Friday, March 1, 2013
Of Patronage and the Army Leadership
Major General Mrinal Suman
An email doing rounds on the internet reads – “Strange is the judicial system which rejects an Army Chief's school certificate but accepts a rapist-cum-murderer's school certificate!” The unknown author unfairly pins the whole blame on the judicial system for the injustice done to General VK Singh. The sordid drama was scripted and played out by the erstwhile army leadership.
The entire episode stinks of patronage and favouritism. It will go down in the history as the blackest mark against the army leadership for its sheer audacity and venality. It marks the lowest depths to which devious commanders can stoop to.
The stratagem was simple in plan and execution. The current system of promoting top leadership on the basis of their inter-se date of birth lends itself to manipulation by unscrupulous chiefs and thus perpetuates a regime of patronage. One such biased chief decided to ‘manage’ the system to plant his protégé firmly in the line of succession by nipping all likely challenges to his advancement in the bud. He found out that along with stalling promotion of other competent contenders, he needed to curtail the tenure of General VK Singh by a year to make way for his protégé.
His obliging staff officers dug out an outdated, irrelevant and inapplicable document to give shape to the biased chief’s immoral plan. It was conveniently forgotten that the said document had already been superseded by the Army Headquarters. Even the school leaving certificate (the clinching evidence as per the Supreme Court) and the army hospital’s records were dumped. By this ignoble manipulation, General VK Singh’s tenure was cunningly reduced and the way cleared for the protégé.
Three questions get raised. One, how could an officer who lacked the basic officer-like qualities of impartiality rise to be the chief? Was his prejudiced deportment not noticed at the time of his SSB interview and later on throughout his career? How could he hoodwink the whole system for decades?
Partiality is an anathema to military leadership. Fair and non-discriminatory conduct is an essential component of an officer’s morality. Any commander who acts in a discriminatory manner to grant favours to his protégé is guilty of breach of trust. Trust is the expectancy that the followers can rely on a leader’s impartial and just approach.
The biased chief forgot that he commanded the whole army and every soldier expected just and fair dispensation from him. They reposed faith in his impartiality. Unfortunately, he proved himself to be unworthy of their trust by hispartisan conduct. He was not only unfair to General VK Singh; he tweaked the whole line of succession, thereby depriving many more deserving commanders of their promotions.
The second question is equally serious. A chief has a number of staff officers to advise him. It is their duty to caution the chief when he goes astray. In this case, all his staff officers abetted the transgression. Their spineless and cowardly conduct deserves severe condemnation. By ganging up with a felonious chief to manipulate the system, they revealed their true character and brought disgrace to the high ranks that they occupied. They have been hiding behind the façade of anonymity. They deserve to be named and shamed for being a part of the dirty-tricks department.
Thirdly and most gravely, the Indian army is saddled with a chief who knows that he does not deserve to be there. He is fully aware of the unholy conspiracy that facilitated his elevation. Allegations of deceit and unholy connivance to force Gen VK Singh to retire early would haunt him throughout his tenure. One wonders as to how he faces senior commanders whom he has cheated of their rightful ascension. Similarly, he must be finding it most inhibiting to exhort his subordinates to be upright and have faith in the fairness of the system.
Lieutenant General Nathu Singh declined to be the first chief of the Indian army stating that Lieutenant General Cariappa was senior to him. Compare the selflessness of General Nathu Singh with the conduct of the current chief who had no inhibitions in being the beneficiary of utter favouritism and Machiavellian scheming. He has earned the dubious distinction of being the first chief of the Indian army to occupy the top slot through devious means.
The biased chief can draw consolation from the fact that his shenanigans were successful and his protégé is well entrenched. However, the history will always recall him for his transgression and not any contribution to the nation. He will be long remembered as a chief who proved unworthy of the trust reposed by his subordinates’ and who let them down through his prejudiced conduct.
History is most unforgiving. It never forgets dark chapters and iniquitous characters. It comes back to haunt them for generations. Impact of indictment by history is always painful and no human can ever escape its impact, howsoever impervious he may pretend to be.
Finally, parochial predisposition is the worst and the most destructive type of virus. It has the potential to split the services on sectarian lines – a dreadful prospect indeed. In a country riven by caste, regional and religious dissentions, the Indian army is the solitary bastion of national unity and, most worrisomely, India’s only hope. *****
The views expressed by the author are personal and not of this blog