Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Making of Generals

By Lt General SK Sinha

Superseding Cariappa would have set a wrong precedent, eventually politicising the Army. Cariappa as Army Chief held the Army together at a critical time...

For the last few months, an unfortunate controversy has been raging over the date of birth of the Army Chief. This should have been resolved long ago. Gen VK Singh is a competent Gen and known for his integrity. This case is now in the Supreme Court and, being subjudice, it should be left to that apex body to decide. Gen Singh has recently clarified that by getting his wrong date of birth corrected, he is not trying to stay longer in his office. It is ridiculous to compare Gen Kayani going to the Supreme Court in Pakistan with Gen Singh doing so in India. The issues involved are entirely different.

There were some misleading statements in a recent article in this newspaper as well as unwarranted remarks about the selection process for Army Chiefs in India and on past Army Chiefs. The seniority principle for the Army Chief was evolved after the Curzon-Kitchener dispute in the early 20th century. Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) and senior member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, felt it was inappropriate for Maj Gen Sir Edmund Elles, Army member of the Council, to express his professional views at council meetings. The practice of the C-in-C’s proposals being sent to the Viceroy through him and his commenting on them was undesirable. The Viceroy should have advice from one source, which will have the responsibility to implement his decision. Curzon was of the view that since civil is supreme, he should have views from two different sources so that he could choose between them, otherwise he would be reduced to a rubber stamp. The British government decided in favour of Kitchener and the post of Army member was abolished. Curzon resigned. It was now realised that the Chief would become too powerful. Therefore it was decided that on all important policy issues, while forwarding his recommendations, the Chief would also forward the views of the Army Commanders. To ensure the independence of Army Commanders, it was decided that no annual reports will be written on them and the seniority principle for selection of Army Chief will be strictly adhered to.

This practice continued after Independence. In fact, it has become more desirable when we have a “committed bureaucracy”. It can help ensure the Army remains apolitical. The article’s apprehension that merit is ignored on this account is misconceived. There are six levels of selection from Lt Cols to Army Commander. At each level merit is given due consideration. On an average, 30% get selected at each level and 70% do not make the grade. Thus the merit of Army Commanders need not be questioned. This practice is like the senior judge in the Supreme Court being appointed Chief Justice of India.

The surprising statement in the recent article that “the Army Chiefs have stuck to a stunted vision... for mistaking the minor foe (Pakistan)” and ignoring China, is factually incorrect. 

The fault lies with the political leadership. When Cariappa spoke to Nehru about China, he was told not to worry about China and concentrate on Pakistan. Nehru also ignored the advice of Sardar Patel, written on Nov 17, 1950, in this matter. Nehru and Krishna Menon formulated our strategic policy on China, leading to the debacle of 1962. Today, despite the growing adverse asymmetry in military capability between India and China, the Army’s proposals for narrowing this gap have been questioned by the finance ministry enquiring whether the threat from China will continue beyond 2014. 

The author of the article has insinuated that Field Marshal Cariappa, the first Indian Army Chief, was selected on the basis of seniority and not merit. Lt Gen Rajendrasinhji, junior to him, had won a gallantry award in North Africa and he should have been chosen instead. This set a bad precedent. Cariappa and Thimayya were the only Indians who commanded a brigade in operations before Independence, the former in NWFP and the latter in Burma. Cariappa successfully conducted the one-year war against Pakistan in Kashmir. Rajendrasinhji commanded the Southern Army which brought about the integration of Hyderabad into the Indian Union. When Lt Gen Rajendrasinhji heard that he was to supersede Cariappa, he told Nehru he would resign if appointed Chief. Superseding Cariappa would have set a wrong precedent, eventually politicising the Army. Cariappa as Army Chief held the Army together at a critical time, when everything was in a flux. His contribution was handsomely recognised by his promotion to Field Marshal 30 years after his retirement. 
In 1968, Manekshaw was appointed Chief on the basis of seniority even when his junior, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, had a better war record. Manekshaw was wounded in battle as a young officer in Burma and had earned a gallantry award. After that he had not commanded troops in operations. Harbaksh had seen action in Malaya as a junior officer, commanded a battalion and a brigade in war in Kashmir earning a gallantry award, commanded a corps in Sikkim during the Chinese aggression and a field army of three corps in Punjab and Kashmir during the 1965 war. Manekshaw justified his selection by winning a resounding and unprecedented victory in Bangladesh in 1971.

In 1983, I was superseded for Chief’s appointment and was perhaps the only such case in our Army. I was the senior Army Commander and was posted to Delhi as Vice Chief a few months before the then Chief was to retire. I was officially told that I would soon be taking over as Chief.

Suddenly Indira Gandhi decided to supersede me and appointed my junior, Lt Gen Vaidya, the Chief. I put in my papers immediately. Vaidya had a good war record, having won two high gallantry awards, but had suffered two heart attacks. His medical category made him ineligible for promotion. In a rare case, his medical category was upgraded. Ram Singh Rajda, MP, stated in Parliament: “Lt Gen Sinha was superseded because his family was close to JP and Lt Gen Vaidya was promoted because he had allegedly given statements against the Communists” during the Tripura Assembly elections.

Six former Central ministers, including former Prime Minister Chowdhary Charan Singh, former defence minister Jagjivan Ram and former I&B minister LK Advani, expressed their grave concern in a joint press statement. The matter was raised in Parliament. The government maintained it would not be desirable, in the national interest, to debate this sensitive issue in Parliament. The Opposition rightly did not press the matter. In view of the raging controversy, Venkatraman, the then defence minister, desired that I clarify the matter to the press. I stated, “I do not question the decision of the government, I accept it. I have decided to fade away from the Army. Lt Gen Vaidya is a friend of mine and a competent Gen. The Army will do well under his able leadership.” I felt it was not right to allow the image of the Army to be sullied on account of any controversy over my supersession. I have recounted these details because the current controversy is tarnishing the image of the Army. It has divided both serving and retired Army officers. The sooner this unfortunate controversy is resolved, the better for the Army and the nation.

The writer, a retired Lt Gen, was Vice Chief of Army Staff and has served as Governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.
 If you love what you are doing, you will be successful."
Sent by DVS Kang

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