Several people, and not just government agents, have asked DNA to identify who leaked the letter sent by the Chief of Army Staff, General VK Singh, to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, which contains a few home truths about India’s defence preparedness. Frankly, dear defenseless DNA reader, even I don’t know the source of the letter; our Delhi Bureau Chief Saikat Datta tells me nothing. He doesn’t tell me what stories he plans to file; he doesn’t mark attendance of correspondents; why, he hasn’t even told me his real name — he’s an undercover reporter and Saikat Datta is his cover name, not his real one. I tell you, Editors these days are not a patch on the Editors of yore, alas and alack.
But Editors today are resourceful enough to figure things out on their own. So in the national interest, as well as self-interest, yours truly gave it a try.
It wasn’t Gen Singh though he’s the obvious candidate. In an Agatha Christie novel, the likely suspect usually departs next. Gen Singh was humiliated in a futile fight with the government over his age; he’s retiring in another two months so has little to lose (sacking him will just create unnecessary bad blood in the armed forces); and he’s the one who wrote the letter — presumably such high-level correspondence hasn’t passed through too many hands. Also, it came on the heels of his disclosure of a bribery attempt, so it seems like one of those one-two attacks that Army war manuals are proud of.
Gen Singh’s mock-horror declaration, that the leak was high treason, seems disingenuous. It’s too much like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, where the actual murderer latched on to Hercule Poirot as he went about sleuthing. Still, Gen Singh’s obviousness perhaps encouraged the true suspect to go ahead with the sinister leak. Gen Singh, I exonerate you!
We thus have to start at the other end: not at who benefits, but at who suffers from the leak. That’s not difficult: the generally suffering Defence Minister, AK Antony. This is a man who’s trying to displace VR Krishna Menon, who took responsibility for losing the 1962 China war, as our worst-ever defence minister. This is a man who was a failure as Kerala Chief Minister not once, not twice, but thrice. This is a man who uses the veneer of incorruptibility to hide his inability to take decisions — an incompetent administrator who has brought paralysis to defence procurement without actually cleaning up the process (as evidenced by the decades-long Tatra truck scam). This is a defence minister who faints at parades (NDA, May 2008).
Worse, Antony has brought civil-military relations to such an all-time low simply because he could not in seven years take an early call on Gen VK Singh’s age. There can be no greater evidence of his utter unsuitability for anything.
Yet it is a truism in the political class that Antony is trusted by Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Whenever there is speculation over the next President of India, his name is on the short-list. And whenever there is speculation on who will replace Dr Manmohan Singh as prime minister, Antony’s name crops up, along with that great Dalit icon and power minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde.
Could Shinde have leaked the letter? He has the motive: eliminating a strong rival for the prime minister’s job. However, Shinde is so ‘vanilla’ that he has to be eliminated as a suspect; he looks like the sort who can only figure as a villain in an Enid Blyton novel (though if someone were to make a Tintin-zombie film, Shinde could play lead). Also, he probably had no official access to the letter; someone would have had to have leaked it to him, so technically he isn’t the leaker.
This leaves other Congress aspirants to the top post. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has shown desperation for the job, going so far as wage war in public against the upstart home minister, P Chidambaram. However, the evidence from his flaccid budget suggests he has run out of steam, and that a Machiavellian scheme was beyond him. The other suspect would be Chidambaram, and as a member of the Cabinet Committee on Security he might have had access to the letter. It’s no secret that he’s been waging a quiet war within government against Antony. However, I discount Chidambaram for the simple reason that by this line of inquiry there’s a more likely suspect.
Yes, I’m talking about Manmohan Singh. He had access to the letter. He had the motive: if there is no candidate to replace him no matter how many crises rock UPA-2 (and there are going to be many before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls), he can remain comfortably ensconced; after all, the Congress has long followed the TINA (There Is No Alternative) theory of election and selection. And no one would think of suspecting him. Think of it: that serene smile, that deferential voice — what a good cover for a devious mind! Yes, I am convinced that Manmohan Singh is the culprit. He leaked the letter. Case closed.
The writer is the Editor-in-Chief, DNA, based in Mumbai