Years of disciplined service, and the need to be “politically correct” when holding high appointments combined to ensure there was little turbulence generated at the farewell press conference of the outgoing Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and Air Chief. Yet it required no super-sensitive radar to detect that Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha was weighed down with some matters of concern as he prepared to re-enter civvy-street.
Good “soldier” that he is, he did not duck any of the tricky questions thrown at him by traditionally-irreverent reporters and “said enough” to caution the highest civilian authorities that they had promises to keep as far as the best interests of the IAF went. He spoke on behalf of the entire IAF when he highlighted “hurt feelings of the family” over the treatment of his former boss, Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi in the Agusta Westland helicopter affair.
Raha pointed to the complexities of the procurement process, insisted the IAF’s were thoroughly professional, so no individual could be singled out. For the record he stated that there should be no sparing of the guilty, but indicated that those unable to prove the charges they levelled and publicised should also be made to “pay”. His comments have to be seen in the context of an earlier condemnation of Tyagi being treated like a “common criminal”.
Unlike the CBI, the armed forces honour their senior officers, resent anybody making political pawns of them. That basic sentiment also ran strong in his call for total support to be extended to the incoming Army chief: for while he did not question the supersession / appointment, he also stressed that Gen Bakshi (who was bypassed) was a competent officer. Both Mr Narendra Modi and Manohar Parrikar must get the message that tinkering with established norms is not appreciated in the uniformed community.
ACM Raha was man enough to puncture the political argument that the deal for 36 Rafale fighters addressed the IAF’s concerns over the depletion of force levels: he saw the need for some 200 aircraft of that class. Even on the much-touted indigenous Tejas LCA did Raha feel the need for a second production-line. He regretted the low priority being accorded to upgrading air-to-air refuelling capabilities. He also pointed to the unsuitability of the AN-32 transports for long flights over the sea.
Clearly, in his view, there was still a long way to go and he had the “guts” to suggest all that at the risk of being denied prestigious re-employment. “Farewell” press conferences are not a regular feature (the Army has not scheduled one for Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag) and ACM Raha, courageously, did not reduce his to a “goody-goody” affair.