Army generals never retire; they just fade away. But, former Army chief VK Singh has denied that comfort to himself since he hung up his boots in May last year on a bitter note after both the government and the Supreme Court rejected his claim about his date of birth.
The general is again in the thick of a raging row and this one with potentially far more serious implications for the country’s security imperatives. By making the sensational claim that the army has, as a matter of standard procedure since Independence, been paying off ministers in Jammu and Kashmir to ensure peace and stability, Gen Singh has opened up a Pandora’s Box.
Ostensibly, the trigger for this bombshell was the leak on the shadowy military intelligence facility — Technical Support Division (TDS) — that Gen Singh had set up.
An army probe found out how the unit had paid to a minister of the National Conference-Congress coalition in J&K to destabilise the Omar Abdullah dispensation.
Equally startling was the disclosure about how Gen Singh used TDS funds to prompt an NGO in Kashmir to rake up an alleged fake encounter case to stymie the elevation of his number two Lt Gen Bikram Singh as his successor.
If the timing of TDS leaks — soon after Gen Singh shared a dais with the BJP’s Narendra Modi at the September 14 rally at Rewari — raised questions about political motives, the general’s response seemed to be a well-crafted pre-emptive strike to stop the UPA from pushing the envelope on the TDS inquiry follow-up.
By generalising that J&K ministers are paid off by the army, he appears to be trying to put the skeletons back into the TDS cupboard. But, his revelations have strained the credibility of the elected government in Srinagar and the security establishment.
The row has brought the mainstream political class in Kashmir under a cloud and has left only separatists smiling. Worse, Gen Singh may have willy-nilly portrayed the army as a “fifth column” in the volatile state that is opposite to the reality. The army, undoubtedly, is a major stakeholder in the J&K security scenario, but it has always been operating under the Unified Head Quarters (UHQ) led by the chief minister.
Sadly, Gen Singh’s preposterous claims have only been matched by the politically-expedient reaction of the Union home minister daring the former to name the beneficiaries of army pay-offs. BJP leader Arun Jaitley did well to advise both Gen Singh and the UPA government to pipe down on the unsavoury face-off that could well be detrimental to the nation’s security and strategic imperatives — a clear signal that the saffron party is not amused by the general’s indiscretion.