Friday, June 1, 2012
After General V K Singh's controversial exit, his successor will have to stabilise the army
C Uday Bhaskar, Former Director, IDSA & NMF
General V K Singh handed over the baton of the armychief to his successor general Bikram Singh on Thursday, May 31, bringing the curtain down on a 26-month tenure whose last phase was marked by intense controversy and media focus.
Beginning with the date of birth controversy that saw the unprecedented action of a serving chief moving the Supreme Court against the government and peaking in the last week of his tenure, wherein general V K Singh provided a no-holds-barred account of his side of the story. These issues are disturbing for both form and content.
These include a bribe offered by a retired general, a serving corps commander charged with grave misconduct, a military secretary stripped of his rank and, above all, a top-secret letter leaked to the media.
Lurking at the bottom are unsubstantiated charges of a sectarian slant to promotions within the army. Charges of vindictive mendacity are being levelled against the chief who has demitted office and the army's plate is full of unsavory litany. General Bikram Singh has many challenges to surmount as he seeks to stabilise the Indian army.
Institutional cohesion has been damaged and the counter-allegations have just begun. It is reported that the defence minister has directed that Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh's charges against the former army chief be examined. It is likely that others who were indicted, including the former military secretary, will seek redress and the manthan (churning) set into motion by V K Singh will take much more time to subside.
Will V K Singh be remembered for the unseemly controversies he generated as his critics allege, or for the personal courage that he demonstrated in ostensibly highlighting various inadequacies and malpractices in higher defence management, as his supporters aver? The polarisation of those for and against V K Singh has been on full display on national television for days and it is logical that this has seeped into the current top hierarchy of the army, albeit in a less visible manner.
The date of birth controversy was a personal issue whose genesis was either procedural error or devious malpractice. It could have been nipped at an early stage if the highest political level had intervened at the appropriate time. However, that did not happen and the country has been witness to unprecedented disclosure and innuendo - including the hint of army intimidation (coup?) that never was. Was all of this happening in India that was legitimately proud of its totally apolitical, highly-professional and commendably cohesive military?
In the early stages of the V K Singh controversy, one had opined that since he was denied the justice he was seeking from an impervious system, the doughty chief ought to have resigned on principle and then taken on the government in an appropriate manner.
However as the dramatic media report about a breakdown in civil-military relations in mid-January, followed revelations about the Tatra truck scandal and the leakage of the letter to the Prime Minister added to the complex contours of the controversy, and the picture became far more opaque and distorted.