Millennium Post

No romance of ‘big ideas’ for new army chief

No romance of ‘big ideas’ for new army chief
It was meant to be an ice-breaking meeting. After all the turbulence the army had gone through, beginning with then army chief’s military secretary being charged with corruption; then the next chief taking on the government on the issue of the length of his tenure coupled with charging a brother officer with high corruption, the army under the new chief of staff, General Bikram Singh, wanted to give the message of calm seas.

Singh looked the part. As he entered the huge cavernous hall of the army’s own spanking new convention complex called the Manekshaw Centre, he just did not march in but stopped near the entrance and reminded the assembled group of defence journalists that he has kept his promise; of meeting them in a month from the day he took charge. A propitious beginning, that.

He was a bit of a known commodity amongst the Delhi circle as he was the spokesman of the army in New Delhi during the Kargil conflict. So he knew a few of the old-timers amongst the defence correspondents and enjoyed a rapport with them. Singh built on that bonhomie.

The rule his army minders had set before the meet was that there would be no television cameras and no pen and notebook. ‘So that the chief could freely mingle,’ we were told. The invitation was for a high tea, a more controllable environment than when the liquor flows freely.

Though there were not any substantive exchanges with the new chief, there were still questions: about his priorities, his plans for the army and his vision. These were really those ones that make those answerable happy. They can hold forth on the ‘plan and vision thing’ and have a good time tickling the minds of a questioner.

The process of meeting the armed forces honchos are quite laborious once they withdraw into their lairs. Access is tightly controlled and rigidly held. So there is always a perennial request with every armed forces in their first meeting with the media: ‘Why don’t you meet us more regularly in a formatted environment.’ The example that follows the request these days resides across the Raj Path, in North Block, the home of the home ministry.  Like every senior official of the armed forces, the chief, Gen Bikram too nodded his head and sure, we can do that. Let the minders work out the modalities. Both the officials in-charge of the chief’s public exchanges know a proposal of that kind will get lost in the labyrinthine corridors of power. For, there is too much to hide. In terms of the armed forces, legitimately mostly. The journalists know it. But the request still has to be made for the job of the reporter to become easy. 

This correspondent, like most others in that hall had an agenda. A confirmation had to be found whether ‘military transformation’ and ‘revolution in military affairs’ that the previous chief had kicked off is still on the plate or not. So the question was posed. And the reply was, now the new catch phrase is the much reiterated and almost tattered, ‘modernisation’. Clearly, Singh was not into the romance of ‘big ideas’. May be that will work better for the Indian Army.
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