Wednesday, March 20, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Sekhon forced to retire
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 19
The controversy surrounding Air Marshal Manjit Singh Sekhon, the former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Air Command who is in the dock for seeking political favours to further his career, took a new turn today.

While the government issued a one-line official note saying that he had resigned and his resignation had been accepted, there were reports that Air Marshal Sekhon had compulsorily been retired from service. Defence Minister George Fernandes had used his discretionary powers to force a retirement on the Air Marshal while allowing him to retain his rank and post-retirement benefits.


  • Resignation accepted, says government
  • Fernandes used powers to ‘force retirement’
  • ‘Allowed’ to retain rank, post-retirement benefits

Sources in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the minister took a decision to compulsorily retire the Air Marshal keeping in mind his seniority and the sensitivity of the issue. The controversy becoming murkier by the day with pro and anti-lobbies going to the media with various details had also to some extent influenced the decision.

While the AHQ had been trying hard to persuade Air Marshal Sekhon to put in his papers after orders from the Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy, the former Southern Air Command chief had been in a defiant mood. He was apparently of the opinion that why was he being singled out when seeking political patronage to further one’s a career was a practice in the armed forces.

The Air Marshal had refused to put in his papers despite a large number of his friends in the forces telling him to do so. He was pointing to some other officers of the same rank who had achieved the grade due to political patronage.

The MoD was of the opinion that by compulsorily retiring Air Marshal Sekhon it was defusing a potentially explosive situation. Carrying on with the controversy could have led to some more skeletons falling out of the IAF cupboard.

Issuing a one-line official statement that, “Air Marshal M.S. Sekhon has resigned and his resignation has been accepted by the government”, the MoD’s official spokesperson said the ministry had received a recommendation from the AHQ to accept Air Marshal Sekhon’s resignation yesterday evening. However, he was not ready to disclose as to when exactly the Air Marshal, who was asked last Wednesday by the Chief of Air Staff to put in his papers, had resigned.

This further lent credence to the fact that Air Marshal Sekhon had been compulsorily been retired from service.

Sources here, however, said this might not be the last of Air Marshal Sekhon which the MoD or the IAF may see. Being an upright and straight officer, Air Marshal Sekhon apparently believes that now he has nothing to lose in disclosing a few other facts regarding the IAF.

Air Marshal Sekhon is perhaps the first Air Force officer to bow out of office under controversial circumstances.

Reports in English dailies last week had disclosed that Air Marshal Sekhon had sought the help of former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal for appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Delhi-based Western Air Command. Air Marshal Sekhon had sought the command with a view to becoming one day the Chief of Air Staff, for which heading a fighting command is very important.

The Air Force authorities took a serious view of the matter and issued him a written advisory, asking him to put in his papers. He was simultaneously relieved of his command and attached to Air Headquarters in the Capital.

Air Marshal Sekhon had also apparently been given time till yesterday as the deadline for resigning but reports had suggested that he was in no mood to oblige and wanted to contest the decision.

Air Marshal Sekhon, a highly decorated officer, is perhaps the first among top Air Force officials to be asked to resign in controversial circumstances.Back


Rivalry in IAF surfaces
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 19
Air Marshal Manjit Singh Sekhon’s controversy has clearly brought out the intense rivalry among the Indian Air Force (IAF) officers vying not only for the top positions but trying to hold on to their posts as well.

This is evident from the leaking of the letter written by Air Marshal Sekhon seeking political patronage of former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to further his career at a time when he was heading a Court of Inquiry into the possible crossing of the Line of Control (LoC) by another very senior officer of the IAF. Sources in the IAF said while it was still a mystery from where the letter was leaked but its timing cannot be ignored. It could have been done to divert the attention from the other senior IAF officer facing an inquiry.

It is alleged that the letter written by Air Marshal Sekhon to Mr Badal was not the only one seeking movement to the Western Air Command (WAC). He had reportedly also written to Defence Secretary Yogendra Narain earlier pointing out that he was the best-equipped to head the WAC. Sources said the Defence Secretary had forwarded the letter to Air Headquarters (AHQ) and the Air Marshal had been let off after being reprimanded and warned. However, what apparently invited the wrath of the AHQ on this occasion was that it was not in the know of the letter written by Air Marshal Sekhon to the former Punjab Chief Minister.

Although Mr Badal is said to have forwarded the letter to the Centre, it was ignored here. The letter was not forwarded to AHQ. Stung by media reports about Air Marshal Sekhon’s letter, AHQ decided to go ahead and take action swiftly to safeguard the prestige of the IAF.

But what is emerging now only reveals that all is not well in the IAF. It is believed that Air Marshal Sekhon has indicted the officer against whom he was heading the Court of Inquiry for crossing the LoC. Having brought out the Black Box of the AN-32 aircraft which the officer was flying and decoding it, the report had sugested that the officer was in Pakistani territory for more than 10 minutes.

While the officer is said have conveyed to AHQ that he did not cross the LoC, the report clearly pointed to the contrary. But with the Air Marshal Sekhon controversy hitting the IAF before the report was formally submitted helped in diverting attention from the core issue. Analysts point out that the senior IAF officer, incharge of the most strategic operational command could have triggered off a war between India and Pakistan in these times of heightened tensions by crossing the LoC. The plane was hit by a Pakistani missile but the saving grace was that it did not explode. Besides, the damaged engine of the AN-32 also fell on the Indian side of the LoC.

The issue now is that after taking such a serious view of Air Marshal Sekhon’s action, how would the AHQ view the other officer’s actions?Back

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