Excerpts from the personal diary of defence minister A K Antony, the only remaining Saint in the union cabinet, though his halo is no longer visible to the naked eye. Detailing his trials and tribulations over the last one year when he had to fight so hard to protect his Mr Clean status and the chances of becoming the next Rashtrapati. By Vivek Sharma
I should have read his file more carefully. It was there in one of the reports. That he doesn't really know when exactly he was born, this Gen. V K Singh. His records in the ministry say he was born in 1950, but for a while he said he hadn't been born until a year later. Army papers said he is younger, but nobody knows how they got that date. Then sometime later he kind of got used to the idea of being a bit older and was ok with it. That is why my boys at the South Block thought he didn't want to be younger again, and never mentioned this to me. Idiots.
So we made him general, all four stars. He became eligible because he was old enough, at least on paper. But once he became the chief he suddenly remembered that he could actually be younger. To tell the truth, anyone in his position, or any position for that matter, would have given it a shot. But he took it too far when he went to the Supreme Court, and was embarrassed. I thought that would be the end of my troubles with this pesky fellow.
Then he dropped the bomb.
No, no, it was not his claim that someone offered him a bribe that bothered me. He said publicly that he reported that offer to me. How could he say that? Of course, he told me about the offer. I thought he was being silly. What's the big deal about Rs14 crore? The junior-most IAS fellow in my ministry should be getting several such offers every day. So I told the parliament that I was stunned and speechless when I heard that from the general. I guess it was easy for people to imagine me standing there, without saying a word, doing nothing. So most people believed that.
Luckily, he left me an escape route by not writing to me about this. If he was smart enough, he would have written a one page letter to me, with copies to the prime minister and members of the cabinet committee on security. He didn't do that. So I claimed that, as soon as I was finished being stunned, I asked him to give a written complaint. I promised to take strict action. No one will be spared. He is yet to give me a letter, so I am yet to take action.
Now, even if I get a written complaint, how can I take action when the supplier is a public sector unit (PSU) ? Yes, those trucks are obscenely expensive and can be directly imported from Czech country at half the price. But how else will our defense PSUs survive if the Army doesn't buy big trucks and use them as school buses at Army Public Schools? If I insist that all defence purchases should be based on competitive bidding, all my ordinance factories will go out of business.
Why did we sign this truck deal with a British company owned by an NRI, and not with the original Czech manufacturer? Oh, that was a brilliant plan by someone to avoid middlemen. Now, some say this NRI is in fact a middleman.
But Rajiv-ji was the PM when the deal was signed, so I shouldn't say anything more about that. No more talk and hopefully no more action on this truck business. The law and the CBI will take their own courses, and we will hear from them sometime in the future. Then we can spend another 10 or 20 years in the courts, but in the end, I assured everyone that no one will be spared.