A propensity for shooting off his mouth and the inability to look beyond his nose has landed up Gen VK Singh in yet another embarrassing situation – of having either to make an unpleasant meal of his own utterings, or to go back on them on one pretext or the other. Other notable occasions have been when he went back on his written undertaking accepting a false date of birth, when he withdrew his case from the Supreme Court after friendly advice from an empathetic bench, and when he had to render humble apologies to the same court and the J&K assembly for his statements in their contempt.
The latest incident relates to the former general’s impulsive tweets castigating the army chief designate. Since opinion is sharply divided about the personalities in question, it would be a good idea to go into the series of events leading up to the present situation without making any value judgments about the people involved.
Due to an anomaly in the official records regarding his date of birth, Gen VK Singh was asked to give a written undertaking on three different occasions as he rose up the ladder to the high office, accepting a particular date as the valid one – which he did. Whether the act of asking him to do so was malafide, or an attempt to prevent precisely the type of controversy that arose later, is one of the value judgments we are avoiding for now. But one of the outcomes of this was to set up a particular line of succession to the office of the army chief.
On assuming the office of the chief, Gen VK Singh rescinded from his written agreement and invoked the grievance redressal mechanism right up to the highest court in the land, to have his date of birth changed. He asserted that the fight was about restoring his honour, which had been tarnished by the government in not accepting his stated date of birth. The government’s stance was that it was not disputing the general’s assertion about the date, but the fact that the change had not been made within the timeframe stipulated by the rules, i.e. within two years. No valid proof, such as a Part II order of the change in date of birth made within this timeframe, could be produced by the general. As a result, the Supreme Court, which was cognizant of the need to pass a judgment as per the rule position, advised him to withdraw his case lest they be forced to pass an adverse judgment, thereby affronting the dignity of the office of the army chief and the person occupying it.
The general acted on the court’s advice and withdrew his application. A large section of the observers expected him to resign at that point of time, especially since he merely had another three months left in office. This would have had several advantages from his stated point of view. It would alter the line of succession that he had been alleging was orchestrated by his predecessors, and it would also underscore his assertion that his fight was about honour and not about additional time in office. It would kill two birds with one stone, meeting all his stated aims. However, he chose not to do so, and preferred to serve another three months, perpetuating the succession he was obviously against.
During his last few days in office, he ordered an enquiry against a serving Corps Commander and placed him under a Discipline and Vigilance ban. The person in question was slated to be an Army Commander, and also to the chief immediately after the next incumbent. It is interesting to note that despite having resorted to such an action, which would obviously alter the line of succession, at the fag end of his tenure, he was vociferous in criticizing the previous government when it took the decision to announce the appointment (incidentally, of the same person) as the chief towards the end of its own tenure.
And now, when the new government of which the general himself is a senior member, decided to uphold the previous government’s decision, he chose to publicly condemn the prospective incumbent, using some very strong vocabulary. Thereby giving rise to a situation where a minister in the government is openly against the appointment of the government’s appointee to the post of the chief of army staff.
So we now have the piquant situation, where, having publicly taken a stand against his own government’s decision – a decision that has been categorically reiterated by the defence minister in the parliament after the general’s outburst – the general possibly has the following options:-
- To bring his government around to his own point of view and change the decision about the appointment of the next COAS.
- To take a principled stand and resign in protest against the government appointing someone with the shortcomings he attributed in his tweets as the army chief.
- Retract and reconcile.
- Pretend that nothing out of the ordinary happened, and continue with business as usual.
It would be interesting to see which of these options the general will choose, or whether he would be able to come up with a fifth option. However, one hopes that in the times to come, the general rises above his personal prejudices and battles to use the opportunity of high office for greater organizational good.