The unfortunate series of events over the past few days involving Gen VK Singh, have brought into spotlight the uneasy relationship that has always existed between the Chief Of Army Staff of the Indian army and the political masters of the day. The balance of this relationship, between a soldier forced into being an administrator and the political class which perhaps has never understood the needs and ethos of the army, has always been skewed. Right from Gen Thimayya to Gen Sundarji, the COAS have always had problems with the defence minister and the bureaucrats in the ministry of defence. But what has been unprecedented in the current case is the way dirty laundry has been washed in the public. Gen VK Singh, a soldier of great repute and a financially honest administrator by going to the media with his grievances has betrayed the unwritten decorum expected from the top brass of the army.
In an interview to a newspaper on 26 march this year, Gen Singh claimed that he had been shockingly offered a bribe of 14 crore rupees by a middleman who later turned out to be retired Lt Gen Tejinder Singh to clear the purchase of sub standard, all-weather multipurpose ‘Tatra’ trucks for the army. This revelation, a first by a high ranking officer of the Indian army dealt a serious blow to the credibility and aura of integrity that the army enjoys in public eyes. Though no one was ignorant about the shady stories that revolve around procurement deals for our defence forces, this was the first time that the top most general himself had given corroboration. Matters took a turn for the worse when a letter from Gen Singh to prime minister Manmohan Singh was leaked to the media by unidentified sources. This letter detailed the army’s shocking but not unknown lack of preparedness.
But to look at the bribery allegations and the leaked letter independently without the larger context of other events surrounding the story would be a folly. The fact remains that Gen Singh has remained in conflict with the MoD over the past few months over a seemingly trivial issue of his date of birth. Without going into specifics, the controversy over Gen Singh‘s date of birth affects his retirement age and thus can alter the line of succession for the post of the COAS. The sad part is that this controversy was in fact manufactured by certain vested interests, obviously opposed to Gen Singh, both within and outside the army, to influence the appointment of the COAS of the Indian army. That such petty politics are being played around such an important post betrays the existence of a very sad state of affairs.
These events spread over the last couple of events signifies the decadence, both professional and moral that has spread in our society. How can we expect from our generals such high levels of rectitude when the society at large fails to show them. One cannot expect the differences between top army brass and the defence ministry to disappear. They have always existed and will continue to remain so. It will take extraordinary leadership skills from our generals, politicians and sensitivity towards the the ethos of the army from our bureaucrats to make sure that these differences do not spill over into the public domain and do not affect our arms procurement and military preparedness.