In one of the bestselling books ever, “How to Win Friends and Influence people“, Dale Carnegie talks about 12 ways of getting people around to your way of thinking. Method number 10 in this list is “Appeal to noble motives“. This is a method that Gen VK Singh seems to be attempting in the ongoing age controversy standoff with the government. The General has repeatedly made it clear that the whole issue is about his honour, and not about any of the attended benefits or consequential change in succession. A set of retired officers appearing on television debates have perpetuated this notion vociferously, adding for good measure a few noble causes that the chief does not talk about – civil military relations and honour of the entire organization itself to name a few. In fact I wonder if some of them realize how pompous they sound when they dismiss any further argument with words to the effect that it would be beyond the ability of anybody who has not been in uniform to understand the concept of honour.
Unfortunately, despite having been in uniform for over two decades, I find it difficult to understand this particular brand of honour. In the concept of honour that I am used to, the organization’s honour and interest is always above any individual’s. That one chooses the “harder right instead of the easier wrong” – something every NDA cadet prays every day to God to help him do. That one has the moral courage to stand up to one’s convictions no matter what the pressures or duress one may be put under, or what the reward be. That one doesn’t give one’s word and then back out. It is because of all this I find it difficult to fathom how the whole affair can be justified by all the senior officers as a fight for honour. Yes, had this fight been started the very first time Gen VK Singh was asked to give a written undertaking accepting what is not his true date of birth, it would have been truly a fight about honour. Even at this belated stage, had the chief resigned before going to court, he could justify that he valued his honour above office or any other considerations. But under the present circumstances, it appears that honour is the noble motive being appealed to, as professed by Carnegie, to get people around to the desired way of thinking. This notion is highlighted by the fact that his Writ Petition asks the court to direct the government to treat his date of birth as 10 May 1951 and he be granted “consequent reliefs and benefits”.
To my mind, the high regard that people hold Army as an organization in is being leveraged to arm-twist the government into looking favourably at an individual case. Public opinion is easily swayed by surface impressions and passionate statements as very few people care to or have the time to go through the facts in detail. In the present circumstances, when the government popularity and credibility is particularly low for various reasons like the 2G scam, Anna Hazare movement etc, the people are only too eager to lap up the spin about a puny but fiesty David fighting the Goliathesque government to protect his honour. This attempt to play to the galleries is borne out by the fact that there is actually a signature campaign being run to garner public support for the General. I wonder if there is a parallel anywhere in the world ever of such a pathetic campaign being run for a serving army chief. If the fight is all that personal and honourable one, then the chief must get a stop put to such unbecoming activities being conducted in his support.
There is no denying that Gen VK Singh as an individual has been wronged by the inefficiencies and inconsistencies of the system, and possibly by the malafide intent of some vested interests. But despite all of these, he reached the top. He is in a position where he actually has the power to address the very inconsistencies and inefficiencies that were almost his undoing. He has the power to change the system for the better. Regrettably, he chose to devote his energies instead towards what he publicly calls a personal battle for his individual honour.
While it remains to be seen how successful the General will be in ‘getting people around to his way of thinking’ and ‘Winning friends and influencing people’, there is no doubt that the Indian Army as an institution has been the biggest loser in this whole episode. Is the regaining of the self perceived loss of honour of an individual really worth the damage it has caused to the organisation? I wonder.