World Bulletin/News Desk
Former Indian army chief VK Singh on Tuesday tried to contain a storm of controversy triggered by earlier remarks he made about the army paying money to politicians in Kashmir.
"If someone thinks that ministers have been bribed, then it is wrong," he told a press conference at his residence. "When I say ministers were paid, I don't mean bribes."
"The infrastructure projects we funded in Kashmir helps build goodwill among local people. We tried to separate the people from local violence," the former army chief explained, adding: "We could not do it in uniform."
Singh sparked nationwide controversy after suggesting that the Technical Support Division (TSD), which he set up while commanding the Indian army, had paid ministers and politicians in Kashmir.
A report leaked to the Indian Express last week had said the unit had used secret army funds to pay a Jammu and Kashmir minister, Ghulam Hassan Mir, to topple the state government.
Today, Singh said the money had been used for developmental activities.
"It was meant solely for stability... to win hearts and minds of people, to wean people away from separatist activities under the overall umbrella of sadbhavna [harmony]," he said.
By way of example, the former army chief cited the funding of a cricket team in the Kashmir Premier League.
"Did the JK [Jammu-Kashmir] government or Omar Abdullah fund it? The Army funded it," he said.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is claimed by both Indian and Pakistan. The two countries have fought three full-fledged wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – since their partition in 1947.
Two of the three wars – those of 1948 and 1965 – were fought over Kashmir.
India blames Pakistan for supporting "infiltrators" in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, while Pakistan sees them as "freedom fighters," insisting that it only offers moral support to the freedom movement in "Indian-occupied Kashmir."
Retired army generals and other former army officers backed Singh.
"What VK Singh has said, people of Jammu and Kashmir already know," retired Major Gen. GD Bakshi told Anadolu Agency.
"This money is not paid for political purposes but for civic action, which cannot be undertaken by the army," he added.
Bakshi mentioned the rebuilding of schools, bridges, hospitals and playgrounds destroyed in militant attacks.
He suggested that this was part of efforts "to take children towards healthy activities and sports."
Bakshi was also critical of the way "the government leaked the report to the media and started a public discussion on covert operations."
Nevertheless, the comments generated a political furore.
"He should name the ministers to whom money has been given," Indian Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters on Tuesday.
"If details are provided by General VK Singh, we can investigate the matter," the minister said.
National Conference (NC) leader Farooq Abdullah and the Union Minister for Renewable Energy demanded a probe into the retired army chief's remarks.
"I think it's a very, very terrible statement that he has made. It must be investigated," he said.
"The army has nothing to do with funding of political parties. They should never do this. The army should be kept apolitical," Abdullah added.
"I think the time has come when a CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] enquiry should be held immediately to see what is the funding the army has done, and who are the people who have received these funds, and how those funds have been utilized," the NC leader said.
Last Mod: 25 Eylül 2013, 10:12