General VK Singh’s reputation for generating controversy regrettably obscures his achievements as a soldier. Mr Singh’s tenure as Army chief was marked by a well-publicised legal row over his age. He ticked off judges with critical remarks and indicated that ministers in Jammu and Kashmir are on the Army’s payroll. One would have thought that his entry into Parliament and appointment as minister would prompt a measure of restraint that serves him and his government better.
But clearly not. In a move, that seriously embarrasses the Narendra Modi government, Mr Singh attacked the next Army chief Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag on Tuesday, accusing him of protecting an army unit that “kills innocents” and “does dacoity”. Mr Singh does not seem to be aware of the import of a serving minister casting strong aspersions on a general who takes over as India’s Army chief next month. Instead, he is revisiting his campaign against Lt Gen Suhag from his days as army chief. He imposed a ‘disciplinary and vigilance’ ban on Lt Gen Suhag for alleged “failure of command and control” in an intelligence operation — a move that was seen as an effort to block the latter’s elevation to the top job.
The ban was withdrawn after Mr Singh retired and the UPA government duly cleared Lt Gen Suhag’s appointment as army chief. In fact, in an affidavit filed this month before the Supreme Court — while the new government was in transition — the ministry of defence described Singh’s disciplinary ban on Lt Gen Suhag as “without any basis”, “vague”, “illegal” and “premeditated”.
Someone should sternly remind Mr Singh that these are the kind of distractions that the Modi government can do without, keen as it is implementing the big goals it has set for itself. Defence minister Arun Jaitley has done the right thing by declaring Lt Gen Suhag’s appointment to be final. The BJP had some misgivings over the way the decision was rushed through by the UPA, but Mr Jaitley’s statement should help draw a line on this needless controversy.