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Bhagwat sacked for defiance, says PM - The Indian Express

Express News Service ()
January 1, 1999

Title: Bhagwat sacked for defiance, says PM
Author: Express News Service
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: January 1, 1999

The controversy involving Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat
and Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh was neither the only reason nor the most
important factor behind yesterday's dismissal, Prime Minister Atal
Behari Vajpayee said here today. Admiral Bhagwat was sacked because of
his defiance of civilian authority on a "sustained basis," Vajpayee said
in a written statement but declined to specify saying it would affect
naval security.

The Prime Minister said that on numerous occasions - since August this
year - the Defence Minister had raised the issue of damage being caused
to the Navy and to naval security by Admiral Bhagwat.

The Prime Minister's statement set the tone for much of the reaction
from his party and its allies today while the Opposition strongly
questioned the manner in which the Navy Chief was sacked. The Left
raised the issue of communal bias as mentioned by Admiral Bhagwat's
wife, a charge which Union Home Minister L K Advani vehemently denied.

Defending the Government's action, BJP chief Kushabhau Thakre said that
the civilian authority elected by the people was supreme. "For any
defence chief to question this authority sets a dangerous precedent and
strikes at the roots of democracy ... Admiral Bhagwat's actions,
starting from 1991, were an aberration and deviated from the shining
record of the defence forces that are the nation's pride."

Defence Minister George Fernandes did not discuss the sacking in any
detail but when asked by reporters what impact it would have on the
morale of the forces said: "The morale of the armed forces is very
high."

The Congress, however, disagreed with this. The party, which had
reserved comment yesterday and had called it "unfortunate," today used
stronger words. Deploring the "callous and inept" handling of the
removal of the Naval Chief, it warned that the controversy could have a
demoralising effect on the defence forces.

"The patriotism and apolitical role of our defence forces have
strengthened our democracy. This must be preserved with utmost care,"
senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee said.

While the Government had always acted with utmost care and sensitivity
in ensuring the supremacy of the political executive, Mukherjee said, it
was the first time in the nation's history that a conflict between the
defence forces and civilian authorities has reached such "critical"
proportions.

The Congress party's "concerns" have already been conveyed to Vajpayee
by Congress leaders Sharad Pawar and Manmohan Singh, he said, who had
emphasized the importance of handling the problem with sensitivity so
that it would not reach a flash point.

Both the CPM and the CPI, in separate statements, expressed their
serious concern at what they described an "unwarranted step which raises
(questions about the motives of the Vajpayee Government."

Deploring the manner in which the entire controversy over promotions in
the navy was conducted in full public view, the Left parties felt it
should have been resolved within the Government.

While we fully support the concept of civilian supremacy over the armed
forces in a democracy, we would have liked the matter of promotions and
appointments to be sorted out within the government," CPI General
Secretary A B Bardhan said.


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