Millennium Post

A case of ‘General’ decay

The nation shall forever remain indebted to the Tis Hazari court judge in New Delhi for having waited for General VK Singh to demit office before summoning him in the defamation case filed by Lieutenant General (retired) Tejinder Singh. On 8 June, Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja issued summons to VK Singh and four others in the defamation case for 20 July. General Tejinder had requested the court to summon and initiate proceedings against the former army chief and others for allegedly making libellous statements against him in the media and accusing him of bribery. General VK Singh demitted office on 31 May.

This is the first time that a former Chief of Army Staff would appear before a Metropolitan Magistrate deposing on the matters pertaining to the decisions taken during his tenure. Though there is enough time and sufficient legal remedies available for General VK Singh to avoid appearance but if that happens, it would be a very sad day for the nation in general and the armed forces in particular. The retired General’s appearance would in natural course get followed by the summoning of the members of the top brass, who are still in the uniform.

The Chiefs of the various arms have been treated with utmost courtesy and respect by the Government which behoves the highest commander in the uniform. I may say with certainty that the Chiefs too have conducted themselves, with an odd aberration here and an odd aberration there, with utmost dignity. I recall of two very flamboyant and strong personalities — Gen K Sundarji and Gen S Padmanabhan — who despite their strong differences with MoD, maintained the sanctity of the office.

However, General VK Singh would be remembered for bringing down the honour of the South Block office facing Vijay Chowk. He allowed his personal ego, grievances and dislikes overpower sense of sagacity, which should accompany decision making in such high offices.

A few weeks back in my column in another newspaper I had hoped that the ongoing war of attrition between General VK Singh and the Ministry of Defence ends with the retirement of the former. The war may have ended but the court summon reflect that the wounds are going to take long to heal.

Though I was privy to at least one Army Chief and a Defence Minister holding very strong contrasting views on some vital issues, but it never came to washing the dirty linen in public. However, in another matter the same Defence Minister, George Fernandes had to suffer the ignominy of terminating the tenure of then Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat.

One failed to understand what was the trophy which General Singh sought to win with his relentless campaign against the Government? In departure from conventions and traditions General Singh went to the extent of calling on Chief Ministers heading non-Congress governments in the states before demitting office. He even addressed caste panchayats, though some claim it was by proxy. What was General Singh’s grouse? The grouse which an Army officer generally holds is against the Ministry of Defence, which for matters of policy execution, is headed by the Defence Secretary. The rival to the Chief of Army Staff in the Indian administrative set-up is thus the Defence Secretary and not the Defence Minister.

Following the principles of a faceless bureaucracy to the hilt, Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma, an officer with an impeccable track record, all along abjured from any public pronunciation on the matter. On the other hand a tactless service headquarters and a spineless political leadership allowed agencies like the Intelligence Bureau and the CBI to investigate the exchange of letters between the two high offices (that of the Chief and the Defence Minister) and their leak to the media. General VK Singh did a first by being the first serving Chief of the Army Staff to be questioned by the CBI. The CBI did not send its director to question the Chief. Does anybody realise what wrath has been heaped upon the hallowed South Block office?

Hereinafter every Chief of Army Staff would be open to questioning by a police officer of much lower rank. What good will this do to the morale of the personnel in the olive-green uniform, who have always contested the position of primacy the khakhiwalas enjoy in the civilian world. They all along guarded their turf very zealously but breach in their defence has now been caused by the megalomania practised by General Singh.

It was not just in the tussle with the MoD, the General also showed absolute lack of finesse and tact in levelling charges against General Tejinder Singh that he made an offer to bribe inside his office for favouring the Tatra truck deal. I would like to be educated whether the Chief did not have the powers to call in the Military Police and put the bribe-offer making former General under arrest before handing him over to the civilian authorities for appropriate action.

Instead General Singh initially chose to gloss over the issue and later used the official website of the Army to level the charges. That such a move lacked maturity is most evident from the fact that it’s now being used by the accused officer to get summons served on the retired Chief by the city court. Alleging that the officers misused their official position, power and authority to level false charges against him, Lieutenant General Tejinder Singh has also named Vice Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General SK Singh, Director General Military Intelligence Lieutenant General BS Thakur, Additional Director General Public Information Major General SL Narsimhan, and Directorate General of Public Information Staff Officer Lieutenant Colonel Hitten Sawhney.

This has created a very piquant situation for the current Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh, whose elevation to the high office his predecessor resented. Along with the former Chief, the presence of other officers in the court could also be required bringing huge embarrassment to the Army brass. The present Chief can contain the crisis by withdrawing the official Army release levelling allegations against General Tejinder Singh.

However, a belligerent media may go to town with General VK Singh ever ready to play the poster boy bringing huge pressure on the government to retract the decision to withdraw the release. The situation could be handled if both the service headquarters and the Ministry of Defence show both sagacity and determination to end the matter once for ever. The withdrawal of the Press statement anyway would not hamper the CBI investigation in the matter.

The writer is President, Centre for Reforms, Development and Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post.
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