New Delhi: Army chief General V.K. Singh Monday kicked up a major row, claiming in a televised interview that he was left “dumbfounded” after being offered a Rs.14-crore (Rs.140 million) bribe, forcing Defence Minister A.K. Antony to order a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe.
Singh, known as an upright officer, claimed the bribe was offered by a retired officer representing a firm manufacturing army trucks and immediately after the incident, he had told Antony about it.
The claim by Singh led to Antony, called as ‘Mr. Clean” for his impeccable record as a non-corrupt politician, to order the CBI probe, even as the allegations rocked both houses of parliament.
“If a person who has just retired, a few days ago, comes and tells you while talking on different issues that you will get this thing and when you have not heard something like this, it will leave you dumbfounded. You won’t understand what this person is saying. And that is what happened,” Singh said in a recorded interview to Chauthi Duniya, an internet news portal.
Asked why he didn’t lodge a police complaint, the army chief said: “You may be right that I should have complained against him. But at that time the way (the bribe was offered), for a while I could not understand what he was saying. It was not like he was giving me bribe in my hand.
“He was telling me that if you clear this file you will get this much of the amount, everybody takes it, what is your problem. In a way it was an indirect method of saying. And that is why he could not be arrested.”
The general said he told the former officer to leave his room and shared the incident with Antony.
“He (Antony) beat his forehead and told me that we should keep these people out,” said the chief, who is to retire May 31.
The sensational revelation by the army chief was first reported by The Hindu newspaper.
Defence ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said here that the minister gave the order for a CBI probe after seeing reports of the army chief’s claim of bribe offer.
Antony, when asked about the allegations, told reporters in Parliament House complex that “the matter was serious” and that he had “taken action” in this regard.
The army chief told The Hindu, “just imagine, these men had the gumption to walk up to me and tell me that if I cleared the tranche, he would give me Rs.14 crore. He was offering a bribe to me.”
The newspaper said the lobbyist offered him the bribe in order to have a tranche of 600 substandard vehicles of a particular make cleared for purchase.
As the matter rocked parliament, opposition parties tried to corner the government, with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) members raising the issue in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
They wanted the government to respond to the allegations in parliament.
However, outside parliament, political parties wanted to know why the army chief had not filed a police complaint on the bribe offer.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in particular, blamed Antony’s “indecision” for the situation coming to such a pass.
Talking to reporters, BJP leader Jaswant Singh said he was “aware” of the defence minister’s nature and added that “taking a decision is the toughest thing for him to do”.
“I have known the defence minister for long, he specialises in indecision… Is it because of his (defence minister’s) indecision that the army chief had to go to media,” Singh said, demanding that the minister come out with a clarification.
The Congress party attacked Gen. Singh, with its spokesperson Manish Tewari asking why he kept quiet for so long and didn’t lodge a police complaint.
Another BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu also asked why no action was taken for so long, but agreed with the Congress that the army chief should have filed a police complaint.
The Communist Party of India (CPI) leaders, though, questioned the timing of the revelations, with Gurudas Dasgupta and D. Raja noting that it had come after his age row had blown over.