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April 6, 1999


E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

Of A Grotesque Hunk & Vishnu Bhagwat's Fantasies

All she really is a grotesque hunk of flesh, remnant of an ex-heroine of the Tamil screen who, via an intriguingly intimate relationship with the idolised hero, became his successor as Tamil Nadu's chief minister, lorded over the state's people and the press before being dethroned through a democratic election. It is this grotesque hunk of flesh that is now enmeshed in several legal cases of corruption and, lately, accused by an ex-auditor of assault so brutal that he had to make his criminal complaint from a hospital bed.

It is the bearer of the same hunk of grotesque flesh who, for all of her five days sojourn in Delhi last week, was hemmed by the media eager to prod her on issues as might topple the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and on sundry other subjects barring the status of the court cases against her or the heeled slippers that hospitalised her former auditor named Rajasekaran. It is the same grotesque hunk of flesh, lastly, which, at that now famous tea party in the capital, lured three former prime ministers of the nation to fawn on her with folded hands. All because the madam has 18 MPs of "earthquake" proportion in the Lok Sabha. That, dear readers, is an example of the "vibrancy" of India's democracy and of the Indian media's "watchdog" perspective.

Topping it all is J Jayalalitha's latest demand that either the sacked Vishnu Bhagwat be re-instated as Chief of Naval Staff or the defence portfolio of the country be taken away from one who was India's Cabinet minister in 1977 when she herself was probably prancing around trees, singing pre-recorded duets with MGR before the movie cameras.

Let's for the moment forget all other facets of the Tamil Empress and confine ourselves to her sudden show of tea and sympathy for Vishnu Bhagwat though he was dismissed from service as many as three months ago on December 30, 1998.

Though Parliament is slated to discuss the Bhagwat's sacking in the session scheduled to begin on April 15, it seems necessary to apprise many a Jayalalitha as to just what kind of a person this Bhagwat is whom she wants back as head of this nation's naval force.

It is now general knowledge that Bhagwat had filed a writ petition in the Bombay high court in September 1990 for being denied the post of Fleet Commander of the Western Command because, he alleged, his confidential reports had been tampered with by the then Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral J G Nadkarni, in collusion with Vice-Admirals Jain and Kopikkar.

While that was the only issue at stake, what is not widely known is that Bhagwat went to town casting aspersions in his petition sworn on oath. Thus, in para 3 of that petition, he alleged that "Mr Nadkarni, Mr Jain and Mr Kopikkar (note the absence of reference to the ranks of superiors) with the assistance of Mr B G Deshmukh, have been continuously misusing/utilising intermittent period of crisis from December 1989 onwards forcing the Government to push through illegal/irregular proposals and obtaining the Prime Minister's sanction when he has not been in a position as Defence Minister to apply his mind to the developments taking place in the Defence Ministry". And in para 8 he alleged that though "Mr Bhagwat's name was recommended by the Defence Ministry for appointment as the Fleet Commander, Western Fleet, in view of the last minute intervention of Mr B G Deshmukh, who was not competent to make any recommendation, Mr Kohli's appointment was notified."

And who, pray, was B G Deshmukh? He, the then Cabinet secretary, Sonia Gandhi should remember, was the favourite of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, but whom Bhagwat labelled as one who "was for many years closely associated with the late chief minister of Maharashtra Mr V P Naik under whose leadership, administration of the well-administered, relatively honest and efficient structure of the state was gradually eroded and corrupted". (Note the innuendo of association).

Instead of arguments supporting the contention that his two superiors manipulated his confidential reports, Bhagwat's petition chose to go into history. It stated that "Mr Nadkarni, Principal Flag Officer in NHQ Headquarters, had supported CNS Dawson in 1982-83 in the purchase of Sea King Westland Helicopters" and that "Admiral Nadkarni and Vice-Admiral Jain are involved with the company known as Seaking Marine, with some retired officers who have been dumping on the Navy economisers for Boilers of INS Vikrant, and Control Equipments for INS Dipak, etc. Officers who do not co-operate with Seaking Marine are victimised by Mr Nadkarni and Mr Jain."

"Admiral Nadkarni has been prejudiced against Bhagwat on Bhagwat's stand on acquisition of nuclear submarine INS Chakra, the assistance given to him by Mr Tahilani to remove the obstacles and obstructions for the acquisition of the said submarine." (This must have been the first time that a Naval Officer of ours made it public on oath that the Government of India discussed the issue of acquisition of a nuclear submarine).

Yes, many may know about the fact of Bhagwat's writ petition of September 1990, but not of some of its explosive contents. And how many have heard of Admiral Nadkarni's sworn reply to that petition? In that reply, he averred that, contrary to Bhagwat's allegation, he had never handled any purchase of Seaking helicopters simply because, in the relevant period, he was on the administrative side of the Indian Navy. Nadkarni also stated in his reply that he and Jain had nothing to do with Seaking Marine and that Jain had once suspended an order given to that company because of non-fulfilment of some condition. He also denied that he tampered with Bhagwat's confidential reports as alleged by the petitioner.

The most crucial part of Admiral Nadkarni's detailed reply to Bhagwat's high court petition relates to the reasons he gave therein for not selecting Bhagwat to the post of Fleet Commander, Western Command. Following are some of them:
* "Bhagwat had on occasions shown a lack of discipline by bypassing superiors and failing to follow orders which were not to his liking. He did so in 1983, when he was in the USSR as the head of the Commissioning Crew of the INS Ranjit, when he twice approached superior Soviet authorities without the permission of the Naval Attache who was his immediate superior because he did not appreciate the orders of the Naval Attache. Bhagwat received a very poor confidential report from his superior during this period."

* "When Bhagwat was in command of INS Ranjit from September 1983 to December 1985, out of sheer panic he almost opened fire at a Pakistani maritime reconnaissance aircraft which came close to the ship. This panicky reaction was not, in my opinion, a happy sign and showed a lack of fitness to hold the highly responsible post of Fleet Commander. It must be noted that any action by a Fleet Commander which is not measured and rational action could have grave consequences."

* "I had personally noticed that the petitioner tended to be extremely tense and was unable to relax. This resulted in a domestic tragedy in as much as his son ran away from home. I did not regard these traits as sound psychological traits in a person who would be holding a very sensitive command requiring in emergency conditions to take instant decisions likely to have grave repercussions."

* "Further in October 1989, I had asked the opinion of my three Flag Officers Commanding-in-Chief of the Commands who, in their opinion, was the best person to command the Western Fleet, when a vacancy was likely to arise in 1990. None of the three Flag Officers mentioned the name of Bhagwat."

And what did Vice-Admiral Jain have to say about Bhagwat? In his statutory complaint of October 30, 1990, Jain said: "Mrs Bhagwat is known to have been active member of the Communist Party and Bhagwat is, in my estimate, a great sympathiser of USSR, if not actually its agent. The aspect of security of the Western systems and documentation in the Indian Navy would need to be specially kept in view from this angle."

What was Bhagwat's counter-reply? One would have expected a writ petitioner of conviction -- especially an officer of the defence services with a Supreme Court counsel as his spouse -- to fight out his case till the end. But our man, having got his promotion courtesy new Defence Minister Sharad Pawar, withdrew his petition in April 1991, without, one learns, giving notice to Admiral Nadkarni and Vice-Admiral Jain. And to think that Sonia Gandhi as well as the Tamil Empress now seem to be banking on yet another affidavit lately sworn by the same man who's apparently so fond of fantasising that the Maharashtrian name he bears was itself an escape from his original one: Vishnu Kumar Sharma, son of Yagnadatta Sharma of Kanpur.

Arvind Lavakare

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