Army’s ‘anti-Omar’ operations trigger massive controversy

NEW DELHI: A huge controversy erupted over allegations that an intelligence unit set up by ex-Army chief Gen V K Singh misused secret funds to try and topple the Omar Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir with the Centre promising action if any serving or retired officer is found involved.

As the allegations, in a secret Army report that the controversial Technical Services Division (TSD) was involved in unauthorised operations and financial wrongdoings, triggered a political slugfest between Congress and BJP, a Union Minister on condition of anonymity said a CBI probe into the “extremely sensitive” matter is not ruled out.

In J&K, political temperatures rose with parties including ruling National Conference demanding a thorough probe into the role of State Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hasaan Mir, who figured in reports of having allegedly received funds from TSD unit to topple the Omar government.

According to a media report, a secret enquiry report into the functioning of the Technical Services Division (TSD) of the Army found that Rs 1.19 crore was allegedly taken from secret service funds to be paid to Mir to engineer a change of government in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mir, at present Agriculture Minister in the Omar Government, termed these reports as “blatant lies”.

A media report quoting an Army document said Gen Singh had allegedly misused the secret service funds to destabilise the Omar government, to pay off an NGO to try change the line of succession in the Army top brass, to buy off-air interception equipment and to conduct “unauthorised” covert operations.

The Defence Ministry said it will take a decision about action on the Army report on TSD after its careful examination while asserting it had measures in place to prevent any such undesirable activities.

Stating that the report “impinges on matters of national security”, the Ministry in a statement, however, said it has not yet taken a decision on going for a CBI inquiry.

BJP questioned the timing of the report and claimed that Singh was being “hounded” for sharing the dais with its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at the Rewari rally five days ago.

The report was prepared by Director General (Military Operations) Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia as part of a Board of Officers inquiry formed by Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh to review the functioning of the top secret unit set up during the tenure of his predecessor.

The report submitted to Defence Ministry in March this year is understood to have recommended a probe by an external agency like the CBI.

The Union Minister, who spoke of a possible CBI probe, said the government has taken serious note of the report.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari told reporters that the facts brought out in the report are “extremely sensitive” and if any person–retired or serving–is found involved in the matter, action will be taken.

“The contents of the report which have been mentioned in a newspaper are under active consideration of the government. If any malfeasance is found against any serving or retired officer, appropriate action would be initiated.”

Replying to a question on possible action against the retired army chief and his team involved in this matter, Tewari said this is not a question of being individual-specific but it is more of a systemic and structural issue “wherein there are alleged actions which impinge upon the larger ambit of national security”.

Tewari said the government does take such matters extremely seriously as it is its duty to do so and asserted that action would follow “after a probe”.

“The facts mentioned in the report are in the cognisance of the government. If it is found after the probe that facts are true, then action will be taken against those who are allegedly involved in it, whether they are in service or have retired,” he said.

Rejecting the charge that Gen Singh was being hounded after the Rewari rally and the Army report was politically motivated, Tewari said, “It is extremely surprising that whenever there is an allegation with regard to alleged subversion of an institution, you always find BJP prematurely jumping to the defence of such individuals.

“I am quite struck by the fact,…. I hope that behind all these incidents there is not the invisible hand of the BJP,” he added.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said the allegations against Gen Singh sound absolutely curious and odd not just because of the timing but the contents of the report.

“It is obvious that the hounding of the retired army chief is being done because he was seen seated beside Narendra Modi at the Rewari rally,” she said.

Lt Gen (Retd) Raj Kadyan said allegations against TSD are serious and needs to be probed but raised questions, observing its contents are coming out just days after Gen Singh and Modi shared the dais.

Maj Gen (Retd) G D Bakshi also shared Kadyan’s views.

The TSD was formed in May 2010 during the tenure of Gen V K Singh and its existence came to light in March last year when it was alleged that the unit had tapped the phones of Defence Ministry officials at the height of the controversy over the then Army Chief’s date of birth.