Nothing upright about Adarsh

 Deepak Sinha, Kargil martyrs, Adarsh, Colaba, AHS, Colaba

The Adarsh Housing Society building in Colaba

One can but hope that the Adarsh building is demolished, as that would symbolise the success of good over evil. This is essential so that the construction becomes the centre-piece of military ethos

The Adarsh Housing Society scam was recently in the news once again after the Ministry of Defence instituted an inquiry at the behest of the Bombay High Court. The probe team passed some pretty damning strictures against two former Army chiefs, seven General Officers and a host of other lower ranking officers from the military and the civilian-manned Defence Estates Organisation. Ironically, whosoever thought up the name ‘Adarsh’ for this society, either had a wicked sense of humour or great marketing skills, given what it translates to in Hindi.

This investigation followed an Army Court of Inquiry, which came to similar conclusions — the most serious being that the General Officer Commanding, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa area (MG&G Area) compromised security of Colaba Military Station (CMS) by their actions. In an interesting coincidence between 1999 and July 2010. Each successive General Officer Commanding of the MG&G Area or a member of his family was made a member of the society and allotted a flat. As was to be expected, “During that period, there was no objection to Adarsh building on the basis that it was not perceived as a security threat nor was there any objection for transfer of land under occupation or owned by Army to Adarsh society,” as stated by the Army’s counsel in court.

That the Bench of the Bombay High Court has already allowed its demolition, is a stinging blow to the high and mighty who, in their arrogance, believe that laws can be tampered with for personal gain. There is every possibility that those involved in the case may yet succeed in their appeal to the Supreme Court, which has stayed the demolition but ordered the society to hand over the building to the MoD. If perchance, the Supreme Court also agrees with the earlier ruling and the demolition is proceeded with, there is much we have to be happy about. While the Army will certainly get back its land that was illegally usurped, it will still not correct the body blow that those in its highest echelons dealt the service — the debilitating impact of which we now see more frequently.

For the media, the politician, the well-informed public and probably even those who benefitted directly, the Adarsh scam was always about money, the manner in which land was illegally acquired and high value real estate developed.

Sadly, for those in the military, this was only partially true and it was always about issues far bigger than that. Let us not for a minute forget that it was a scam about acquiring military land, conceived by high-ranking men in uniform and carried out in connivance with bureaucrats and politicians who could help in the project coming to fruition. Finally, when they thought everything was in place, they divided the loot among friends, family and loyal henchmen. Alas, to their misfortune, they forgot about the proverb, ‘there is many a slip between the cup and the lip’.

The average serviceman, officers and jawans alike were unaware of the scam till it came out into public domain. Most were horrified and shocked beyond belief at the manner in which those at the helm subverted rules and regulations, allowing procedures to be violated and ethics and integrity discarded. Postings, promotions and awards were manipulated and given to those officers, mostly undeserving, yet willing to play along in the hope of snagging a part of the spoils. In a manner reminiscent of the way Lt General BM Kaul was thrust, albeit willingly, to military greatness by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, till the Chinese punctured his reputation, here too another such officer was allegedly hauled up by his boot-straps, mollycoddled, promoted in-situ and decorated thrice so that he could ensure fruition of the plan that he had so brilliantly conceived. That their plans may be finally thwarted, thanks to the integrity and dedication of others is another matter. Their actions showed that those very ideals that motivate each and every soldier, a belief that the system is totally impartial, just and unbiased and holds everyone to account for his actions has broken down. It now emerges that good postings, promotions and decorations, are up for sale and auctioned to the highest bidder, and not always for lucre alone. Honour and integrity, it seems, are no longer the sole currency that matters.

What has been most troubling of the series of scams that have emerged over the past few years, involving senior officers in positions of utmost responsibility, is not that it has happened, as odd cases of corruption at the highest levels has not been unheard of in the past.

It is a fact that there has been a complete failure of the chain of command in holding those guilty of these acts of malfeasance accountable. What makes matters worse are the levels which are allegedly complicit. In the Adarsh scam, for example, three former service chiefs benefited apart from a host of other senior officers who were in the direct chain of command — all supposedly with no knowledge that rules had been broken or that defence land misused. Lt General GS Sihota, the then Army Commander, went so far as to question the veracity of the land belonging to the MoD.

A fine line has been crossed. Suddenly propriety and good sense seem no longer important to the military chain of command. In the recent past we have had the ludicrous example of the administrative element that provides support to the Army Headquarters at Delhi, the AHQ camp being awarded the Chief of Army Staff’s Unit Citation. Till now this coveted citation has only been awarded to units for their superlative performance in counter-insurgency environments. Extremely stringent norms evolved over the years, for selecting deserving units appear to have been given a go-by for extraneous considerations, supposedly because of filial connections. It would have been a laughable matter except for the horrendous consequences that it is bound to have on the motivation of units serving in Kashmir and elsewhere. That there was no opposition to this preposterous proposal at that time can only be because those who were required to object have probably sold their conscience and principles for future perks after retirement. Perhaps, a stint with the Armed Forces Tribunal, for example.

The irony of the situation is not lost on the average soldier who has seen these very officers, or others in similar positions, award the harshest of punishments for wrong doing in order to maintain the highest standards of discipline.

Those most vulnerable, post their retirements, the soldier and the middle peace officer, who leave service at a young age and still have family commitments to meet, are now witnesses to their senior’s dubious mercenary behaviour despite them being so much better off. It can hardly help in creating either trust or respect for a leadership that now marches to a different drummer. This hits at the very credo that every soldier swears to live by- ‘service before self’.

Finally, the fact that only six officers, indicted by the MoD probe, are facing criminal charges filed against them by the Central Bureau of Investigation in 2012, is rather unfortunate. Their superiors, especially the Officer Commanding-in Chief of Southern Command and his advisor on military land and cantonment issues, the Principal Directorate General Defence Estates, bear greater responsibility since no land could have been given without their explicit permission. This makes a mockery of military traditions and ethos and will surely lead to more blatant misuse of authority for personal gain. One can but hope that the Adarsh building is finally demolished as that would symbolise the success of good over evil and allow for the re-awakening of accountability — so that it can once again become the centre-piece of military ethos. For without honour a military is just armed rabble.

This commentary originally appeared in The Pioneer.

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Deepak Sinha