Blot on the image of the India Army


V K Singh is all politics: even his body language says so

I have been getting calls from the Pakistan media to inquire whether the army stalled the government from certain decisions or forced it to take some without its willingness. Their concern is understandable because the army is the boss in Pakistan and even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who said the elected government would be superior, has to clear the agenda of close India-Pakistan relations with his army chief Gen Parvez Kayani. I have assured the Pakistan media that the situation in India is like the one prevailing in advanced countries in the West where voters are the arbiters.

However, I can recall one example of the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act which can kill anyone on suspicion without being arraigned. The government was inclined to modify the act after a commission’s recommendations. But the army had its way and the act stays without any amendment.

Except for this, I have found the Indian army obedient to the elected government. It may be a cliché but the army is apolitical and takes pride in eschewing politics. There may be discussions in messes or canteens of the armed forces on the present conditions obtaining in the country. But they are healthy and nothing beyond the ventilation of disgust.

This is not even a case of Bonapartism. I know of a few aberrations on the part of certain army chiefs who have gone beyond the ambit of authority. But there is no instance of defiance. When General K S Thimmaiah, a popular army chief, submitted his resignation to the dismay of public, it was against the functioning of the then Defence Minister Krishna Menon. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru intervened and made Thimmaiah to take back his resignation. Menon stayed on at the Defence Ministry and Thimmaiah retired after completing his term.

General K Sundarji went beyond his authority during the military exercises (Operation Brass Tacks). He went into the disputed territory under China and into Pakistan. Islamabad was so disturbed that it sent its Foreign Secretary Abdul Sattar to New Delhi. Sundarji was pulled up. However, he continued to be the army chief until his retirement.

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was popular among the people, particularly after the victory in the Bangladesh war. Even the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was suspicious. He made it clear when he met her that he was proud to head such armed force which did not interfere in political affairs. “You do your job and allow me to do mine,” he was supposed to have told Indira Gandhi.

The latest example, somewhat disturbing, is that of General V K Singh who retired recently as the army chief. He shared the dais with the controversial Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi. I wish V K Singh had waited a bit longer before jumping into politics. There is no harm in generals joining politics. The greatest democracy of America has examples of top military chiefs like Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D Eishenhower running for presidential election, the latter winning the coveted position. But both of them did not rush to the election platform from the theatre of war. They contested only after decent intervals.

The main allegation against V K Singh is that he set up a unit, the Technical Support Division, to snoop on the government at Srinagar and used secret funds to topple it. In an interview to a television network, he has gone further to say that the army has been financing since independence ministers in the Jammu and Kashmir government to maintain “peace and stability” in the state.

The allegation of snooping against the elected government at Srinagar is a serious one. The ruling National Conference is justified in demanding a probe by a sitting Supreme Court judge. The centre is in the dock as far as V K Singh’s admission that the military has financed all ministers at Srinagar. Let the Omar Abdullah government explain whether the charge is correct. Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister, is so disturbed that he has demanded a CBI probe immediately. The constitution by V K Singh of a special cell for special purposes has also to be looked into. The defence ministry has issued a statement to assure that the matter is being pursued for “further action”. V K Singh was said to have been upset by the leakage of report against him by top army officials.

The report is not yet in the public domain. But the charges are too serious to be left at that. The revelations make a mockery of the army’s function in a democratic polity. Covert operations are conducted all over the world. They should never see the light of the day and the officials engaged in them should keep quiet till their death and not even mention them in their memoires.

The military also needs to revise its rules of retirement so as to stop the former chiefs of the three services – army, air force and navy – are not able to join a political party for a decade after their retirement. Being in command they are bound to have earned enough fame to influence the voters. All this darkens the image of the army.

However, V K Singh is not the entire army. He is a maverick. He has criticised even the Supreme Court for having rejected his claim to continue for one year more in service because of his birth certificate was “incorrect”. When he had made no effort to have the “mistake” rectified during his entire career, he had no right to do so after occupying the position of the chief of army staff.

V K Singh is all politics. Even his body language says so. What he has said speaks volumes of affairs between the government and the army. The self-righteousness of V K Singh is not understandable. Why did he not stand up and stop the financing on Kashmir? Instead, he accelerated the process. He says that Omar Abdullah has “an agenda”. What is it and what did V K Singh do to stop it? To topple an elected government is no solution. His own credibility is in doubt. His association with Anna Hazare at present should be taken with a pinch of salt.

The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, human rights activist and a noted author.


  1. His case is more than interesting. He climbed his way up,Sainik School to COAS is a legend,which young students would look up to,was feted upon his elevation yet the story has an unusual end! Someone alongwith him has botched the plot- no conspiracy here,yet more than meets the eye.COAS is not a political post not is it an airdrop! Where and how did it go wrong?May be posterity would judge and pass a more bipartisan judgement.

  2. Pakistani Nayyar.
    I am not surprised you get phone calls from pakis. (Do you only get phone calls!).

    However, I am surprised you have a trace of honesty and dignity left and told them Indian army is not Pakistan army.

  3. You are factually wrong about Douglas MacArthur running for president: he did not, though many prominent people urged him to run against Truman. I am surprised Kuldip Nayyar got his facts wrong: perhaps age is creeping up on him!

  4. Good try. I suggest that you should reqest on record interview with Omar Abdullah and V K Singh before writing. May be it beyond your capacity.

  5. Present chief of Army staff Bikram singh who replace V. K. Singh is relative of Manmohan Singh, isn't it political? Ex-chief retire one year before when he had said twice during his career that his date of birth is wrong. How many infltration attempts when he was chief, everyone know how powerful and active he was.

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