Friday, November 23, 2012
A Taste of Disgrace
by Lt Gen SK Sinha
Before General V.K. Singh, no serving Army Chief ever went to court. In the past orders were accepted with a stiff upper lip".
Our three-centuries-old Army has a magnificent record of gallantry and discipline. In the two World Wars, its performance in battles fought on three continents earned much international acclaim.
Lord Wavell, the Viceroy, in his farewell address on March 21, 1947, said, “I believe that the stability of the Indian Army may perhaps be the deciding factor in the future of India.” Events in the wake of Independence and after vindicated this.
There were three instances of major generals involved in corruption and unbecoming behaviour soon after 1947. One was involved in misuse and misappropriation of funds, the second was accused of drunken behaviour in public and the third of immoral conduct. General Cariappa sent for them and asked them to resign or face a court martial. All three resigned.
These cases were sorted in-house, without publicity. However, unlike today, such cases were very few.
Many officers now go to courts of law. A serving lieutenant general approached the high court against a posting not to his liking. Early this year, the previous Army Chief went to the Supreme Court on the issue of his age. No serving Army Chief in India, or any other democracy, has ever done so. In the past orders were accepted with a stiff upper lip.
After Independence, there were three cases of attempted, virtual and actual supersession of the senior Army commander for Army Chief. In 1949, at the instance of Sardar Patel, the government decided to supersede Gen. Cariappa and appoint Gen. Rajendra Sinhji. The former was considered too Anglicised. The Intelligence Bureau had reported that Cariappa was too friendly with a Pakistani general visiting Delhi for division of assets of the undivided Indian Army and also with the military adviser at the Pakistan high commission in Delhi. For decades they had served in the Rajput Regiment under Cariappa. On the other hand, Rajendra Sinhji had very successfully executed Hyderabad operations, as desired by Sardar Patel. He was also the brother of the Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, the chancellor of the Chamber of Princes who had worked closely with Patel to integrate the princely states. When Rajendra Sinhji heard of this, he told Jawaharlal Nehru he would resign if appointed Army Chief superseding Cariappa as that would send a wrong message and may eventually lead to politicization of the Army. Nehru saw the point and Cariappa became the first Indian to be the Army Chief.
Lt. Gen. P.S. Bhagat, winner of the Victoria Cross in World War II, was a great thinking general with a strategic vision. He was highly popular with all ranks because of his concern for them. Everyone in the Army was looking forward to his taking over as Army Chief. We were all stunned when suddenly the government decided to give the outgoing Chief an extension. The retirement age for Army commanders is two years earlier than the Chief’s. Bhagat accepted the decision. In 1983, I was the senior Army commander brought to Delhi as vice-chief about four months before the then Chief was to retire. I was officially told that I had to understudy the Chief. Suddenly Indira Gandhi decided to supersede me and I immediately resigned. It was reported in the press that this was due to political reasons. In view of the controversy over my supersession, defence minister R. Venkataraman sent his public relations officer with some press correspondents to my office wanting me to issue a press statement. I stated, “I do not question the decision of the government. I accept it. I have decided to fade away from the Army. Gen. Vaidya, selected to be the Chief, is my friend and a competent general. The Army will do well under his leadership.” These were the values practised by Army officers and the traditions of the Army in the old days.
No doubt the date of birth, as claimed by Gen. V.K. Singh, was supported by three indisputable documents. However, he had written 1950 instead of 1951 in his application for joining the Army. Defence service regulations state that a change in the date of birth can be made in the first three years of an individual’s service and not later. For three successive promotions as a general officer Gen. Singh gave a written undertaking that he accepted the year of birth as in MS Branch records. On becoming the Chief he took up the matter, filed a statutory complaint and, when this was rejected by the government, he sought redress in the Supreme Court. Twenty-two Rajput MPs wrote to the Prime Minister in his support. He also, while serving as Chief in uniform, unveiled the statue of a Rajput MP at Ballia, Uttar Pradesh. The Supreme Court was approached by some retired officers alleging that the top decision makers in Delhi in the Army and government, being Sikhs, were favouring a Sikh general. At the same time he was constantly issuing statements to the media to support his case. The government remained a mute spectator.
The most celebrated general in modern history, Douglas MacArthur, as Supreme Commander in Korea, was critical of his country’s war policy. President Harry S. Truman immediately dismissed him. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the US commander-in-chief in Afghanistan, criticised the Obama administration’s policy on Afghanistan. President Obama dismissed him. Neither general went to court.
After a lull of a few months, the Army is again in the news for the wrong reason. Lt. Gen. Ravi Dastane has filed a statutory complaint stating that if he does not get justice, he will go to the Armed Forces Tribunal and later the Supreme Court. His specious plea is that both Lt. Gen. Dalbir Singh and he were cleared at the same time for promotion to Army commander, the former being senior to him. The appointment of Eastern Army Commander fell vacant on June 1 when Dalbir Singh was not eligible. Therefore, Lt. Gen. Dastane should get that appointment. This will put him in line to be Army Chief in 2014. At this rate, anyone delayed in taking over his appointment by a few days due to, say, temporary illness or temporary duty abroad, will lose his seniority. This new case can snowball into another controversy. The government must step in to stop such controversies.
The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir
The views expressed and Information provided by the author are his own and left to public to judge and rationalise for themselves.