Outgoing Army chief General VK Singh certainly has a way with words, if nothing else. But his last press conference in office seems to suggest that he also has a selective memory. He spoke movingly of how we should be proud of our army, how it is apolitical, secular and impartial. That is what we thought before the general waded in and raised a few doubts in many people's minds. Towards the end of his tenure, it would be no exaggeration to say that the general ensured that the army was in the news for all the wrong reasons.
He now tells us that the defence minister is clear-headed. But the general himself did not sound particularly cogent when he suggested that he was being done in by someone in the government or in the army when his letter to the prime minister was leaked. We agree with him when he quotes Gandhi that "Anyone who does injustice is wrong, anyone who accepts injustice is wrong." But maybe it was a bit of an injustice to the usually iron discipline prevalent in the army and its complete detachment from civilian politics that the general chose to make a giant issue of his age, almost suggesting that the government was somehow digging its heels in on the issue so as to deny him his due. The unseemly row dragged on for ages, leading many to wonder what his motives were and also whether the army was as apolitical as was believed. This then seemed to have led to rumours of an unscheduled troop movement, all of which raised, we now learn, needless suspicions about the army. Most of all, the disservice that the general did was to go public each time he had to say something either about his age or the motives of people out to do him in. And now, ironically he says that certain controversies can be ascribed to "my dear media friends who have great imagination to see a ghost behind every bush."
So, he seems to say that while he was pure as the driven snow, the nosy media also played a part in trying to push him into a corner. As the chief of the army staff, he was expected to lead by example. Instead, what he has done is to open the door for other officers to go public with their grievances. This could have disastrous consequences for the famed discipline of the Indian army. The issue of the bribe being offered to him by a retired officer, his opinions on the battle worthiness of certain equipment, all these could have been conveyed to the relevant authority behind closed doors. The barracks doors have been opened by the general, we can only hope that his successor will shut it firmly unless it becomes absolutely necessary to invite external scrutiny.