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Treat military leaders with care

On the day former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi was granted bail by the trial court, the current chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF) Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha made a very telling comment. The outgoing Air Chief, who retires at the end of this month, said, “Very unfortunate that a person of his (Tyagi’s) stature has been investigated by the CBI and other agencies so it definitely hurt the morale of the people, of the armed forces. I can’t say that it doesn’t dent our image, dent our reputation, it definitely does.” Tyagi, now 72-years-old, retired as the head of the Indian Air Force a decade ago and was recently arrested by the CBI for his alleged involvement in the Agusta Westland Chopper deal scam. His arrest did not go down well with the armed forces veterans, with a former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Arun Prakash coming out to question government’s motive behind the arrest of the retired flier. Now the present Air Chief, in his customary outgoing interview, has set the cat among the pigeons saying that the government “could have treated retired chief Tyagi with a little more respect.” Tyagi was arrested about a fortnight ago over allegations that he accepted kickbacks to favour AgustaWestland in a contract for helicopters to be used by the country’s leadership. Though he has been granted bail by the court on Monday last, Tyagi cannot escape the dubious distinction of becoming the first ever military chief -- former or current -- to be arrested. It is agreed that there should be zero tolerance in matters of alleged corruption in defence procurements but the CBI should have been more cautious in the arrest of a former military chief. While granting him bail the court said there was no purpose in keeping Tyagi in jail because the CBI had failed to either trace the alleged money trail back to the retired Air Chief Marshal or establish how much he was allegedly paid and when. Bail to Tyagi must come as a relief for veteran soldiers, who were upset with the government for having treated a former chief as “common criminal”. The relief was best summarised by Air Chief Marshal Raha, who said, “I do not know the exact evidence that the investigating agencies have but if they could treat him with little more respect till the time he’s proven guilty I’ll be very happy… I’m sure we’ll go by the law of the land and the judicial process will be completed and the evidence will be produced, I’ll be very happy if he can acquit himself after all he has been the former Chief.” With the appointment of the next Chief of the Army Staff already embroiled in a controversy, the government would do well to move with caution in dealing with military leaders who have held positions of eminence. Arresting Tyagi, soon after a chosen officer came to head the CBI, was clearly seen as a move by the government to send a message to its political adversaries. As mentioned earlier, though there should be zero tolerance for corruption, military officers and for that matter bureaucrats should not be made a pawn in a larger political game.
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