This is the story of Giani Zail Singh President of India vs. Rajiv Gandhi 1986-87
Did the Army have a role to play in the plans to dismiss him?
Should the People of India not learn from past experiences? If one today has been following the race for the seat of the PRESIDENT of INDIA elect – the games Politicians play – the dirty Politics that have been thrown up and the utter confusion that prevails – Do the People (AAM-ADMI) appreciate the way things are going and do they consider that we are a Mature Nation? In a Democracy People have the right to fight a Contest individually for Presidentship as also be backed by the Electorate. One certainly would not like a situation such as is developing today, where the World see’s India, in Turmoil.
The relationship between the President of India and the Prime Minister of India, irrespective of the Political Parties they belong to, must be such where the President of India should not be influenced in any way by anyone and the Country expects him to decide issues as per his wisdom without any bias.
A situation developed in the 1986-87 period when the President of India wanted to dismiss the Prime Minister. We the People, are again going through turbulent times and what you are about to read is for your benefit in order that the (Reader) is aware of what happened then, and why it happened, and to ensure that it is not allowed to happen ever again. The glimpses of History and past lessons learnt, the mistakes made, must never be allowed to repeat themselves. We must analyze and connect the Present happenings, along with what happened in the Past and take immediate corrective measures before it is too late. Connect the very recent happenings for the last one year astutely, the explosive situation which developed involving the COAS (V.K Singh) and the Government, the compulsions,the results, the dirt thrown and the adverse impact that it has had on the Citizens of INDIA. Let us All Democratically in all ways go ahead and make the NATION a well Administered Entity with clear cut Policies and laid down Procedures without ambiguity as per our Constitution.
The past conflict between the President of India, Giani Zail Singh, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, is well known. While the President wanted to dismiss the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister wanted to impeach the President. The Memoirs written by Giani Zail Singh have also since been published,( posthumously) and the People expected at that time that the disclosers would be highly controversial, but, when Gianiji’s Memoirs were ultimately released it revealed little or nothing, except for the already known facts that he was not happy with Rajiv Gandhi’s ways of functioning.
In the Memoirs published by him, all that Gianiji has revealed, is that several disgruntled POLITICIANS had themselves suggested to him to dismiss Rajiv Gandhi, but that “in his heart, he had no desire to take such a drastic step”. Is that the Truth?
What is still not known is the real Politic that was played during this period and how involved was the Indian Army? Who were the disgruntled Politicians who approached Gianiji? He has never come out with their names!! Who were those misguided and disgruntled Army Men who were going to destroy India’s Stable Democracy?
In another book titled “Rajiv Gandhi – Many Facets“, Giani Zail Singh when questioned, why he chose not to finally dismiss Rajiv Gandhi, replied, “Quote” – The First reason is that I had asked Rajiv to apologize to the Nation, which he did, and the Second that I thought if I had dismissed Rajiv and appointed a Successor, the Successor may have been a weak person which could have led to a transfer of power from a Democratically Elected Government to the Armed Forces. “Unquote”. Let us go through History and try to solve the Mystery.
In 1987, I, was the Commander-in-Chief of the Western Army, with Headquarters at Chandimandir. I recall the period, it was May-June 1987 when I was at Chandimandir that I received a telephone call from Mr.V.C. Shukla ,then Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet. He told me that he would like to come and meet me in Chandigarh if I was free. I asked him as to the points of discussion for which he would like to meet me? He stated that it was in connection with the Winter Olympic Games which were scheduled to be held in Calgary in the coming months and he wanted to know whether I would once again like to lead the Indian Team as Chef-de- Mission? I had earlier also been selected to head our team for the Sapparo Winter Asian Games as Chef-de-Mission by Shukla himself, which were held in Japan. I was then Vice – President of the Winter Games Federation of India. I told him that I would be very happy to go to Calgary if nominated by him.
Following this telephonic conversation, Shukla came to Chandimandir, and met me in the Command HQrs. A discussion followed over a cup of tea and once again I confirmed to him that I would be happy to lead our team to Calgary. However our conversation, suddenly changed and Shukla asked me if I was aware of Giani Zail Singh’s relationship with Rajiv Gandhi which he said were strained? He further stated that Gianiji may even dismiss Rajiv Gandhi anytime. I told Shukla that I was not a Politician – but a Solid Hard Core Soldier who is ready to lay down his life for the Safety of the Country and questioned him as to how he had connected this subject to me as I was not aware of any thing and it did not concern me. Shukla further confided in me, that he only wanted to find out, what the Army’s role would be, if such a dismissal was to take place and what reaction would come from the Army side if such a situation were to develop? I stressed on him, that the Army is totally, apolitical and had no role to play. I however queried him as to why he thought it fit to ask me about the Army’s reaction when Sundarji Chief Of Army Staff was available in Delhi and being a Minister he could have easily met him. Shukla told me that he would have gone to Sundarji, but since Sundarji was already in contact with Giani Zail Singh and had been also recently visiting Rashtrapati Bhavan (while Rajiv Gandhi was away from Delhi) to ostensibly brief the President on the happenings in the North East, he would be in the know. Shukla told me that since the Western Army Commander was the most powerful in the Country he thought it better to ask me if I had such information.
In the evening there was a Dinner hosted by Lt. Col Judge a retired Army Officer which was also attended by my wife and me where, Shukla was also invited. Again during dinner Shukla began quizzing me as to what would happen in case Rajiv Gandhi was to be dismissed? I told him very firmly that his concept of the Western Army Commander being the most powerful person may be correct as far as the number of troops in my Command are concerned, which were for Operational purposes. I firmly told him that if Sundarji was contemplating any movement of troops to Delhi side, I would not allow any such movement from my Command because Delhi was also under my jurisdiction.
At that time what I understood from Shukla’s conversation and meetings, and what struck me was that it was probable that Giani Zail Singh and Sundarji may have at that juncture got together and may be planning to dismiss Rajiv Gandhi, as it was a fact well-known by then, to everyone that due to the Bofors and Brasstacks controversies and other Deals that had taken place, Sundarji was also not on the best of terms with Rajiv. Shukla had further shared with me that Gianiji was upset since he felt that while Rajiv paid a lot of respect to Gianiji in Public, but personally Rajiv was always very critical of him and even went to the extent of saying that Rajiv was humiliating him and was being disrespectful. Gianiji was also blaming Rajiv for the corruption as also that Rajiv was unconcerned about the killings that had taken place in the Country during the 1984 Sikh riots in Delhi.
Subsequently, I visited New Delhi and briefed Rajiv Gandhi late in the evening of the events that were developing. It was after this meeting with him, when I was returning to my Flag Staff House in the Delhi Cantonment area, I again got a message from my Military Assistant Brig. Mankotia that Shukla once again wanted to meet me immediately. I informed my Military Secretary to ask him to come after 10 pm to Flag Staff House in Delhi Cantonment, where I was staying. Shukla met me that night and was repeatedly asking me once again about the role of the Army. I made it very clear to him not to drag the Army in the picture and even warned him that if Sundarji as Chief of Army Staff was to interfere in any way I would have not permitted him and would be the first person to get him removed. I feel that Shukla also got information that I was in Delhi and that I had already held a meeting with Rajiv that evening.
While the dismissal never took place, and after analyzing the situation later on,I am convinced that my appreciation of the situation at that time was correct. One was, that when Giani Zail Singh was later asked why he chose not to dismiss Rajiv Gandhi he stated that if he chose a successor, he might turn out to be a weak person which may result in the transition of power from a Democratically elected Government to the Armed Forces!!
What does this fear expressed by the President of India mean? It clearly showed that the President of India felt that if he was to dismiss the Prime Minister, Gen. Sundarji could have masterminded an event where the Armed Forces of India could be involved. I was equally quite clear that this could not be allowed to happen. After analyzing as to what could be the manner of Sundarji’s sinister plot – since knowing him so well and with our great differences on Operational and Administrative matters and he knowing full well that as Western Army Commander I was not privy to or available for his mindset – I was amazed when I was informed about a signal from Army HQrs received by HQ Western Command which was for my information that Three Crack Paracommando Battalions of the Indian Army consisting of the First Para, which was under me in Western Command, the Nine Para and the Ten Para, under the Northern and Southern Commands, were taken away from our respective Commands and were placed directly for Movement and Operations under the then Vice-Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General SF Rodrigues who was located at Army HQrs in Delhi.
The moment the picture got clear in my mind I immediately asked for an appointment to meet Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi which was granted. I briefed him and showed him the Signal sent by Army HQrs, which took away these three Paracommando Battalions which had never happened before. Mr. Gopi Arora at that time was the Principal Secretary to Rajiv and was present during the entire meeting. I explained to Rajiv and Gopi Arora how dangerous this move could be in case this is implemented. The move was dangerous for the Country, as also for the Political System and Democracy. I had by then directed my Chief of Staff Lt Gen Guddi Grewal one of my most trusted and efficient Officer located at Chandimandir to ensure that no movement of Troops would be allowed to move or enter Delhi, without my orders and I further directed him to report to me personally at HQrs Delhi Area where I had moved and located, myself. My orders to him were passed round about midnight and I would like to commend him for having driven at night and reporting to me in Delhi at approximately 5 am in the morning. A Situation at that time was averted.
During my meeting with Prime Minister I had advised him that the Vice Chief of Army Staff, who I believe was at that time Officiating, should immediately be moved out to a Command where he would neither have the Troops nor a say. Lt. Gen Rodriques was well known to me as he had served under me as GOC 3 Division in Leh when I was GOC 15 Crops in Kashmir some months before and, I had always found him to be living in a different world of his own and I was fully aware that he was very close to Sundarji. Our Operations against the LTTE in Sri Lanka also started on 10 October 1987 and Lt. General S F Rodrigues the then Vice Chief of Army Staff also visited Sri Lanka. He then also spoke about adopting hard options which he was advised against.
Years after my retirement end 1987, to my surprise Rodrigues went on to become the Chief of The Army Staff and later Governor of Punjab. During his tenure as the Chief of the Army Staff, he even then gave an interview to a newspaper saying, “Good Governance is our business as well”. What did he mean? Was he challenging the Government once more? He also called Russia, China and America as “Bandicoots” and it was on 13 March 1992, when Parliament was in session that George Fernandes then an MP, made a demand, “The Army and the General are taking responsibility of Governance of the Country. Therefore we urge that the General should immediately be relieved of his duties. We want to make this demand on the floor of this House”. This was the Second time during his tenure in the Army that he had to be pulled up, earlier when he was holding the Chair of Vice Chief of Army Staff by the Prime Minister and now again by an MP in Parliament who demanded that he should be immediately relieved from his duties.
It is left to the Reader, Politicians and Parliamentarians to assess the mindsets of Senior Officers being considered for High Posts in the Armed Forces and whether we should not today have a more refined, appropriate, tight with strict norms laid down for selection not by Seniority but by Merit and Record of one’s Performance. I recommend that there should always be a thorough Investigation and check before their Promotions are approved to Higher Ranks. and they must have the OLQ Officer Like Qualities This includes their Dates of Birth rows, in order that the Country does not go through such humiliations in the future times to come. There is a saying in the Army, jab log Army chief ban jate hain, they have high hopes. Ambassador ban jayenge nahi to Governor to zarur hi ban jayenge!!!! They always have a carrot hanging in front of them which must be resisted by a TRUE SOILDER.
I recall that Giani Zail Singh even at his a Farewell function at Raj Bhawan in Chandigarh hosted by the Governor of Punjab Siddharth Shankar Ray and Maya Ray which was attended by Balram Jakhar, Buta Singh, My Self and a host of other Ministers during his farewell speech did not seem to be very complimentary over the situation in the Country and more or less he blamed Rajiv Gandhi for the misunderstandings and all that was taking place.
THIS IS INDEED A SAD COMMEMANTARY FOR ANYONE.
Some time in mid October 1987 before my retirement, I went to bid adieu to Rajiv Gandhi as he was soon leaving for his US trip and I was due to retire end October 1987. I desired to share with him as to what evil forces had been gathering together right from the time of Brasstacks, when Sundarji was taking the Country to the brink of war and maybe to get him a bad name and later his role in cohort with Giani Zail Singh to remove him from Prime Ministership. When Rajiv was made aware of this great nexus that existed against him he wanted to take action against Sundarji. I recommended to Rajiv not to take this step because he had just been involved in a controversy over Bofors, the President of India wasn’t happy with him and that prudence demanded that if he must take action it must be done deliberately and not in a hurry. Rajiv left for his US tour and my successor as General Officer Commanding – in – Chief Western Command had not been announced. This should have been done months ago. I was to retire on 31st October, 1987. On inquiry I was told that my file was up for an extension. If I was granted an extension I would have automatically taken over as Chief of Army Staff. I spoke to the Cabinet Secretary and requested that the Prime Minister on his return from USA must be pressed not to grant an extension as that would not be a good precedence since it would drag him into another controversy. Knowing Rajiv as he was, he had given the orders and he flew off to the USA. No relief had been announced till October 30. When Rajiv returned, the file I believe was put up to him with reasons why this extension should not be given, and then a relief was posted on the day I was retiring 31st Oct, 1987. I AM HAPPY THAT WHAT HE WANTED DID NOT HAPPEN THIS TIME.
After my retirement I maintained close ties with Rajiv Gandhi. I was always in touch with him. I wrote Three Position papers for him on the situation in Punjab, Kashmir, and Haryana. I was with him at 10 Janpath till past midnight 20th May 1991 for final execution of the Haryana Elections that were due with in a few days, which were meticulously planned under the Leadership of Rajiv Gandhi where we secured the largest majority ever in the Haryana elections and Bhajan Lal got elected as the Chief Minister of Haryana. To the Country’s great horror Rajivji had been assassinated on 21 May 1991 in SRIPERUMBADUR where he was not supposed to spend the night and his programme had been changed.
In retrospect, it is very evident that the relationship between a President and the Prime Minister has to be transparent and must be based on mutual trust. The President’s post, must be an apolitical one. However, the President must have the skills and experience to understand both the Politics and Economics of the Country so as to give and prefer guidance to the Council of Ministers, when required. It is also evident that side situations like movement of crack battle worthy Troops/Formations should never take place without adequate approvals from the Highest Authorities specially when moving through Delhi, as it would always lead to misunderstanding and chaos such as what happened when Troops were moved by Gen V.K Singh when he was the Chief of Army Staff and the ruckus it created in the minds of the Media and the confusion it created for the People of India.
A UNITED INDIA
THE ARMED FORCES MUST ALWAYS REMAIN APOLITICAL.