I paid bribes to men in uniform, there is huge corruption in armed forces

A joke in defence circles is that after the retirement of a soldier, the only one that obeys his orders is his dog. Defence personnel need to enter, and remain in the good books of the political class for the simple reason of remaining relevant after retirement.

Is it true that serving senior defence officials, who wear their uniform with pride and high on "Nationalism", willingly compromise the security of the country for monetary gain? How is it possible that decorated officers at such senior positions in the armed forces fall prey to greed, neglecting national interest?

The recent arrest of former air force chief SP Tyagi by CBI in relation with the AgustaWestland deal will undoubtedly have a damaging effect on the morale of the armed forces who are at the battlefront, placing patriotism before anything else. Even a retired jawan wears patriotism on his sleeve. During the One Rank One Pay (OROP) agitation, India saw how the retired soldiers came together as one reminding those sitting in Parliament that they are the ones who secure the borders and fight valiantly for the security of the country so that every Indian can sleep peacefully.

The conditioning during the training of every soldier makes their patriotism unquestionable. During their OROP agitation, the retired soldiers laid stress on the fact that after putting their lives at stake for the protection of the country during service, they should not be made to go through hardships post-retirement. The government later announced OROP for their financially security after retirement as they had demanded, but the question is whether this pension is enough for some of those high-ranking officers, who retire from important positions.

As is apparent, some of these high-ranking officers eye plum post-retirement jobs, while some aim to secure their future by engaging in under-the-table deals when still in service. Why did this particular senior defence officer, or any other for that sake, bring disgrace to the uniform by getting involved in such wheeling and dealing is what we need to look at. I witnessed the greed and the willingness to compromise national security by men in uniform first during the 2001 Tehelka sting operation, popularly known as Operation WestEnd and then during Operation HillTop in 2014.

For the 2001 sting operation, I had to meet many senior defence officers and convince them to back a product supposedly manufactured by an established arms manufacturing company which was actually fictitious. From an army General to Colonel-rank officials, none bothered to cross check my credentials as they were blinded by the prospect of making money through illicit means, even though it meant compromising national security. It does raise a question in my mind when I read news of tension with neighbouring countries whether a constant state of conflict helps to create an environment of tension which in turn helps defence officials to pocket ill-gotten wealth through shady defence deals.

During my 2001 sting operation, I realised that the men in uniform never suspected a trap was set up for them; or this was a very frequent phenomenon, or they might have been ignorant to the point of being stupid to believe in a product that did not exist. The senior defence officials listened to my gibberish while I was explaining the features of the product, not once cross-checking facts that they could not fathom. Every single one of them gave me red carpet treatment, only questioning me about the kind of cuts they were hoping to get to push the product acquisition. They openly demanded their commissions and explained what they can do, like they were providing services to  businessmen. Throughout the investigation, I was let down by their blatant disregard and disrespect for the country.

The fact that they would advise me saying they were only going to move files while the real decisions come from political boss, those who are sitting in South Block, hinted at the complicity and connivance of the political class and the armed forces. The armymen explained that the specifications, product trials, PNC (price negotiations committee) will be handled by them. If they gave a negative report about the product, it would have been rejected. The WestEnd Operation educated me in a number of aspects. I understood the real reason behind the political class fielding certain officers in the defence set-up when I witnessed the dirty underbelly of the armed forces. Lobbying through senior officers, who are responsible for trials and testing, and their involvement during other stages of product acquisition was visible.

At all stages, I was made to bribe officials to clear the file of my supposedly revolutionary product. As a vendor, the fictitious company I was representing was going through to get final clearance as the lobbying group had already informed us what the lowest quoted rate was and what are the deficiencies in other products aiming for the tender, along with lots of other information. Whatever changes the lobbyists wanted in our presentation to give the green signal were conveyed to us thanks to the cuts and "facilities"  provided to them. The big deals need the affirmation of the political bosses who make all the important decisions and the position of the defence secretary is primarily a political post, fielded there by his political masters.

During my investigation in 2001, I was told a joke which was popular among armed forces circles. The joke is that after retirement, the only one who obeys a retired soldier is his dog. To elucidate the point, we must understand the psyche of a defence personnel. In the case of SP Tyagi, three other family members were also arrested. Former Chief Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal once said: "Why are Indians more corrupt? Because of our family system and relatives." Defence officials are people filled with pride and hold a special position in their family tree and in society. They may have an apprehension deep down inside whether their position would be compromised after retirement.

The defence personnel needs to enter, and remain in the good books of the political class for the simple reason of remaining relevant after retirement. The political class may offer him a governor post or some other prominent post  if he has been hand in glove with the establishment over issues of mutual benefit.  History reveals that just before their retirement, some big deals have been struck by chiefs of armed forces, some of which were later exposed in the media. These big deals ensure that their post-retirement lives are spent in luxury.

In the case of Tatra truck scandal, the current Minister of State for Home Affairs VK Singh, who was then the Army chief with his retirement imminent, was allegedly approached by army officer Lt Gen Tejinder Singh of the same batch for sanctioning the deal. He is said to have offered money to VK Singh to seal the deal. VK Singh apparently informed then Defence Minister AK Antony during UPA 2 about the incident. It became a big controversy and after his tussle with the government over his age and retirement, General Singh joined the BJP.

SP Tyagi's arrest should open up a can of worms. There is an urgent need to address the elephant in the room. The common man's money in the form of taxes can be put to better use than being turned to black money to fund the luxurious lifestyles of the high and the mighty. Former Air Force chief SP Tyagi is only the tip of the iceberg.