Conflict & Justice

Attention Pakistan: India is out of bullets--or is it?


Is India's army really out of bullets? Following allegations by army chief General VK Singh that he was offered a bribe to order substandard trucks in 2010, an unidentified person leaked a letter from Singh to the prime minister in which the general claimed that the army faced a shortage of ammunition.


Daniel Berehulak

India is out of bullets, or almost out of bullets, and its guns aren't any great shakes, either, according to a letter to the prime minister from army chief V.K. Singh that was leaked to the Indian media this week.

So should Pakistan call Beijing to cancel its latest order? Maybe not, though apparently newspaper writers in Islamabad are pretty psyched.

Following in the wake of his sour-grapes revelation that he was offered a big kickback to order a bunch of substandard trucks for his troops in 2010, the leaked letter and subsequent free-for-all makes General Singh sound more like a disgruntled man intent on razing and burning everything in sight before he leaves office than a genuine whistleblower.

How so? Here's my gut feelings, to be explored in a little more depth through some interviews with experts next week:

Well, first of all, it's no secret that India's army is in a pretty poor state in terms of equipment. That's why there's a massive push underway to modernize in the first place -- though being (supposedly) almost out of ammo is perhaps a more dire situation than anybody was willing to admit before. But these are the kind of letters sent by defense personnel to politicians when they want money, as Defense Minister AK Antony's statements to Business Standard suggest.

Furthermore, the timing of the leak is as dodgy as the timing of General Singh's bribery allegations.

The bribe:

Only a few months away from retirement, on Monday, Singh said he had been offered a $2.8 million bribe to buy faulty trucks for the army, but the actual payoff was attempted way back in 2010 -- at which time the general has said it didn't occur to him that he was being offered a bribe, or some such.  Indeed, one wonders how he ever figured it out -- considering his vagueness on his birthday. (Singh took the defence ministry to court earlier in the year in a failed attempt to prove he was a year younger than the army records showed.)

The leak:

General Singh's bribery bombshell came at the beginning of DefExpo 2012, a feeding frenzy of sorts for weapons manufacturers keen to tap the Indian market, days after official stats revealed India is now the world's largest arms importer. In other words, he made his non-revelation (gasp! there's corruption in defense deals!) exactly when it would raise the biggest stink.  After all, the defense minister and others have long used the allegations of corruption (and fear of being accused) as an excuse to delay upgrading India's armed forces since the Bofors scandal brought down the Congress (even tarring the Gandhi family) in 1989.

And so the leaked letter comes. What's the message, if not something along the lines of "Why are we worrying about corruption? The Indian army is out of bullets! The sky is falling!" General Singh says that revealing this supposedly top secret information amounts to high treason -- though I suppose that would put writers at Jane's Defense Weekly and the like in jeopardy.  But clearly the idea is to put General Singh's allegations in such a context that they won't spoil the party -- if not to trivialize the whole investigation of the alleged bribes.

After all, what's a few million dollars here and there, when national security is at stake?