By B. Raman
Gen. V. K. Singh, who will be retiring as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) on May 31,2012, will go down in history as a highly competent General, who did not deserve to be the head of the proud Indian Army despite his excellent record in the battle-field against our adversaries.
He proved during the last months of his tenure that to command the Indian Army, one’s professional qualities and battle-field achievements alone are not sufficient. One requires leadership qualities like firmness in man management combined with fairness to subordinates and colleagues, discretion, an ability to win the respect of the colleagues and establish an atmosphere of trust with the political leadership.
India has been a successful democracy. Its success has been due to not only its voters and its electoral system, but also to the responsible behaviour of the heads of its institutional pillars. Our Army has always been one of the important institutional pillars of our nation and democracy.
In our 65 years of history as an independent nation, we have had instances of honest differences of opinion between the COAS and the political leadership and between the COAS and his senior colleagues. They were handled in a way as they ought to be handled in a sensitive institution like the Army— with a sense of balance, with mutual respect despite the differences, with discretion and away from the glare of publicity. We, the people, became aware of such instances long after the COAS concerned had gone into superannuation.
It went to the credit of those chiefs that they saw to it that their differences did not damage the trust of the political leadership and the public in our proud Army. An Army marches on its pride and its image in the eyes of the public. If the pride and the image are damaged, even the best of weapons and training will be of little avail in maintaining the battle-hardiness of the Army.
In his last months as the chief, Gen.V.K.Singh played to the gallery and exhibited in public a viciousness towards some of his senior colleagues, the like of which will not do credit to any institution, particularly the Army. We have had instances of viciousness in leadership in other institutions of the Government of India dealing with national security, but such viciousness was never exhibited in public and did not make the institutions the laughing stock of the public.
Firmness and fairness in man management is the most important quality the heads of the Armed Forces should have. The esprit de corps, which keeps them fighting fit all the time and under all circumstances, depends on those qualities.
Gen.Singh showed himself to be lacking in those qualities. The Indian Army, that has never been accused or suspected of factionalism, became a breeding ground of factionalism. The relationship of mutual trust and mutual respect between the political and military leadership which has been the bedrock of our successful democracy stands eroded.
Over the years, there has been a demand from strategic analysts in the country for giving our Armed Forces a greater role in decision and policy making in national security matters on par with practices in Western democracies. The Government of Dr.Manmohan Singh had initiated a major exercise to see how this can be done.
Any decision to give the Armed Forces a greater role in decision and policy-making in defence and national security related matters has to be that of the political leadership. It would depend on its confidence in the sense of balance, discretion and responsibility of the military leadership.
That confidence is likely to have been eroded by the way Gen.Singh conducted himself in his sunset months as the COAS. A major casualty of his behaviour could be the exercise to associate the military leadership with policy and decision making in an increasing measure.
The last months of Gen.Singh as the COAS were a bad dream for the country. It is hoped that his successor will repair the damage quickly and make the Army once again one of the important institutional pillars of our democracy and re-establish its esprit de corps.