Many of us have grown up with the notion that army officers are more cultured and sophisticated than your average Joe. And indeed, many of them are the epitome of courtesy and civility. But there are always exceptions and the minister of state for external affairs, General VK Singh seems to be one of them. For a man who headed the mighty Indian Army, he seems singularly devoid of the sort of etiquette one normally associates with an army man of his stature.
First, he got into an unseemly squabble with the government of the day on the issue of his age. Later, luck smiled on him and he found himself in the exalted position of being one of India’s key interlocutors with the world. In the world of international diplomacy, words make a great difference. And it is here that the good general is found wanting. So, far, mercifully, he has not embarrassed his minister, the smooth as silk Sushma Swaraj, on the international stage.
But when it comes to the workings of his government, his desire to be more loyal than the king has led to a number of gaffes that have bordered on the downright offensive. In the past, the general asked in exasperation whether if someone threw a stone at a dog, the government could be held responsible. A barrage of criticism ranging from him being casteist to communal ensued. The only people who did not pillory him were the animal rights activists though they were well within their right to do so.
Now, the general has been giving other political parties a lesson on how not to politicise issues in regard to the suicide of an army man over the one rank one pension controversy. Donning his psychiatrist’s hat, Singh first said that the poor victim could have had mental issues. Then in a deft and non-partisan manner he informed us that the dead man was a Congress sarpanch. Oh dear, general, your slip is showing.
It is not that we are getting all hot and bothered about politicians making gaffes, indeed often most offensive ones. It is just that we perhaps had higher expectations of a general. But clearly politics is a great leveller and the general has been successful in conforming to the somewhat pathetic standards of political discourse.
But even so, to allude to a suicide victim’s political affiliations is stooping really low and we fail to see what point the general was trying to make.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always been one to exhort his ministers to let their work speak for themselves. Clearly, the general was not listening or if he was, has chosen to ignore this.