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Gen Singh failed on decorum; time for him to stop speaking

The general says “It’s absolutely stupid.” That’s typical blunt army talk, but if you want a more nuanced reaction to The Indian Express story about suspicious army movements, you won’t get it from the army chief. Just as well, because Gen VK Singh has done enough damage without opening his mouth one more time.

For the rest of us, the one important detail in the Express story (which the paper thought important enough to devote the full front page to) was this: the ‘suspicious’ troop movements took place in January, according to the story, while the story itself was published in April. More than a two-and-a-half month delay between the event and the report? That clearly suggests that the story did not originate from The Indian Express staff but was given to it now by interested sources.

AFP

Who were these sources? What was their motive? Why give the story now and not when the incident happened? Did the story, given now, fit a larger pattern? Too many uncomfortable questions and far too many questions that do not have answers.

We can speculate about the answers, the most likely being that relations between Gen Singh and the government, between Gen Singh and the defence ministry and between Gen Singh and factions within the army itself have all deteriorated to such an extent that any of these disgruntled elements could have floated the story now to further discredit the general. For that is the obvious aim of a report which suggests a coup attempt by the army. For who else would think of a coup at this juncture but Gen Singh?

The dismissal of this story has been so quick and so universal, that we can happily go back to the thought that we are different from our neighbours (and for that matter, the rest of the developing world) and our army stays in its barracks where it belongs. But Gen Singh has brought on all the troubles on his own head. The defence forces anywhere are expected to put country before self, but the present army chief has put himself before the country.

It started with his date of birth controversy.  Having failed to convince his ministry about his contention about the date, why did he go to the Supreme Court against the ministry? It wasn’t as if he was denied a promotion; was an extra year in office worth the spectacle of public wrangling at such a high level?

Then there was the tossed–off remark to a TV channel about a Rs 14 crore bribe being offered to him to favour an equipment manufacturer. As the head of the army, was he not duty-bound to pursue the matter himself, set up an enquiry committee to get to the truth of the matter? Why would he, as the chief of the armed forces, need anyone’s sanction to stop corruption in the army? Wasn’t shooting off his mouth now just done in pique to further embarrass the government?

And what about the letter to the Prime Minister about the lack of defence preparedness? Wasn’t it a breach of protocol to start with? As head of the army, he should have written to the defence minister. Failing to get a satisfactory reply, he should have sought a personal meeting with the minster. Only if every effort failed was he then justified to approach the PM in the interests of the nation.

And were the interests of the nation served by leaking the letter to the media? If he didn’t, or if his supporters didn’t, who did? Whoever did so, put their own interests and their personal vendetta above the national interest, because the letter could only give joy to our enemies.

I don’t know anyone who sympathises with Gen Singh. Army commanders should be seen and not heard, and he has violated this excellent principle again and again. He is obviously not the kind of man who will resign; but at least he can do all of us a favour by keeping his mouth shut till the day he finally hangs up his boots.