What was so obvious from the beginning happened. The General was clearly being opportunistic, trying to get another year added to his tenure; perhaps also trying to ensure that his chosen one got to succeed him rather than someone else. The issue itself hardly remained an employer-employee conflict; it was mired in all kinds of political overtones. The BJP of course had to fault the Congress for “the way in which it handled the situation” as if it had created the problem in the first place; or had cheated the General in some way. Well, the SC has squashed the matter, putting egg on the General’s face and giving the Congress yet another opportunity to say “See, we told you so”.
I had written on the General’s problem in two previous posts. The basic problem I had was that the General would never have become General had he clarified right at the beginning that he was actually a 1951 born. In an extremely regimented and bureaucratic system of promotions, the seniormost gets the job (assuming all other factors are equal). Had General Singh been born in 1951, he wouldn’t have qualified and would have retired as Lt. General. Further, it was very unseemly on the part of the General to say that someone else had written 1950 as the year of birth in the NDA and IMA forms decades earlier, when everyone knows that that’s simply not possible. And lastly, it was really unlike a senior army soldier to go back on his word once he had given it. In 2008 and 2009, the General had accepted that he would go by the 1950 year.
I think the Government handled the matter rather maturely. There haven’t been too many skirmishes in the media. No bad mouthing of the General either. Even yesterday, in court, the Government was ready to accept that the General was a good leader and a good soldier. They didn’t want him to resign now. They had respect for the General and so on. This indicates a certain degree of fairness and maturity. The issue was not started off by the Government; they never had any problem with the General’s capability or integrity at all. It was the General who was being adventurous. Now he’s been snubbed.
In the end, it was a shameful incident for the General. His councel was happy to withdraw the petition, pleading that it be called an “amicable” settlement. The government rightfully denied him that privilege. How could it be amicable when the General was hell bent on furthering his own personal matter, putting at risk the morale of the army? The General knew that his actions could have created a divide between the military and the civilian government? In a region where there has been one coup in the Maldives and a near-miss in Bangladesh (and the risk of one in Pakistan never being too far), how could the General not have thought of similar worries engaging the minds of people in India? The General was in the mood to fight; he lost the battle. How could he ask for an amicable settlement? He should have asked for forgiveness instead – and the government would have been large hearted to grant him that.
What happens next? Should the General resign? I think he should. He challenged his bosses for his personal gratification. Had he challenged his bosses on issues concerning the army, he would have held his head high even if he had lost the case. But here, he’s lost face. How will he be able to face his officers? Those, whom he must be giving lectures to, urging them to rise above personal gain? He’s lost all moral credibility and in spite of what the government says, he should resign. He should resign to protect the dignity of the Indian Army – most of which is above such pursuit of personal agendas. He must resign so that a new leader may take over soon and bring the army out of the unnecessary suspence it must find itself in right now. He must resign to atone for his misadventure. And lastly, he must resign as an apology to the nation.
Those who doubted my argument that the General would never have made General had he been born in 1951 should now look out for who succeeds. There are three Lt. Generals in contention. And the seniormost of them will succeed. As per The Statesman, if General Singh retires now….without waiting for the May retirement date, Lt. General Shankar Ghosh, presently Chief of the Western Command will take over as the Army Chief. However, if General Singh retires in May as per schedule, Lt. General Bikram Singh, presently Chief of the Eastern Command would take over. And if the SC had accepted 1951 as the birth year of General Singh and he had retired only in 2013, Lt. General Parnaik, Chief of the Northern Command would have taken over. This should be clear to all that a few months here and there, and the decision on who takes over changes.
And finally the politics of it all. The BJP – ever eager to put the Congress in the dock whether the issue is right or not – had said this: "It is a sad incident...An issue which could have been resolved sitting within closed doors has now been dragged in the open before the public. We hold the Centre, the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi responsible for the incident," (BJP vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi). He went on to say: “It raises questions on the functioning and running of the central government... It is a dangerous thing that even such a row involving the Army chief has been dragged into public domain. This is due to the mishandling and wrong policies of the government”. I cannot understand what the government did that deserved such remarks from the main opposition party. The entire controversy was raked up by the General himself; he was the one who broke protocol; and yet the opposition has to find fault with the government.
For the Congress, this is one other “victory” in recent days. The Antrix row had similarly ended in an anticlimax when it became clear that the blame for the faulty deal with Devas lay entirely with the scientists. Likewise, in Subramaniam Swamy’s case against Chidambaram in the trial court, the Congress got reprieve – again the whole legal battle looked more like a political one showing the despearation of the BJP to somehow get to the then Finance Minister and eventually the PM himself. I don’t mind political strategies of this type – but I just think it’s best that it be well known in the public domain.
The real truth is that General Singh brought indignity to one of the most disciplined institutions in the country. The SC has settled the matter as it should have. Yet another sensationalized media story has run out of steam. This should be a lesson to all – have patience. Like they say – the law will take its own course. Waiting till then would be the right thing to do…..