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Saturday, August 24, 2019

Still in combat mode


MAYANK SINGH | Issue Dated: November 25, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : VK Singh | Prime Minister | Manmohan Singh | India Against Corruption |

As the chief of army staff for 26 months, General VK Singh never had it easy. Controversy dogged him like persistent enemy fire. His age was called into question. A letter that he wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on sensitive operational issues was leaked to the media. On his own part, he alleged that, months after taking over as army chief, he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore to approve the purchase of substandard trucks. He even took the government to court.

Post-retirement, the storm continues to rage around him. Gen. Singh is now in the news as an anti-corruption crusader who shares the stage with the likes of yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Jan Lokpal Bill votary Anna Hazare and politician Om Prakash Chautala. Still in combat mode, the general shoots from the hip, causing a stir every time he speaks.

Some weeks back, he accused India Against Corruption (IAC) activist Arvind Kejriwal of going soft on Union Agriculture Minister and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. Earlier, he had not only exhorted agitating sugarcane farmers to gherao Parliament to make their point, he also went to the extent of demanding that the House be dissolved.

In India, it is not customary for a retired army chief to don the role of a crusader. Superannuated army chiefs usually embrace a life of leisure away from the media glare when they are not given gubernatorial duties in one of the north-eastern states. But Gen. Singh, who relinquished office on May 31 last year, has so far shown no inclination to follow that well beaten path.

His actions have evoked strong reactions from many former soldiers but not all of them are critical of his ways. Major Gen. (retd) GD Bakshi says that Gen. Singh is a free citizen and has the right to air his views or join any political party after leaving the Army.

He says, “In the US, almost 70 per cent of the presidents have been ex-soldiers. Soldiers are people who have risked their lives for the nation and they make good leaders.”

As an ordinary citizen of the country, a soldier should be free to join the political process after retirement.
Gen (retd) VP Malik, however, feels that Gen. Singh's recent moves do not befit a former army chief. "If you join politics immediately after retiring, you convey a wrong message," he says. "People might feel that you were politically inclined even while in service." Gen. Malik adds: "The army and its chief are crucial institutions. We need to remain apolitical in our conduct at all times."

Gen. (retd) Deepak Kapoor says "it is unbecoming of an ex-army chief to call for a gherao of Parliament".  He adds: "The people of the nation look up to army chief. He cannot speak of disrupting the India's highest democratic institution after retiring from service."

Former deputy chief of the army, Lieutenant General (Retd) Raj Kadyan, on his part, sees nothing wrong in Gen. VK Singh’s recent activities. “Every day we lament that our politicians have taken the country to its downfall and that we should turn things around. How will we do that? It is a good thing if somebody like the ex-army chief is thinking of joining politics.”

He obviously has a point. After retirement, a soldier cannot be disenfranchised. He is well within his rights to jump into the political fray or make statements that articulate his views on issues that have a bearing on the wellbeing and progress of the nation.

Of course, General Singh has before him the example of General Dwight D Eisenhower, who became the 34th US President. Men like Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S Grant, James A Garfield, Harry S Truman and Theodore Roosevelt, among many others, served in the military and had combat experience before making it to the White House. More recently, General Colin Powell served as the US secretary of state. In India, too, men like Jaswant Singh and BC Khanduri, both former army men, are now in active rightwing politics.

But while there may be precedents, the route that General Singh has taken is not quite the usual. He may no longer be the leader of the world’s second largest army, but his war is nowhere near its end. Having been a victim of the system himself, he seems hell bent on razing it to the ground.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017