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Does General V K Singh know what he's up against?

January 25, 2012 20:58 IST

A petty government has pushed the army chief into a corner, feels Seema Mustafa.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not want to comment on the controversy over army chief General V K Singh's age because it is a 'sensitive issue.'

Union Defence Minister A K Antony is 'very sorry' about what is happening. Then why don't these two gentlemen at least ensure that the issue is settled with dignity, and the army chief's birth date is recognised as 1951 as per the official records?

For the government this was a small issue that should have been settled a long time ago, when General Singh wrote his first official letter urging the army and defence ministry to settle the discrepancy and recognise 1951, and not 1950, as his birth year.

It is clearly not a small matter for General Singh, as it calls into question his integrity and challenges his honesty.

There are no two views in the army about General Singh's integrity and capability. But despite not wanting to he was left with no choice by a determined government, but to approach the Supreme Court for a final decision.

There has been a major canard against the army chief, provoked by sections of the political and bureaucratic establishment. But the reasons for this remain unclear, not being touched upon even by the concerned media.

Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, who will likely succeed as the army chief if General Singh retires according to the 1950 date, has many supporters within the government and amongst retired army chiefs, a couple of whom have formed a bloc against the present incumbent.

There is widespread support within the army for Lieutenant General K T Parnaik of the Northern Command who has a chance of becoming the army chief if the 1951 birth date is accepted by the government.

The government is using the media to blame the army chief for the ongoing controversy, but the fact remains that it found its way into the public eye through deliberate leaks, and misinformation, by hyperactive, vested, interests.

No one in the army is happy about the manner in which the controversy was stoked and kept burning, and all would have preferred a quiet settlement of the issue between General Singh and the government.

But given the government's refusal to accept the general's school leaving records, and recognise his many attempts to get the discrepancy corrected, the choices before him became limited.

One was to resign and leave, and the other was to approach the courts in the hope that at least his name and reputation would be cleared.

Unfortunately, despite efforts to the contrary, the politician has managed to politicise the Indian Army leadership by embracing certain officers and working to install them in the top post.

The public might or might not know, but most officers in the army are well aware of the interests at work, and the kind of lobbying that is going on to ensure that General Singh is removed from the post.

Stories that the government might sack him appeared mysteriously in the newspapers and as all of us in the business know, these are usually deliberate leaks given out from time to time by so-called sources to keep the pressure alive.

Political governments have decimated all institutions, one by one. The police force, through the sheer political power of transfers and postings, has become corrupt and communal; the legislatures are packed with criminals; the media has lost its independence to the government and corporate nexus; with the defence forces surviving the disastrous consequences of politicisation to some extent.

It is unfortunate that here too issues are being made of non issues, to bring in officers more favourable to the political dispensation of the day.

The government could have easily, given the facts on the table, recognised 1951 as the birth year, saved face for the army chief, while giving him and the institution due respect.

General Singh does not have the reputation of a greedy, grasping, man. Far from it, and his word along with the records should have carried weight with the government.

Unfortunately, the pettiness of the ruling class has pushed the senior officer to a corner where not wanting to, he has had to approach the civilian courts as a last resort. It can only be hoped that he finds justice there, and can at least retire from the force with his respect and dignity intact.

There is a certain intolerance creeping into government that sees a contrary view as dissent, and reacts to it with a heavy hand. Any officer who does not agree with the often blinkered views emanating from the corridors of power is axed, as many will testify, with the result that most now hesitate to speak their minds.

This might make the politicians happy, but the fact of the matter is that they now rarely benefit from informed and impartial opinion.

In this particular case, however, it is more to do with getting a chief of their choice into government.

The poor army chief does not know what he is up against, as it is difficult to box at shadows and conspiracies that do not reveal themselves.

Seema Mustafa