Our generals in their labyrinths
The ugly clash of titans unfolding in the national political battle turf is something that is doing enormous disservice to the very entity the behemoths are fighting for: the sanctity of the armed forces. With the government confirming the appointment of Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh Suhag as the next chief of army staff (COAS) and the interim defence minister Arun Jaitley dubbing former COAS and now minister of state for northeast and external affairs V K Singh’s ban on Lt Gen Suhag’s promotion as ‘illegal, extraneous and premeditated’, the fissures in the edifice are becoming gaping holes for others to fawn at, greatly diminishing the image and stature of the armed forces. The controversial Singh, known to be a loose cannon amongst his peers and not only for the age scandal that halted his continuation as the chief for another year in 2012, had issued a show cause notice to Suhag in 2012 alleging an illegal raid and burglary by an Army unit under his command in the northeast, after a petition by Lt Gen Ravi Dastane challenging Suhag’s suitability and highlighting ‘favouritism’ within defence quarters. But that is now to be buried as matters of past with the new dispensation in centre firmly standing by Lt Gen Suhag, who was in fact a UPA appointee. With COAS Bikram Singh’s tenure set to end on 31 July, it is important that the brouhaha over the army chief is put to rest since that would impact the morale of the battalions in most unforeseen ways. Hence, if only in the interest of peace and calm, the government has been right to take a definite stand over Singh’s allegations, rubbishing them, but clearly that is not enough.
Importantly, with his foot-in-mouth problem not ending any time soon, Singh must be categorically told to stop shooting ducks which might jeopardise the union government and embarrass the defence ministry. His tweets on Suhag can longer be entertained since he’s no longer a maverick general but a legislator with crucial and delicate portfolios. Despite the defence ministry’s affidavit officially trashing Singh’s allegations, amity must be established between the rival centres and the army must not be allowed to be held hostage to factious power brokers too ambitious for national security. Singh is clearly guilty of breaking the Omerta code that expects the establishment to not play politics with army, which is perceived to be, and not unjustifiably, above partisan interests. While PM Narendra Modi has displayed fantastic insight in keeping Singh away from defence portfolio, what he also must immediately do is redress the ad hoc nature of the ministry and appoint a full-time union minister to do justice to this important and absolutely integral legislative unit.