An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 28 December 2006  


We place below a copy of the letter, very ably and cogently written by former CNS Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd), to the Editor-in-Chief of OUTLOOK magazine, in his own defence and to clear his good name in the so called War Room leak case, which is sought to be connected with the Scorpene deal and LCdr Shankaran. The letter is timely and deserves some serious analysis.

The War Room leak case is a passing malady that any Navy will be able to handle, but it is what ailed the Navy at the top, such a fine service still, that should concern the nation.

The CBI is still investigating the Scorpene submarine deal and arms dealers are now being named for the first time openly. Lt Cdr Shankaran, an absconder as Prakash admits in his letter, is unfortunately his wife’s nephew and Shankaran was dealing in defence sales and executed lucrative contracts for the Navy and became rich, which is common knowledge. How big an arms dealer he was and why despite being blacklisted he got contracts is a mystery and it seems NHQ was warned about this. The media made full use of these facts. Admiral Prakash’s letter makes interesting reading and as he says he is now out of uniform and unfettered and availing this opportunity to wash his hands off LCdr Shankaran.

We believe that Chiefs of Armed Forces should never be fettered to tell the truth and defend themselves and the Government must do all it can to ensure their point of view is always reflected fully. Prakash did appear on TV often. In the case of the War Room leak it was the Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who possibly on advice of the Navy, publicly stated that there was nothing to the case and he said so on TV too.

Concurrently CNS Arun Prakash had resigned in writing and that set the cat among the pigeons, for aspiring Chiefs who were only too eager to malign him to take his place. It was a comedy of events. The Government should now learn a lesson. If a Chief resigns and there is no disciplinary case against him he should be allowed to go. At higher levels no one in the Armed Forces should be considered indispensable. Uniformed personnel should not be treated like politicians who resign for the sake of show. Hence when, what the Defence Minister said was found to be untrue, the media led by OUTLOOK went to town. It is also well known that the Vice Admiral Bharatan, Vice Chief of Naval Staff and earlier as Chief of Personnel, an Observer officer (flight navigation specialist) handled the issue and therein lies another story.

Two aviation branch officers began running a predominantly surface ship and submarine Navy, like an aircraft –– and that is the second lesson the Government must learn. Till the Indian Navy is large enough and more mature –– the two senior most posts must have a mix of specialisations, at least one must be from the surface or submarine cadre –– as they are more familiar with what in Navy jargon is known as the ’food tasting and bilge water’ parts, which are what makes a Navy. We need not go so far as the Chinese, when Deng Xiaoping ordained that till 2010 only submarine officers will be considered for appointment as Chiefs of the PLN. This was because Deng wanted Chinese submarines to ensure that the US Navy’s aircraft carriers never came anywhere near Taiwan.

It is also a sad fact that in the late 80s the Navy to please a Chief, abolished the vital Supply branch. This branch, which is still valued in Navies that follow the Royal Navy pattern was responsible to advise Captains and Admirals on matters of law, rules and regulations and skillfully minded the Navy’s store. In the IAF there are three branches that do the same job i.e. Accounts, Logistics and Administration. The Navy opted for a Logistics branch in lieu and no one was minding the store or advising the top after that.

The unfortunate result was the use of Art 310 to dismiss the War Room leak suspects and when they went to court and one turned approver –– the war room the nerve centre of the Navy was sullied and a sensitive Chief was upset. Unfortunately a fine officer and gentleman, Prakash had to bear the brunt because the Buck stopped with him. We have written much on the War Room leak and Art 310.

Arun Prakash was rated as one of the Indian Navy's best fighter pilots, was awarded a Vir Chakra in the 1971 war, when his Hunter Squadron (Black Panthers) operated in the Western Sector. He was then on deputation with the IAF and the award speaks volumes for the fairness of the Indian Air Force. Admiral Prakash was an aviator with tremendous ability to write well, speak brilliantly and had basic acumen, but from Nelson's time that 'eye for the sea' is what Navies are made of. Nelson did it with just one eye and Britain won at Trafalgar and Nelson went down fighting. As a Captain, Prakash commanded INS Vindhyagiri a Leander frigate, which became the Western Fleet ship that three aviator Captains were sent in succession to command to earn Fleet command reports before they were pushed forward to become Admirals during the stewardship of Admiral R Tahiliani, a fine aviator himself. Even as a Fleet Commander of the Eastern Fleet Prakash did well but his glory was as Commandant NDA. There is no denying that Aviators especially fighter pilots, have buddymanism ingrained in them and so that was the time the Indian Navy became aviation centric (Air Force seems to be resisting a Helicopter Pilot being made the Chief) and the Command failed to smell the rats that were playing in the War Room.

We look to OUTLOOK’s reply and hope the magazine and its editor in chief are man enough to admit that it is not the personal character of Admiral Prakash that they attacked but the maladies in the system that led to the war room leak case.

The text of Admiral Prakash’s letter:

Sh. Vinod Mehta,


Outlook Magazine,

AB-10, S.J Enclave,

New Delhi 110 029.

Dear Shri Mehta,

I have suffered a sharply focused and vicious campaign of calumny mounted against me personally, by your magazine through the medium of lies, half-truths and concocted material for the past one year. I have had to maintain public silence because I was in uniform, I was the head of an Armed Force of the Union and also because many of the issues you could raise with impunity were sub judice in courts of law and my lips were sealed. In any case, you have deliberately and consistently refused to publish all rebuttals, rejoinders or denials issued by the MoD or myself.

It was my sincere hope that after devoting (an unprecedented) 15 issues to attacking the good name and reputation of a senior officer of the Armed Forces, you would have the decency to allow me to spend my retirement in peace. This fond hope has been rudely shattered by your issue of 18th December 2006 in which you have not only published my photograph, but also some thinly veiled aspersions in continuation of your earlier attempts at character assassination.

You are very well aware that every single issue in this particular article (as also in earlier ones), that your magazine has been desperately trying to sensationalize, is either the subject of a case in the Delhi or Kolkata High courts (in many of these cases you and your magazine have been called to account too), or is under investigation by the CBI. As the Director CBI assured me a few weeks ago, Ravi Shankaran “cannot vanish into thin air” and the Bureau is confident of nabbing him sooner or later.

It is thus just a matter of time before the complete truth (if that is really what you are interested in) relating to these issues comes out either in the courts of law or by the exertions of the country’s highest investigative agency. However, by continuing to raise these issues in your magazine and by trying to destroy lives and reputations of people by insinuation and innuendo, you are either placing yourself above these instruments (by becoming investigator, judge, jury & hangman) or are a plain sensation mongering yellow journal.

As far as I am concerned, my conscience is absolutely clear and my actions throughout have remained in strict accordance with the high traditions of the Armed Forces. If indeed there has been wrongdoing, as you allege, I have no part in it or knowledge of it. Yes, I do wish I could have selected better and more upright relatives, but like every other Indian, mine are also inherited (in this particular case, by marriage).

The pointed, cunning and devious manner in which this campaign has been consistently waged against me by your correspondent (who felt bold enough to publicly predict my demise on 31st March 2006) is evident from the CBI statement quoted by him in the article.

The statement as quoted says: “it has been reliably learnt that Ravi Shankaran’s mother, Mrs. Malti Shankaran, is the sister of the wife of ex-chief of naval Staff, Admiral Arun Prakash”. Since I have this court document with me, I would like to bring to the attention of your readers the diabolic, malafide and sinister intent which has made him omit the rest of the text which states: “The investigation so far, leading to the filing of two charge sheets has not revealed any incriminating act on the part of Admiral Arun Prakash with regard to this conspiracy.” I presume this line got missed out because it is not sensational enough.

It was in this very spirit of vindictiveness that you have deliberately suppressed the various MoD press releases issued from time to time, especially if they did not suit your agenda (whatever it may be). I am not a politician, a businessman or socialite; therefore your motives in pursuing this sustained agenda of specifically targeting me are dubious in the extreme, (the rest of the media appear to agree). Since you have caused enough damage to my professional reputation and peace of mind, I am now asking you to “cease and desist”. Stop playing God and let the Government of India, the courts of law and the investigating machinery take their own course. I am sure that you will survive the marginal fall in sales that may result.

I sincerely hope that some residual spark of courage, journalistic ethics or plain decency will inspire you to publish this letter with text unaltered and (since sixteen issues of Outlook have already had their say) without adding your comment.

For whatever it is worth, I am endorsing a copy of this to the Press Council of India.


(Arun Prakash)

Admiral (Retd)

Clement Town,

Dehra Dun.

12th Dec 2006

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