Knives of the Generals
(Not to be confused with Night of the Generals, the movie)
For many months now I have been reading about the Indian Army (hereinafter Army) and how many grouses officers have against the Generals and also the MS Branch. I also wrote a rebuttal of the allegations by a Veteran Indian Naval officer about the financial shenanigans of Flag officers.
I recently read about the Army’s investigations of a clandestine unit whose funds and services were used by a former Army Chief to topple a government of a State, no less. It was ironical that this discovery should also have the inevitable corollary of that former Chief trying to prevent his successor from getting the hot seat, which one his predecessors had made "reservation" as alleged in the media.
Let me start the main piece with two caveats. First, my father, a former India Number One in Tennis and also had played at Wimbledon before WW II, was in the Army (Captain, commissioned in 1942) and fought in the famous Battle of the Tennis Court in Kohima. (Please see page 121 of the paperback version of book Springboard to Victory by C. E. Lucas-Phillips). He quit without accepting a Permanent Commission. Second, I was a member of the 19th Higher Command Course (year 1990-91) at the then College of Combat (Commandants were Lt Gen Narahari and later Lt Gen Vijay Madan).
Army’s Chiefs have somehow managed to be in the spotlight for reasons that do not reflect their true capabilities as leaders and commanders. Neville Maxwell’s book India’s China War brought out that Thimayya was shamed by Pandit Nehru after withdrawing his resignation (page 316). Thapar accepted the Govt’s dictates, without demur as Maxwell states (page 315) instead of resigning, much against strategic and tactical considerations. There are more books on such matters of later times i.e Kargil etc.
1990-91 was the year of a spasm of display of Army's morality in full view of the Nation. The then Chief (an artillery officer) must have believed that medium guns are more suited to clean up than the pen when he decided to sack many General officers! So, the newspapers went to town (even in a small place like Mhow, where the ‘papers were delivered a day late), with the name(s) of the Generals and why they were shown the door unceremoniously. Their alleged offence was using nether that part of the body associated with re-production with members of the opposite sex, other than their spouses, usually with the consent of the “other”! Perhaps, in his wisdom and zeal, the then Chief though it was better to make it a (prime time) show without thinking over, or caring for the collateral damage to the Army!
The only relief in all this bleak atmosphere was when Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw came to address the HCC. After the tea (and Bhanwarilal’s kachoris) break, the first question was "what did the Filed Marshal think of the Army Chief’s moral crusade." His reply was, as usual, pithy and witty, “I would have retired as a Lieutenant!” He did not entertain any more questions on that topic (of Army's morality crusade!) even in the pre-lunch drinks. Of course, the next day we were briefed to tread on egg-shells when the Army Chief would address HCC a couple of weeks later and also for the then Air Chief's address. The CAS, it seems, had walked out in a huff the previous year, incensed by yet another irreverent question the HCC participants’ had a reputation for!
I had retired for a few years when the Adarsh scam hit the headlines. It was sad that Deepak Kapoor, also a co-participant in 19 HCC, was accused (and whatever happened to that case?) and offered a reason quite in contrast with his reputation for being thorough with his background information. (And Nirmal Vij, in it too?)
But the offal started to hit the ceiling when there were allegations of some financial skulduggery in Northern Command when Deepak was in command (and it appears an epidemic that such discoveries and resultant allegations are always a couple of years after the incumbents have demitted office!).
So VK Singh started to clean up the Aegean stables he took charge from Deepak. VKS had two Lt Generals investigated and shown the door and as he climbed the ladder to that seat of high morality, the rungs of the ladder started to unhinge, one at a time.
He challenged the change in the year of his birth, which he had acquiesced to a few years earlier. He never told the Nation why he could not refuse then and face the consequences (no promotion to Lt Gen? No GOC II Corps?) instead of doing what he did a year before his superannuation. Perhaps he forgot that one cannot cover all flanks unless one has a superior defence strategy and more important did not learn from the Adm Bhagwat-Sushil Kumar episode! And since the Hon'ble Supreme Court gave matter the quietus with some advice, I will leave it at that.
So now we have Bikram Singh skirmishing on several fronts! I hope he will read and ponder on this paraphrased passage by Alfred Vogts, in The History of Militarism: -
“Again and again, military men have seen themselves hurled into wars by ambitions, passions and blunders…..almost wholly uninformed as to the limits of their military potential and almost recklessly indifferent to the military requirement …they let loose.”