Thursday, May 31, 2012
A NEW CHIEF TAKES OVER
By Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi
In a few days, the second largest army in the world will have a new Chief, as the present incumbent, General VK Singh demits office and his successor, General Bikram Singh takes over. The change of guard of the Indian Army is a major event in the nation and it is effectively covered by the media. This time, however, so much has already been stated in both print and electronic media that there is unavoidable polarisation regarding this high office. It is time to harmonise the various views, so that the change of command is as significant as it has always been.
There is all round rejoicing when a new baby is born, although in some cases it is preceded by anxiety, barbs, innuendos and at times some vitriolic assertions too. Mercifully, most of these are forgotten because of the miracle of life. Being an optimist, I am sure the change of guard in the army will also be similar. It has to be so, for we are talking about the future security and well-being of the nation, as well as of the most enduring and the most respected institution of our country.
While many have given diverse opinions on the succession of the chiefs, I am firmly of the view that the change needs to be welcomed by all. Change, irrespective of the circumstances in which it takes place, always augers well for the future. Both the outgoing and the incoming chiefs are men of honour, who have risen to this highest appointment by dint of hard work, immaculate character and the highest level of professional acumen.
There have undoubtedly been aberrations wherein petty-minded individuals, albeit holding public appointments at extremely high levels, have muddied the waters on parochial and other grounds and have played partisan politics of the lowest variety. They will get their retribution in due course, but it is important that we must neither linger on nor carry the past baggage. An entirely fresh start is essential. I am convinced that those who have played dirty, as well as their loyalists and obsequies followers will think ten times before indulging in such low-level and despicable actions again.
The new chief must have a free hand in commanding this great army of ours, unfettered with obligations on the one hand and the burden of reproach on the other. The nation in general and the military, which includes both the serving personnel and the veterans in particular, have to be fully supportive and honour the new chief, for it is only then that he can act with courage and conviction. It needs to be remembered that we are talking about an organisation that is far too precious to be harmed in any way or its functioning diluted even by an infinitesimal degree.
When the present chief had assumed the command of our army a little over two years back, I had written the following in one of my articles in your paper in March 2010 – “Let me remind the new chief that even if in future he goes on to hold other prestigious appointments in or outside the government, they will never be able to match this appointment – in prestige; in satisfaction; and the affection he will get from his vast command and indeed from the whole country. He will also have to reciprocate to the maximum extent by his deeds. Consequently, he must command with honour and neither let carrots being dangled in his face nor pressures and threats change or influence the decisions he takes.” The present chief, in my opinion, has done even more, although there are some who may not agree with me. I now urge the new chief to also keep this in mind and further hone this wonderful machine that has served the nation with distinction.
In recent months, there has been some talk of polarisation within the army and of the existence of small coteries. Such actions and even thinking needs to be disabused and nipped in the bud with a heavy hand, as it is against the apolitical culture and ethos of the army. I have no doubt that the new chief will do so as his predecessor has done.
I know General Bikram Singh, just as I knew his predecessor before he became the chief. I have great respect for both on account of their diligence, character qualities and professionalism of the highest order. They could not have reached this highest rank and position in the Indian Army without these sterling qualities.
Let me cite an example that will perhaps showcase the thinking and makeup of the new chief. About a year back, I had a brief halt at Kolkata on my way back after visiting five states of the north eastern part of our country. Over a drink that he had graciously organised, I asked Bikram what he was planning to do about the date of birth issue that had already started appearing in the media, but had not reached the crescendo it reached later. His spontaneous reply was - “If it is my luck, I will command the army but if I am not lucky, so be it; I will not do anything that will show the army in any adverse light”!
Although the outgoing chief is accused by some of rocking the boat, my take is that the boat needed not only to be rocked but shaken drastically. He has exposed corruption in the ministry of defence, the defence PSU’s and the arms mafia that was short-charging the army and the nation; was providing shoddy weapons and equipment; and siphoning off the meager funds available for the modernisation of the armed forces, which were shared by the corrupt officials and others. The miserable state of modernization in the armed forces is testimony to this. The chief had also undertaken to improve the internal health of the army; he has done so with missionary zeal and spared no one, senior or junior. The transformation of the army is another long outstanding measure that has commenced. Constraints of space do not permit me to add many other achievements. The new chief will need to pursue them with vigour.
The bottom line is that we now have to throw away all the negatives of the past and support the new chief in taking the army to even greater heights. Knowing him, I am sanguine that this will happen. The army General V K Singh hands over to General Bikram Singh would be a changed and better army –assertive, apolitical and clean; an army that will continue to serve the nation loyally, professionally and without even a whiff of parochial actions or nepotism.
The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff.