Thursday, May 31, 2012
Set aside differences and support new army chief
By Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi
General Bikram Singh is slated to take over as army chief on June 1, as General VK Singh demits office. The change of guard is a major event for the nation and is comprehensively covered by the media. This time, however, so much has already been covered in the media that one wonders what is left unsaid!
However, the unavoidable polarisation regarding this high office needs to stop now. The change of command must be as significant as it has always been. 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. Being an optimist, I am of the view that 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 because of their diligence, highest character qualities and great professional acumen.
There have undoubtedly been aberrations where 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 shed past baggage at the earliest, as an entirely fresh start is essential.
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, including the veterans, have to be fully supportive and honour the new chief, for only then can he act with courage and conviction.
When the present chief assumed command a little over two years back, I had written the following: ‘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. If true, such actions and even thinking needs to be nipped in the bud with a heavy hand. I have no doubt that the new chief will do so as his predecessor has done.
I have known both Generals for many years and have the greatest respect for both. 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. Over a drink that General Bikram Singh had graciously organised, I had asked him what he was planning to do about the date of birth issue that had already started appearing in the media.
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 has been accused by some of rocking the boat, my firm view is that the boat needed to be rocked vigorously. He has exposed corruption in the defence ministry, the defence PSU’s and the arms mafia that was short-charging the army and the nation.
The meager funds available for modernisation of the armed forces were siphoned off and shared by corrupt officials and others. The chief had also undertaken to improve the internal health of the army, which he has carried out with missionary zeal and spared no one, senior or junior.
The transformation of the army is another long outstanding measure that has commenced. 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.
The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff
This article was published by DNA Mumbai on 31 May 2012