Friday, June 1, 2012

Of Matters Military: Thank God It’s Friday

by Major General Mrinal Suman
 Today is Friday – the first of June 2012 – a day of great significance. The government can now heave a sigh of relief as General VK Singh has retired and is out of the way. His tenure at the helm of the Indian army invited undue attention, mostly for ‘inconvenient reasons’. Here is a short recap of the ‘problems’ he created.
He refused to accept the government’s command that he was born in 1950. Worse, he had the temerity to claim that his parents and the military hospital where he was born knew better than the government. As many journalists will have us believe, it amounted to challenging ‘civilian supremacy’ over the armed forces. According to them, the civilian authority can appropriate to itself the right to decide every soldier’s date of birth, school- certificate notwithstanding.
By repeatedly claiming that he was born in 1951, VKS showed a distinct tendency to ‘defy the government’ and thereby strained relations between the services and the ministry. He ‘forgot’ that it is solely the duty of the armed forces to ensure cordiality of relations with the ministry. Being the superior entity, the ministry has no obligation towards that end. Therefore, being the Chief, he was obliged to accept all just/unjust decisions of the ministry in the interest of maintaining cordial relations.
VKS ‘embarrassed’ the government by appealing to the Apex Court for justice. It is fine   with the environment when ministers, governors and other top dignitaries approach courts for relief, even when accused of heinous crimes and swindling enormous funds. VKS forgot that as a Chief he forfeits his fundamental right to seek justice when aggrieved and is expected to swallow all wrong done to him. A segment of media questioned his motives and used innovative invectives like ‘dragging the government to the court’. After all, abstract concepts like ‘honour and reputation’ are totally alien to some.
VKS has also been faulted for his handling of the alleged bribery offer. He is accused of not taking any immediate action against the concerned officer. Notwithstanding the fact that a civilian (an ex-serviceman is a civilian) cannot be arrested by the military police and no enquiry can be ordered by an officer where he himself is the complainant, he should have done ‘something’. His reporting the matter to his superior i.e. the Defence Minister, as mandated by the Defence Services Regulations, is considered inadequate.
In a country where political leaders sell their votes for a few lakhs and where one can buy enough votes to be a Rajya Sabha member with a few crores in pocket, 14 crores is a huge sum. The environment finds VKS’s claim that he said ‘no’ to such an offer to be incredible and far-fetched.
VKS is considered guilty of exposing corrupt practices that that had afflicted the system, thereby disturbing a highly comfortable and rewarding environment. Supply of imported equipment through the public sector companies has been going on for decades. It was common knowledge that these companies were acting solely as traders and making huge profits at the cost of the defence budget. VKS is accused of having acted with ulterior motives to stop the loot.
 VKS is also accused of ordering the move of two battalion level forces in January with ‘surreptitious motives’. A media bigwig smelt a rat and suspected a hidden agenda. He considered the movement of 1500 soldiers (from a 11.3 lakh strong force) to be too major a development to be taken lightly. He blamed VKS for causing unnecessary alarm and scare.
More seriously, VKS is guilty of writing a letter to the Prime Minister on two counts. One, he had no business to talk of equipment deficiencies. These have not occurred overnight. In any case, it is the defence ministry that is responsible for national security. It knows ‘what equipment to buy, when to buy and from whom to buy’. The service chiefs should just keep initiating proposals and not sound alarmist. After all, 1962-like occurrences do not take place very often. In a true nationalist spirit, VKS should have lived with the often stated philosophy ‘we will fight with whatever we have’.
Two, VKS should have realised that his letter would not remain consigned to top-secret files. Porosity of Indian officialdom is well known. He was thus instrumental in divulging defence weaknesses to India’s prospective enemies. It is of no consequence that all deficiencies are well known and comprehensively catalogued in documents that are already in public domain. Many leaders were agitated and wanted VKS to be sacked for having the impudence to write a ‘leakable’ letter.   
Moral of the Story
·         Always ‘blow with the wind’ (or should one say ‘swim with the tide’). India is more comfortable with conformists than crusaders.
·         Be a passenger, ride the waves, create no ripples, enjoy your tenure and do not disturb the status-quo.
·         Be a good yes-man, develop rapport with the functionaries through social networking and aspire for a governorship/ambassadorship after retirement.
·         Do not be too concerned about India’s defence preparedness. India has been surviving due to God’s munificence and will continue to do so. Why worry?

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