Singh vs Singh: Have our armed forces forgotten how to be officers and gentlemen?

The current murky reports of the incumbent chief of the Indian Army, General Dalbir Singh making allegations in court against his former chief and now minister VK Singh are tacky at best but must also be placed in perspective.

General Dalbir Singh did not choose this fight. He is only responding to a court case placed by retired Lt Gen Ravi Dastane who believes he was robbed of his fourth star and has sought legal address. The Chief of Army Staff has to respond or be seen in contempt of court.

 Singh vs Singh: Have our armed forces forgotten how to be officers and gentlemen?

General Dalbir Singh and Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh. Image courtesy PIB

Lt Gen Dastane believes that the then Chief Gen Bikram Singh blew away the cloud hovering over General Dalbir's command reports and handed him the baton which should have gone to Lt Gen Dastane.

What justice Lt Gen Dastane expects to receive is difficult to perceive since it is the government that can take recommendations and then decide who should be chief. And it is all water under the bridge.

Generals traditionally fade away. Nowadays they go to court.

When you join the forces you get no guarantees of promotion after achieving your years of service rank. Then it is open house. And you do your best and you take your chances. Many a career has been shot down by a senior officer because of personal and professional reasons.

The armed forces have a major flaw in that the annual confidential reports have to be adverse for the officer being reported upon to see them. Otherwise they are totally confidential and the best way to destroy a career is to give the officer below you an average to high average report at about 6.5 which successfully destroys any chances of his promotion to general rank.

He cannot complain but he doesn't get the next rung. And all too often he does not know why.

Brigadiers do not become Major Generals, two star officers with great career records are left behind and, most certainly, three star officers cannot all become chiefs.

Live with it. Thousands have. They are sidetracked, blocked, bypassed, overlooked and in service terms ‘don’t make it.’

The other way of doing someone in is to transfer an officer to a non operational command. Make him a sub area commander or send him as GOC of an Area or simply dispatch him to the NCC. Party over and he cannot complain.

That nepotism, regimental loyalty, personal dislike or regional affection can all play a role. That is human nature. So can ground reality. When Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw was given a six month extension in June 1972 the ripple effect hit several careers and shuffled the pack of contenders for the fourth star.

The death of an incumbent has the same effect.

But no one went to court. Being in uniform you took your lumps, saluted, packed your bags and went home.

There was a grace and dignity in that conduct. And a tradition that yours was not to question why, but simply to do and die.

Out there would be thousands of officers at various levels who truly believe they were done down, done out, done the dirty. Reading this a retired General or Admiral or Air Marshal would nod wisely but with sadness and remember that the forces never washed their linen in public.

And this retired officer would look at these men squabbling in this undignified fashion and four star incumbents hiring lawyers and former chiefs being accused of skulduggery and pension taking Corps commanders filing cases like cry babies and he would say, this is not the armed forces I joined.

Put the linen back in the closet.

Be officers and gentlemen.

You got three stars Lt Gen Dastane and you flew your flag.. That’s one in ten thousand. Be grateful you weren’t left behind as a time scale Colonel because your brigade commander gave you a 6.5.

Updated Date: Aug 20, 2016 20:02:40 IST