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  • Understanding the Gen. V. K. Singh controversy

    Posted On September 29, 2013

    By Karan Thapar

    The persistent ringing of the telephone sounded familiar. It was Pertie after months of silence. “What do you make of the Gen. V. K. Singh controversy?”

    His casual question made me think carefully about all I’ve heard and read. One can absorb details without necessarily asking what they add up to. Pertie made me do that.

    My conclusion is you have to answer five key questions to appreciate what you’ve been told and understand its significance. Let’s take them on by one.

    First: is the report of an inquiry by a Board of Officers set up by the Army Chief and headed by the Director General of Military Operations, Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia, credible and factually accurate or manipulated and motivated? To put it differently, is there a possibility Gen. Bikram Singh designed this inquiry to deliberately target his predecessor because he believes Gen. V.K. Singh attempted to thwart his appointment as Army Chief?

    Few serving or retired officers would doubt the report’s credibility. The fact it carries the imprimatur of the DGMO guarantees that. Otherwise one would have to conclude there is a conspiracy at the very top of the army, involving the Chief and the DGMO, to malign and defame Gen. V.K. Singh. That has to be an unlikely conclusion.

    Prima facie, Gen. V. K. Singh’s startling admissions – considered by one former Chief “preposterous and foolish” – seem to confirm the facts in the DGMO’s report leaving only the interpretation to be questioned.

    The second question concerns the government’s silence. Six months have lapsed since the report was handed to the Defence Secretary. Does the government’s inaction suggest it doesn’t take the report seriously or could it be the case that this is a sensitive issue, affecting both the institution of the Army Chief’s office and the Army’s good name, and the government decided it might be better not to take the matter further? Given that Gen. V. K. Singh has retired and the Technical Support Division disbanded could you not conclude discretion was the better part of valour?

    The third question concerns the leak: is it a coincidence it happened days after Gen. V.K. Singh appeared on a platform alongside Narendra Modi or is it an attempt to undermine him because some people think he’s about to join the BJP? The timing, I have to admit, smells. But, then, leaks are always motivated. That’s why they happen.

    This leads to a fourth and, perhaps, more difficult question. What’s more important: suspicion about the timing of the leak or concern about the content of the report authored by the DGMO and, presumably, vetted by the Army Chief? Gen. V. K. Singh’s supporters have focused on the timing. His critics on the content. That, of course, was expected. But which of the two matters more?

    I would say the content for one simple reason. The report carries the official stamp of the DGMO. It’s the outcome of an inquiry done by a Board of Officers and not a single individual. It was formally presented to the Defence Minister by the Army Chief. It, therefore, has the sanction of the Indian Army.

    Finally, has this embarrassed the Army? Of course it has. Has it damaged the Army Chief’s office? Unfortunately, yes. Why else have eight former Chiefs – comprising all Gen. Singh’s living predecessors – issued a statement refuting his claims?

    It’s been a bad week for Gen. V. K. Singh. It hasn’t been a good week for the Indian Army either.

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