New Delhi, 11 June-2014, R Jagannathan: Gen VK Singh is not doing himself or the professional army he served till mid-2012 any credit by making wild allegations about the next army chief, Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag. Incensed by a government affidavit in court that rubbished the disciplinary action he had initiated as army chief against Suhag as “illegal” and “without any basis or material on record”, Gen Singh shot back on twitter.
VK Singh has to realise the army and the nation are bigger than him: AFP photo
He alleged that Suhag’s unit may have “killed innocents”. He tweeted: “If unit kills innocents, does dacoity and then head of organization tries to protect them, should he not be blamed? Criminals should go free!!” It is possible that the defence ministry affidavit that trashed Gen Singh’s actions may have been initiated at a lower level, and Arun Jaitley, who is holding additional charge as defence minister, may not have known about it.
VK Singh has to realise the army and the nation are bigger than him: AFP photo But this is no reason why Gen Singh should be going ballistic on the next army chief. He has thus once again broken the Omerta code among politicians and the public that one does not play politics with the army – even if some bad things have been done to Gen Singh. By abusing the next army chief, Gen Singh has lost whatever sympathy the public may have had for his cause. The Prime Minister clearly needs to have a private word with Gen Singh on not going public with his private feelings. Or else… The Congress may be baying for Gen Singh’s blood, but even if Narendra Modi does not oblige, he needs to tell the general that he can’t be speaking out-of-turn on these issues, especially because he is now a minister.
Four things are worth pointing out following this avoidable airing of the army’s dirty linen in public. First, the country needs a full-time defence minister. Arun Jaitley has his hands full preparing the budget and dealing with the ills of the economy. The defence ministry cannot be a part-time job even for a few weeks. It has many things that need fixing. Modi needs to appoint a heavyweight and above-board defence minister quickly – perhaps between now and the budget session. Second, now that Arun Jaitley has made it clear that the NDA government stands by the appointment of LT Gen Suhag as the next army chief (he will take over on 31 July), he (or his successor) should also put in place a transparent process for the selection of future army chiefs. The current process, which goes largely by seniority, has been vitiated by Gen Singh’s age issue – which changed the entire line of succession after him.
In future, maybe a process needs to be initiated whereby the short-list of potential army chiefs is widened to a panel of three or more, with the job going to the most competent. Seniority ought not to be the only way to pick a chief. Third, the next defence minister also needs to fix the civilian-military relationship and put it on even keel. Currently, the civilian babus lord it over the military, using their administrative powers to keep the military out of the loop even on matters that are important to the armed forces. This needs to change and the civilian-military relationship needs to be one of trust and equality, even without giving up on the basic rule of the armed forces working under civilian leadership.
It was a routine movement, but suspicious babus panicked because they thought the general was upto something unholy. Fourth, and yes, Gen Singh needs to be given a clear warning that he cannot be dabbling in army affairs any more, let alone tweet controversial statements. Modi did well to keep Gen Singh far away from the defence ministry, but he should make this position crystal clear to the general who still appears to be smarting at his ouster in 2012 over his date of birth.
The general ought to show some grace and accept the fact that he cannot have a permanent chip on his shoulder about his exit – even if he believes he was short-changed. The interests of the nation and the army are larger than him. [Input source: FP]