Ethics, Ethos and the New Chief

Posted on: June 1st, 2012 by ivoana

By Lt. Gen. S.K. Sinha

Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh takes over as the new Chief of the Indian Army on May 31, 2012, succeeding Gen. V.K. Singh. Both these officers were commissioned almost three decades after me in the Army.
I first met them when I was the governor of Jammu and Kashmir and found them doing well as divisional commanders in counter-insurgency operations. I was particularly impressed by Bikram Singh, who was commanding the same division which I had commanded 30 years earlier.

The last one year has been a dark patch in the history of the Indian Army. Gen. V.K. Singh’s tenure as Chief started with a blaze of a self-created controversy compounded by the shenanigans of a few others.

He has now said that the year of birth controversy was avoidable. His last week in office is ending with another controversy that smacks of personal vendetta. He has projected himself as a knight in shining armour, as a lone crusader against corruption casting aspersions all round.

Never before has any Chief in this country or any democracy in the world, filed a statutory complaint or gone to court. This lowered the dignity of that high office. Matters were compounded by the caste factor being brought in.

Members of Parliament of his caste sought the Prime Minister’s intervention in his favour and his brother-in-law organised a public rally in his support in Delhi. Instead of distancing himself from all this, he as a serving Chief went to unveil the statue of a former Prime Minister belonging to his caste.

All this sent a wrong message. Caste or communal considerations may play a role in politics but they have no place in the Army, where our officers and men have always maintained a totally national outlook. In the wake of the adverse verdict of the Supreme Court in March, it’s been a long, murky night of generals which has continued to his last days in office. The ethos and ethics of the Army have taken a tremendous beating, as well as the image of the Army.

Anyway let us now bury the past and let the Army bid farewell to Gen. V.K. Singh, wishing him happiness and prosperity in his post-Army life.

The new Chief faces a whole lot of challenges. He must restore the dignity of the high office of the Chief, and equally important, must revive the ethics and ethos of the Army. In a democracy, a Chief must unquestioningly accept the supremacy of the civil and must be totally loyal to the latter.

Civil stands for the political executive and not for civil servants. Subordination of the military to the civil should not mean subservience or servility. There may be occasions when a Chief may have serious differences with the government on policy matters of national importance. In that event, he must resign and not promote public controversy while still in service.

Napoleon’s advice about military operations is relevant: “Every General-in-Chief when given orders that he feels are wrong must represent and get them changed. If this is not done, then he must resign.”

Two past instances reflect the ethics and ethos of the Army. Gen. Thimayya had differences with
Krishna Menon, the defence minister. He tendered his resignation. Jawaharlal Nehru sent for him and urged him to withdraw his resignation in national interest, assuring him of resolving matters. Thimayya withdrew his resignation. He never went public on why he had resigned and, of course, did not go to court to seek justice. The other example pertains to my generation of officers in 1947.

New pay scales were introduced after Independence for both civil and military officers. Pre-Independence civil officers were allowed to retain their old, higher scales and the new scales applied to their post-Independence colleagues. In the case of Army officers, those serving from before Independence were also brought on the new scales.

This meant an overnight reduction of about 30 per cent in our salary. No one went to court seeking justice. We accepted the unfair decision with a stiff upper lip. The steep reduction in our salary coincided with operations in Kashmir. The unjustly treated officers fought loyally; some even making the supreme sacrifice.

A malicious rumour is doing the rounds that the new Chief is being brought in so that he can tow the government line on withdrawing troops from Siachen. I dismiss this out of hand. I am confident that Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh or any Army Chief will always tender his honest professional advice; not doing so will be betraying the nation. The government may take any decision it likes.

Ensuring high degree of war preparedness through expeditious acquisition of modern weapons, new raisings and improving defence infrastructure on a war footing, is an overriding requirement.
Simultaneously, there should be no compromise in combating corruption. Prompt and exemplary action must be taken to root out this menace.

To achieve these goals, the Army Chief should regularly be interacting directly with the Prime Minister and the defence minister. The political executives must ensure that the civil servants do not act as a barrier between them and the Army Chief. Service Chiefs must function as Chiefs of Staff and not as heads of department attached to the ministry.

Pending restructuring of higher defense organisation, committee system of joint functioning as recommended by Lord Ismay in 1947, should be revived.

Relying solely on file-based decision making must be given up. We have the most irrational higher defence organisation in the world with stifling bureaucratic stranglehold.

The recent controversies have shown how deep-rooted distrust and antagonism is between Army officers and civil servants in the ministry of defence. They need to work as a team pursuing a common goal.

The sooner our higher defence mechanism starts working on the same lines as in the UK and other democracies the better. Appointment of Chief of Defence Staff and meaningful integration of services headquarters with the ministry of defence, are immediate imperatives. Recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee were cleverly derailed by the bureaucrats.

There is little hope that the ongoing Naresh Chandra Committee, headed by a former defence secretary, from which former Army Chief has been kept out while including former Navy and Air Chiefs, does not inspire confidence.

The new Army Chief should give top priority to rectifying the grave infirmities in defence functioning, enlisting the support of the Prime Minister and the defence minister.

Gen. Bikram Singh has to lead and inspire our one million-plus Army by his personal example. Heavy responsibility rests on his shoulders. From what I have known of him, I am sanguine that he will be successful in carrying his daunting responsibilities.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir

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