The ongoing standoff between the army chief, General VK Singh, and the government has become so messy that in national interest it is best to let the army chief go. No army chief in any country will be allowed to fight a case against his own government or refuse to heed the decision taken by the ministry on any matter.
There are various other reasons why an army chief, who has over the last one year shown many signs of taking a position contrary to that of the civilian authority, should be asked to go.
General VK Singh had two birth dates registered with the army and, after due process, the defence ministry has taken 10 May 1950 as his birth date, thus making it incumbent upon him to retire this May. Once a government takes such a decision, an army chief has to accept it. It is the supremacy of the civilian government that is at stake here.
After this decision was taken, Gen Singh, who till then was trying to get his tenure extended, switched tactics like a politician and started saying through leaks in the media that it was not a question of tenure but “personal honour”.
This stance, in turn, brings to the fore many such issues which exist in a constitutional twilight zone and hence can have no formal remedy. The following questions arise:
* Where is the question of personal honour when the sovereign state or government has taken a decision which he has no option but to obey?
* Whose ‘so-called honour’ is at stake here? What about the honour, sanctity and sovereign status of a duly-elected government which reflects the will of the people in a democratic system? The honour of the army has never been at stake here.
In the cat and mouse game that Gen Singh has been engaging in during the last one year, he has crossed all boundaries of accepted behaviour, worst of all by regularly leaking stories to the press and letting one particular defence correspondent see all the documents.
If Gen Singh had any notion of sensible behaviour expected of people in high positions, he should have let the national government and civilian authority’s decision to gain precedence over his so-called honour. He could have accepted the decision, maybe under protest. The general could have, after retirement, presented facts and documents to the public, if at all, for his “honour”.
Gen Singh is guilty of showing disrespect to his own government in many instances while this issue was being decided on by the government. He has even threatened to go to the Supreme Court and approached Pranab Mukherjee (who is higher in rank in the cabinet to the defence minister, and hence this was in open defiance of his own minister), who advised him against taking the matter to court.
Now, in a story again planted on Tuesday in sections of the media, Singh claims that he is being treated like the chief of the Pak army. Such outrageous leaks and statements alone are enough for the government to ask the army chief to go because there is every indication that he is getting ready to fight dirty. Under no circumstance can any government allow that.
In such cases, the example to follow is the US, where President Obama summoned and sacked General Stanley McChrystal, who was US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, for making comments against civilian authority and army strategy in a magazine interview.
In the US, unlike here, the president comes out in the open and speaks his mind. Pictures of him during the sacking meet with McChrystal were published to show that it is the civilian authority which calls the shots.
Obama justified his sacking decision: “I don’t make this decision based on any difference of policy with General McChrystal…But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private a general or a president… By going public, the general eroded the trust that is necessary to work together …” Obama rightly said.
The US president acted swiftly and decisively. Even the opposition accepted his decision because it concerned the army. A Republican senator then said Obama did the right thing because McChrystal had damaged the military by showing disrespect.
Using the same two arguments which Obama used, namely, supremacy of the civilian authority and the erosion of trust, the government must, without delay, remove the general. Otherwise, between now and May, the waters would be muddied so terribly that the fallout will cause permanent damage.
The relationship between the army and the government, and, in this case, the defence minister, will be eroded and that cannot be allowed to happen just to sustain or vindicate the “so-called “personal honour” of one man who had two dates of births registered with the army for so long.