Pique, prestige or principle?
Trust of government lost foreverBy Lt. Gen. R. Kadyan (Retd)
Extraordinary achievers leave their mark for posterity. They are emulated and praised. They work without thinking about personal glory, though it’s not always that recognition comes in one’s lifetime.
Gen. V.K. Singh became the Army Chief when there was a spurt in corruption cases and the Army’s good image was getting tarnished. When in his inaugural he made known his resolve to clean up the system, he was widely applauded. And he did sincerely pursue this objective. Senior officers were hauled up, censured, dismissed and even jailed. He was living up to his word and soon acquired the reputation of being a no-nonsense Chief.
However, history is also harsh. Public memory mostly retains the negative. Mike Tyson, the legendary boxer, is remembered more for the ear-biting episode than for his feats with his fists. Gen. Singh will also be remembered more for his date of birth controversy than for his efforts in cleaning up the system. That is the inescapable truth.
The saga of the birth date row is finally over, hopefully. The details are already in the public domain. The media played it up to the hilt. There was advice galore from experts. Concerned with the adverse effect on the image of the Army, many disapproved of Gen. Singh seeking legal intervention while still being the Army Chief. There were others cheering his spunk in taking on the government. In the end, Gen. Singh filed a writ in the Supreme Court. He was reportedly fighting for his honour and not for a longer tenure. His approaching the apex court directly — since he wanted a decision before May 31, 2012, the date when he would retire — raised doubts whether the tenure indeed was an irrelevant factor.
On February 3, 2012, the Supreme Court castigated the government for issuing a “vitiated” order on December 30, 2011, rejecting Gen. Singh’s statutory complaint. The “Singh camp” smelt victory. However, a week later their optimism was dashed. The Chief was cornered on his earlier commitment of having accepted 1950 as his year of birth. This had always been a chink in his armour. He then withdrew the petition and the case ended without a fight. Whether he should have continued to fight is a topic that will always be debatable under the adage, “For a soldier an honourable defeat is better than a surrender.”
Despite the testimonial of the top court and the Attorney General about Gen. Singh’s honour and ability, the outcome is a severe setback to him. He has lost the trust of the government, notwithstanding any declarations by the latter to the contrary. Such setbacks lead to loss of self-esteem and the feeling that one no longer enjoys the respect of the men in uniform. The Chief will feel neglected and sidelined. He will not see the same face again in the mirror. Undeniably, he has been rendered ineffective. His continuance as Chief is detrimental to the institution. The General should have shown grace by resigning. By not doing so he has diminished the status of his rank and post. He could salvage some of his prestige if he resigns even now. The grief of defeat is best suffered in privacy.
The writer is a former deputy chief of the Indian Army
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Moment to resign is long gone
By C. Uday Bhaskar
By C. Uday Bhaskar
Contrary to the general expectation that the country’s highest court would accept the plea of the Army Chief, the Supreme Court’s decision of February 10 upheld the government’s determination that the date of birth of Gen. V.K. Singh would be May 1950 and not May 1951. In some quarters, the manner in which the apex court disposed of the case has set off a clamour for Gen. Singh’s resignation before his due date of retirement in May this year.
However, the Army Chief should not resign at this stage. The moment to exercise such a choice has long passed. A body of commentary about the genesis of the date of birth controversy and impassioned advice about what Gen. Singh ought to do in the circumstances has been punctuating the public domain through the media.
At different points reference was made to the honour of the office of the Army Chief and the personal integrity of the incumbent. However, as the Supreme Court recorded the statement of the Attorney General, the government had at no stage questioned or cast aspersions on the integrity or honour of the Army Chief. The procedural error of recording May 1950 as opposed to May 1951 as the year of birth goes back to the Army List of 1974-75, and as the Supreme Court noted this was accepted by Gen. V.K. Singh in writing in 2008 and 2009. Perhaps that was the time when Gen. Singh could have taken a stand and sought redress from the defence minister or the judiciary if the Army Headquarter was unable to rectify matters.
Now the moot question is what purpose would be served or principle upheld if Gen. Singh were to resign at this moment? Very little of substance. On the other hand, such a decision would only reopen an issue that has been adroitly put to rest by an almost Solomon-like judgement rendered by the Supreme Court. During the course of the mounting controversy, Gen. Singh repeatedly maintained that his decision to accept May 1950 was shaped by the “organisational interest” of the Army, and that through his actions he had placed institutional interest before that of the individual.
However, in the wake of the February 10 judgement, there is a growing sense of unease and disquiet in many quarters that what was being sought by the Army Chief was not honour — which was never in question — but an extended tenure. Devoid of any higher motivation, a decision to resign would have been perceived to be impulsive and driven by pique rather than principle. Such a perception would do little to burnish the “organisational interest” of the Army.
Gen. Singh symbolises the finest traditions of the Indian military which has always placed nation and flag as the highest priority. An impulsive decision to resign at this stage would have been perceived to be motivated by personal considerations, and not viewed as being in the collective interest.
Yes, there were moments in this unfortunate saga when Gen. Singh ought to have fallen on his sword, but those have long past. Doing so now would only compound an error that ought to have been avoided in the first place by both the Army Chief and the defence minister.
The writer is former director, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses