Ashok B Sharma
NEW DELHI: The Army Chief General VK Singh may be denying that he would be leaving behind a “divided” Force when he demits office on May 31, but the indications are clear that the controversy cantering him may have an impact on the morale of the country’s Defence Forces.
The General after releasing the book Assault on Merit here on Friday left the place along with his team leaving a galaxy of the gathering to enjoy the party. He did not speak much to the media persons, except defending his action on imposing “Discipline and Vigilance” ban against Lt Gen Dalbir Singh who is tipped to be the Army Chief in two years.
The Army Chief said that such action was necessary as the Lt Gen made public a show cause notice issued to him, an action deemed to be against the discipline of the Military.
However, the Defence Ministry has stepped in and asked the Army Headquarters to explain the harsh decision taken against the Lt General.
Gen VK Singh did not reveal his post-retirement plans. He kept it close to his chest.
This is not the end of the game. The Army Chief in an interview to a TV channel has said about the presence of "some disgruntled people" in the 1.3 million strong army like any other organisation.
"Most of the army does not feel it this way. There may be some disgruntled people in the 1.3 million strong army. Like any other organisation, you will have some people who are disgruntled people, people who will retaliate... that's part of it," he said.
The book Assault on Merit has come as a handy for the Army Chief as it documents some tussles between Army and the civilian government in the past.
In a Preface to the book, the veteran lawyer RK Anand wrote : “Although this book is not specifically about General VK Singh and the national controversy that swirled around his date of birth, retirement and army preparedness, leaked letter, the issues it addresses have frighteningly similar ring as well as a lasting relevance : The State and morale of the Armed Forces.”
Gen VK Singh has maintained that the letter he wrote to the Prime Minister about lack of Army’s preparedness was not leaked out by the Army. It might have been leaked out by someone in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The book’s final chapter contains exclusive quotes from the Chief of Army Staff Gen VK Singh in which he makes several candid recommendations for reform. The book has placed the controversies about Gen VK Singh’s date of birth, his retirement date, military preparedness, leaked letter to the Prime Minister against the larger backdrop of the stage management of promotions, transfers and postings in the Defence Forces.
Detailed within the chapters of the book are more than a dozen real life case studies covering the last decade. Most of them involve Major Generals and Lieutenant Generals, Corps Commanders and Army Commanders who were at the receiving end of malice and injustice from the bureaucrats and politicians.
Of the hundreds of military matters he litigated, Anand has chosen to illustrate the main theme of the book with those he considers to be the most outrageous examples of Government malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance. An “unfit” General suddenly declared “fit”. A “fit” General declared “deferred” for promotion. Existing vacancies declared as non-existent.
Court documents, declassified but hitherto unreleased Cabinet notes and letters, Judges opinions are copiously reproduced in the book. One such extract said : -
“But the Defence Minister and his top official honchos, including the Defence Secretary were hell-bent on flouting clear policy directions and guidelines that were reiterated in a note from no less a person than the Cabinet Secretary to the Defence Secretary. This noted dated 21st January 1997 stated clearly that the ACC is aware of a tendency on part of the some ministries to continue an officer in anticipation of ACC approval. He added that the continuing of an officer beyond the age of superannuation without prior approval of the ACC was nothing short of a violation of the rules. The Cabinet Secretary conveyed the ACC’s direction that such a tendency on the part of the Ministries should be curbed.”
Another extract said : “And the officer, who was declared `UNFIT` by the highest expert selection board, headed by the Chief of Army Staff and all his Army Commanders was appointed Lieutenant General to lead the Army for safety of the people of this country.”
Anand in his Preface drew parallels to the ongoing episodes by recalling how Gen KS Thimmayya wanted to resign in 1959 when the then Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon trashed his strategy to get the Army combat-ready to face the Chinese threat. Cina attacked India in 1962.
When Gen Thimayya retired as Army Chief, Prime Minister Nehru and Menon again snubbed him by ignoring his recommendation to elevate great “Fighting Commander” General SPP Thorat who had been Commander of the Indian Custodian Force in Korea. Instead, Nehru and Menon handpicked Gen Pran Nath Thapar, who was related to Nehru by marriage.
Another such political appointment cited by Anand is that of Gen Brij Mohan Kaul as Commander for the north-eastern region.
“What I could recall was something about Army Generals who were found worthy of promotion and were passed over or retired. Oh, I knew well that a storm was raging over Army Chief VK Singh’s age and retirement issue and that allegation and counter-allegations were flying fast and furious and that the national press was having a field day,” wrote Anand.
The book quoted Justice Dalveer Bhandari’s opinion in one of the case : “I would take this opportunity to impress upon the Chief of the Army Staff to ensure that the officers are not harassed in such a manner. The harassment of such senior officers would have adverse impact on the services they render to the country. The nation can never get the best out of their officers unless they are protected from such harassment, humiliation, ignominy and disgrace.”
Anand justified Justice Bhandari by ancient treatise writer and philosopher, Kautilya saying : “The day the soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadh for then, on that day, you will have lost all moral sanction to be King!”
He said the Mandarins of South Block should be wise to awaken to the message of this ancient political sage.
The book, edited by Inderjit Badhwar, lauds the Judiciary for stepping in to undo the injustice being done to Army men in some cases. The concluding chapter of the book is written by military historian, writer and film maker Kunal Verma. The book is published by the Delhi based Haranand Publications.