which was later dismissed, was an attempt by Gen VK Singh to scuttle the appointment of Gen Bikram Singh as the next army chief.
Gen Singh’s acrimony with the UPA government and Gen Bikram Singh came to the fore last year during the succession battle. It is alleged that during that time, different camps within the army and government leaked certain information to the media in order to target and tarnish the other. In the same vein, both the BJP and Gen Singh have questioned the timing of the latest ‘leak’.
The report came out just four days after Gen Singh shared the dais with bjp leader Narendra Modi at an ex-servicemen’s rally held in Rewari, though the internal army report had been submitted to the defence ministry in March itself.
“Any retired General has the right to contest elections, but it is important that they show restraint and not discuss issues of national security and importance,” says Union Minister of State, Home, RPN Singh. “The media too needs to show restraint on such issues. However, the government has taken notice of the matter and there will be an inquiry.”
Gen VK Singh agrees. “Do we openly discuss how the ib functions? If we question it, then we are anti-national,” he says. “Those who leaked information about the functioning of the secret intelligence group should be held for treason.”