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Uniform decline

The Army’s reputation has been smudged by several scandals involving generals. Is the organisation losing its sheen? Rahul Singh reports.

india Updated: Jun 06, 2010 23:57 IST
Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
Hindustan Times

The sexual misconduct charges levelled against one of the Army’s senior-most generals, Lieutenant General A.K. Nanda, by a colonel’s wife have brought the military back at the centre of the ethics debate.

The Army has said there are gaping loopholes in the accusations against General Nanda and he may have been a victim of professional rivalry.

The jury is still out on Nanda, but the Army’s track record hardly inspires any confidence.

The dust had barely settled over Lieutenant General Kishan Pal’s (retired) indictment by the Armed Forces Tribunal for tampering with Kargil war records that the Nanda episode has caught the Army flat-footed.

The alleged involvement of four generals in the Sukna land scam (in north Bengal) made for an inglorious page in the Army’s history, giving rise to the suspicion that senior officers were creating conditions for corruption and misconduct to thrive. So just how deep is the rot?

Major General Nilendra Kumar (retd), a former Judge Advocate General, explains, “There is ethical deficit in the armed forces. Leadership values and the need to set a personal example have been overlooked.”

Kumar, who headed the military judiciary from 2001 to 2008, said an average of 25 officers were court-martialled every year during his tenure for various offences.

The Army has 1.5 million soldiers in active service. Its main job is to make the country secure from external aggression. Apart from being involved in five wars — 1948, 1962, 1965, 1971, and 1999 — it has had a major role in looking after internal security as well.

Corruption, like cancer, has many manifestations. The Army’s reputation has been tarnished by generals and brigadiers who have been sacked for smuggling liquor, siphoning off public funds, sexual misconduct and irregularities in procurement of ration and fuel. A major general facing corruption charges became a fugitive from law last year to evade disciplinary action.

Each new charge triggers an element of déjà vu and raises uncomfortable questions about the motives of the military leadership.

The military, soldiers say, mirrors the society from which it is drawn. Are the armed forces then going the way of the civilian services?

Army Chief General VR Singh, who blew the lid off the Sukna case and recommended strict action against the generals allegedly involved, believes the Army’s internal health needs to be fixed.

He has made known to his men that their standards must be higher than those of civilians. “The military has its own value system. It has to be different from civil society,” Singh said after taking over as Army Chief on April 1. He admits that the Army’s culture needs to be set right to restore the dignity of soldiers.

A retired Army commander who did not wish to be identified insists, “Corruption thrives at the military’s highest echelons as supervision is reduced. It is on a very petty scale at the lower levels.”

South Block sources say more skeletons are tumbling out of the military’s closet because of Defence Minister AK Antony’s diktat that instances of wrongdoing are not to be swept under the carpet in the name of upholding the services’ reputation.

Former Army Chief General VP Malik, who was in charge during the Kargil war of 1999, is not convinced that the armed forces are collapsing under the weight of endemic corruption or other wrongdoings.

He argues, “While there are cases of individual transgression, the Army’s fundamental values are still unscratched.”

But many fear that the Army’s reputation is declining and steps must be taken to preserve the customs and traditions that sustain the military ethos.

The military’s pride is at stake, and the military alone can salvage it.