Much has been written in the press and much more discussed on TV channels as to Gen VK Singh's legacy. Equally, there have been controversies and allegations over his conduct and his relations with the ministry of defence (MoD) and senior officers within the army. It is time to examine the issues in the right perspective and close this chapter of accusations and countercharges.
Starting from his age imbroglio, there is overwhelming documentary evidence to establish his date of birth as May 31, 1951. Making him agree (on a false promise to set right the error) to the 1950 date of birth at the time of his promotion to the ranks of Maj Gen and Lt Gen was a fraud played on him.
Age (date of birth) has no relevance or consideration for promotion. It comes into play only at the time of appointment as corps and army commander. It is a case thoroughly mishandled by the MoD, more so the defence minister, and ducked by the highest court. Whether he should have gone to court on this issue is debatable.
In the case of alleged bugging of the defence minister's office and tapping of MoD telephone lines, there were dark hints that the army chief was behind all this. Detailed investigations revealed that it was a deliberate lie planted in the press to defame the army chief. Same was the case with a coup that never was. Obviously, the finger of suspicion in planting these stories in the press points in the direction of the MoD.
On the offer of bribe for the purchase of Tatra vehicles, he took the right course of action by informing the defence minister. Once the case had been reported to the defence minister, it was for him to proceed in the matter, irrespective of what the army chief said.
In case the army chief did not want any action in the matter, why should he have taken the trouble of bringing it before the defence minister! Some TV anchors' contention that he should have called the military police and have the officer arrested only shows how naïve they are, not aware of even the basic laws of this country.
The other insinuation has been that he wrote to the PM highlighting crippling deficiencies of arms and equipment in the army and then leaked it to the press. Firstly, there is no impropriety in chiefs writing to the PM. In fact, it is their bounden duty to bring such important and pressing issues to the notice of the PM.
In this case, the army chief had earlier apprised the defence minister of these issues in much greater detail. The more important and perhaps dangerous development is the leakage of this top-secret letter to the press. Aiming the arrow of suspicion towards the army was deliberate and part of the continuing campaign to discredit the army, more so the chief.
A CBI inquiry has established that the letter was not leaked by the army. But who leaked it is yet to be determined. It is a top-secret letter with a direct bearing on national security and leaking it is an act of treason. The possession of such a letter is an offence and, therefore, the press should be put in the dock and made to disclose the source of the leak.
Obviously, those behind this leak are so powerful that the CBI just cannot come out with the source of leakage. Bitterness, if any, between the army HQ and the MoD was entirely the latter's creation.
His issuing a show-cause notice to the 3 Corps commander is another instance where it is being
projected as a kind of bias against the officer. It is the officer himself who first went to the press with the show-cause notice. Secondly, this notice is based on a court of inquiry into a case of some wrongdoing by the intelligence unit directly under HQ 3 Corps and has come to the army HQ through, and with the recommendations of, the Eastern Army Commander.
It is being alleged that Gen VK Singh had issued the notice while there was only a week or so left for his retirement. The army chief holds the baton till he actually hands over the charge to the next chief, and so it should be with every government servant.
He has been able to bring to the forefront of national debate the murky working of defence public sector units (PSUs) as also the MoD's direct involvement in the deep-rooted corruption that exists in these units. The blatant overpricing of equipment being supplied to the army by defence PSUs stands exposed. He also mounted a crusade against corruption within the service and brought to book a number of senior officers.
Gen VK Singh leaves behind a legacy of soldierly conduct, probity and forthrightness. He has decidedly done well and left the army in good shape. He has made the task of the new army chief that much more precise and clear-cut.
(The views expressed by the writer are personal)