Crossing The Rubicon
Adm SK (Former Naval Chief)
The civilian leadership must show the statecraft to clarify its red lines where the military is concerned
The Fact File
Article published in TOI on 14 April provoked me to come out with the facts of dismissal of Admiral Bhagwat and Sushil Kumar installed the new naval chief on 30 Dec 1998.
Admiral Sushil Kumar former Naval Chief states
“Each time there is a major disagreement between a service chief and the government, the situation turns into a crisis and goes spiraling out of control. It happened in 1998 in the stand-off between defence minister Grorge Fernandes and Navy chief admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. It is happening again with the unsettling row that started with the date of birth controversy of Army Chief General V K Singh.
There were four major players at that time which included Bhagwat himself, Sushil Kumar, Ajeet Kumar (Def secy) and Arvind Dave RAW Chief then.
Admiral Bhagwat- Certain boats, small ships were ferrying some arms, ammunition and equipment for Myanmar rebels, supporting the predemocracy movement in Myanamar. This small flotilla was intercepted by the IN. The Govt wanted them to be released unconditionally. The then naval chief resented and was adamant & rigid. He rebuffed to the order of the Govt. This nearly reached a standoff. Then It was concerning the promotion of a senior naval officer as well as deputation of a senior naval officer to RAW. Which was against the laid down norm of the RAW. These incidents became a sort of a challenge to Adm Bhagwat and he became highly critical of the Def Secy & Raw chief. Not only that he went public on such issues and condemned the bureaucracy called them names. This was another case of standoff. This burnt up environment had started about six months earlier to 30 Dec 1998.
Adm Sushil Kumar-(former naval chief) He was then FOC-in C SNC. He was a contender to be the next naval chief. He had tried his level best to get to the coveted appointment of FOC-in-c WNC. He became a conduit to the then RM. He (SK) was meeting the RM clandestinely to prove himself. He was right person and feeding him (RM) on the misgiving of then naval chief. This carried on about six months prior to the 30 Dec 1998.
The (Def Secy) and the RAW chief - These were the two main players to preface a case against adm Bhagwat & install SK as the new chief. The two bureaucrats were the right persons to see the plan through. It was well known about three months earlier that naval chief is to be sacked. About 15 days earlier, I was tasked (I was then the operational head of ARC-aviation wing of the RAW)” Be ready to move a senior officer from South to Delhi during a night operation”
It is worth mentioning at this stage, I used to play squash and interact with a senior naval officer. He asked me “do you have groups of senior officer, like political patronages”. It was quite surprising and alarming information. Because I hadn’t heard if such groups in the Air Force then and even now, everything has been fair & square.
It is on the evening of 29 Dec 1998 the RAW chief tasked me “move an aircraft by night to cochin for the task”. It should be mentioned here I was not mentioned the name of the senior officer to be airlifted. The aircraft moved on the night of 29 Dec. Since I had the knowledge of the senior officer and for the task I deputed a senior Air Force officer (a deputationist to ARC) as the LO on board this aircraft. The crews were civilian pilots. Air craft was to be positioned before 9:00am on 30 Dec 1998 at Cochin. On 30 Dec I informed the RAW chief, the aircraft is positioned at Cochin and the contact with the senior officer. Further task assigned by the RAW chief was “Deposit this officer by 5 PM (30 Dec 1998) in room no 187 in “South Block”. Our cars are to be used for this task.”
The task was accomplished as directed. At 5:30 PM (30 Dec 1998) Govt had sacked Adm Bhagwat and appointed SK the naval chief.
In his article SK has drawn a parallel between the case of 1998 and present controversy on Gen VK Singh DOB No parallel can be drawn in the two cases. (I have already written on this subject – (Please see my Blog) There are gaps and trust deficit, between the highest echelons of the armed forces & the Govt. May be, we need introspection within us. We have had Army Chiefs like Thimmaya, Sam, Manckshaw, Sundarji, Rodriguez Naval chiefs like Parerra, Tahliyani, Ramdas, Nadkarmi, Air chiefs Latif, Katre, Demis, Polly who stood their grounds well.
It is, we the armed forces, who have to remove: If there is any irrational phobia about the Indian Military establishment posing a challenge to civilian authority. Govt has not been wronged in the two cases; we failed “The Armed Forces”