It has all the ingredients of one of the many reality shows on television. And it would have been amusing had it not involved one of the country’s most respected institutions, the army. The issue of the army chief’s age, which has now taken on political overtones, is another case of inexplicable political mismanagement exacerbated by an army chief who certainly does not seem to feel that his high office requir-es much greater discretion and restraint in his public utterances.
At the heart of the controversy is the issue of the army chief General VK Singh’s age which has been registered differently on different certificates. Surely, this was a matter which could have been sorted out by the defence ministry in consultation with the army chief without it becoming so public and so unpleasant. As always, our politicians are quick to sense where political capital can be made and former Punjab chief minister and Congress leader Amarinder Singh has made this an issue of the army’s morale.
Mr Singh has made wild allegations, from the age issue being raked up to benefit some individuals to questioning future army chief promotions. His motivation for making such sweeping statements can only be attributed to the fact that Punjab is poll bound this year. It can only be hoped that the Congress leadership steps in decisively to prevent this needless politicisation of the one of the few institutions in which people still repose tremendous faith. General Singh, on his part, appears to be playing to the galleries with remarks like the one that he is being treated as the chief of Pakistan’s army. This will give politicians yet another chance to put their oar in. It is also passing strange that all these controversial, and we would have thought, confidential conversations and statements seem to find their way into the media with alarming alacrity. This has only muddied the waters further.
The threat of General Singh approaching the Supreme Court has now seen politicians step in to try and persuade him against doing so. As an armyman, General Singh cannot but be aware of how much damage he is doing to the institution he heads. This common and garden squabble is worthy of petty party politics, not of an interaction between the army chief and the government.
If Amarinder Singh is so concerned about the morale of the troops and ex-servicemen, then the best thing he could have done is to have stayed out of this issue on which he is hardly qualified to speak. His statement that the vast majority of ex-armymen supports General Singh is not only gratuitous but also seeks to straitjacket the position of the army chief. The army chief should himself step out of the limelight while the issue is resolved. This way, the reality show surrounding the age issue will perhaps come to an end with a fall in its public ratings.