General VK Singh, attained superannuation from the post of Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army on May, 31. The exit, unfortunately, took place in the midst of a number of controversies which cast a shadow over an otherwise illustrious career. His has been a much talked of tenure, wherein, he has been looked upon as a crusader and a villain in equal measure. During the last few interviews given by the General to national news channels, the achievements of the Army during his tenure were sidelined to make space for contentious issues. This left the nation, especially the community of soldiers, quite dejected. Be that as it may, now that the General has retired, there remains no case to be judgemental and the time gone by should be remembered for the triumphs rather than the setbacks. This is what the nation owes to an honourable soldier and a senior citizen.
It is also regrettable that the incoming Army Chief, General Bikram Singh, was sucked into a vortex of controversies, none of his own choosing. Wild rumours alleging all sorts of professional and personal inadequacies were given credence through outright yellow and motivated journalism. It is to the credit of the government that it did not get swayed by blatant media attacks and conducted the selection process in an unbiased and diligent manner. Later, another attempt to challenge the decision of the government in the Supreme Court was thrown by the learned panel of judges, most deservedly, into the rubbish bin.
Even a cursory look at the career profile of General Bikram Singh would convincingly prove that he has all credentials required to take on the responsibility now assigned to him. Take, for instance, the most important factor of command assignments. He has commanded a division in the operationally active plains of Akhnoor (Jammu) and a corps in the most sensitive Kashmir valley. As Army Commander, Eastern Command, he has been involved with the realignment of national policy and force restructuring along the Indo-China border, as also, the changing environments in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan.
In fact, General Bikram Singh has a distinguished record right from the time when he was a gentleman cadet in the Indian Military Academy (IMA). He passed out from the IMA in the super block with a gold medal in tactics; he was the best student in the in the young officers course; he was awarded the Commando Dagger for topping the toughest commando course of the Indian Army; he studied in the prestigious US Army War College, Pennsylvania apart from doing all army courses with distinction. His consistent outstanding performance brought his way a tenure, as a colonel, in the Directorate General of Military Operations, Army Headquarters, which deals with all operational matters concerning the Army. Later, as a Major General, he was the Director General, Perspective Planning at Army Headquarters; this assignment required extensive research and application to evolve visionary models for future prospects of the Army. In fact, it is here that the concepts of transformation and modernisation were conceived.
It is quite evident from the foregoing that the career profile of General Bikram Singh is comparable to that of any of his illustrious predecessors in the august office of the Indian Army Chief. In fact, his balanced and wide ranging command and staff experience, fortified with a number of postings in New Delhi will serve as a force multiplier in getting issues resolved and projects moved. The Nation has every reason to be confident that its Army is in safe hands.
The road ahead poses great challenges since there are several critical issues which need to be addressed. In the arena of defence preparedness one can name lackadaisical pace of defence modernisation and defence acquisition; the shadow of corruption on public sector undertakings and the slow pace of indigenous defence research and development as the most significant. The situation on the borders, environment of insurgency/terrorism and other dimensions of security pose a unique set of challenges. We have evolving paradigms of regional security that the Nation has to face up to, especially so, with respect to Pakistan and China. Ex-servicemen are quite unhappy with the government’s apathy with their one rank one pension demand while serving officers are finding it difficult to come to terms with the non functional financial upgradation granted to the Organised Group-A civil services and surprisingly, not to the armed forces. Above all, the trust deficit that seems to have developed in the civil-military relationship at the Ministry level will require some astute and mature handling to get back on track. These are a few of the burning issues which the new Chief will have to take on. Undoubtedly, he will have a lot on his hands and not all will be related purely to military matters. In the discharge of his duties he needs to be extended maximum support by the Nation, without being subject to constant public glare and scrutiny.
Apart from the Army Chiefs’ baton changing hands, there have been many changes in the top hierarchy of the Army in the past few months. Change always brings with it new ideas and new dynamism. This is the most opportune time to put behind all the unfortunate and acrimonious events that have occupied centre stage during the last year or so and move on with new vitality and energy. The circumstances facing the Nation are challenging and, under the circumstances, the army and the ministry need to focus only on professionalism driven by national interest. The entire Nation is looking forward to restoration of the dignity and professional confidence of the Army; the sooner the better.