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Musing on the arrest of the former Indian Air Chief Tyagi


Modern societies hold certain professions and professionals in high regard. Professionals in the legal system (judges, lawyers), law enforcement (police officers), medical professionals (doctors and nurses), educators (professors and teachers) are held to a higher standard than others. Even among the other vocations, those in the military services are expected to sacrifice their lives to the service of their nations, and are held in much higher esteem by their civilian brethren. One can frequently hear the cabin crew on American flights publicly announcing “thanks” to the few service men and women who might happen to be travelling, with fellow passengers clapping in appreciation.

Needless to say, one embarks on public service careers after rigorous education, training, and selection. The careers come with adequate pay, prestige and perks that the society strives to accord these professionals. This also ensures a dedication to living by the motto “Service before Self,” serving in an honest and conscientious manner, without having to be distracted by the quest for material needs.

It is with much intrigue that I read about former Chief of Air Staff, SP Tyagi being arrested by CBI, accused of corruption in a defense procurement scandal. (CBI arrests former IAF chief Tyagi for taking bribes in VVIP chopper deal

Having been raised in an Air force officer’s family, mine is a classic case of 7-degreees of separation from Tyagi. My earliest memories are that of life in Airforce camps where I got to observe the basic military ethos like respect for the uniform, and rank and the regimented life that came with the comfort and camaraderie of living in a safe, secure camp quarters, away from and the din and chaos of cities beyond the campus walls. Our family would take the transfers every three or four years in the stride; with some anticipation of exploring a new region, new schools and friends.

My dad, needless to say, was extremely proud of being a member of an elite vocation before retiring to draw a decent pension that sustains him and my mother in his sunset years. During his service he did a few tours of the Liaison Unit - AirForce’s secret service – tasked with identifying and weeding out the few bad apple, who occasionally surface among fellow servicemen. The few stories my dad narrated from his real-life experiences jump out as Indianized scenes of TV series like NCIS. He, like many ex-servicemen are intrigued by the scandal surrounding the arrest of former Air Chief.

Indians, especially those in the middle class, abhor corruption. This is perhaps the reason Prime Minister Modi’s recent demonetization drive, and the inconvenience it is causing is being accepted with a shrug. The public, by and large, is willing to undergo some growing-pains as the government attempts to strike at tax-evaders and black-money. Corruption in the defense services and national security sphere is especially deplorable. Unlike most other functions, a career in the armed forces literally involves life-and-death decisions to be taken by its leaders. As a former decorated fighter pilot SP Tyagi is bound to have taken conscientious decisions during his ascend to the top job. Unlike militaries in despotic societies – including that of our neighbor to the west – Indian military has generally been immune to accusation of nepotism and corruption. Until now.

All this brings me to a key question: what prompted SP Tyagi to gain notoriety as the first former chief of a defense service to be arrested for corruption. As a former AirForce Chief, SP Tyagi was probably accorded a handsome pension and perks including access to world-class medical facilities. He probably did not have a “need” for material benefits that most middle-class denizens struggle for. If one goes by the media accounts, almost rupees 414 crore came as a kickback to Indian officials. One will never know the actual amounts, but as a key-actor in the saga, Tyagi might probably have received a percentage of the amount, let’s say 10%. 40 crores rupees – about 6 million USD - is not a small amount to sneeze at. Surely it cannot be the mere urge to make a few dollars more. Or was it?

Author: Mohan K.

Mohan is an Indian-American technologist who works for a multinational chemical company. He is the son of a retired Indian Air force Officer and regularly blogs on various forums. 


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