Army chief Gen VK Singh’s reference to “rogue elements” that magnified differences between him and the government points the needle of suspicion towards a cabal of disgruntled generals who feel that he has discriminated against them as well as towards the Union home ministry.
The differences were also enlarged because of the run-in with the defence ministry that the general has had on his date of birth, over which the chief challenged the government in court. On three crucial issues, Gen VK Singh and the home ministry — with the defence ministry sometimes in the loop and at times out of it — have major differences.
The first is on the dilution of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a law that arms soldiers with extraordinary powers in conflict zones. Gen. V.K. Singh is against the dilution but a home ministry proposal on this is pending with the cabinet committee on security.
The second is on limiting the role of the army to training in the counter-Maoist strategy. Gen. V.K. Singh was consulted last year by the home ministry as operations against the Maoists intensified. He staunchly refused to extend the army’s role beyond training on the ground that he was unwilling at this stage to deploy his soldiers in a counter-insurgency operation in the hinterland.
The third is on the appointment of senior army officers on deputation to forces under the home ministry or to posts over which the home ministry has a say.
It is the last of these three issues that has resulted in the creation of a group of disgruntled generals in army headquarters and in crucial army formations. The officers may or may not be in touch with each other but they have this much in common: they feel the army chief has done them poorly.
The army chief had recommended that the current director-general of military operations (DGMO), Lt Gen. A.K. Choudhary, be considered for the post of director-general, Assam Rifles, on deputation to the Union home ministry. The Assam Rifles is officered by the army. But the defence ministry turned down the recommendation.
The post had fallen vacant after the defence ministry, on the request of the army, recalled Lt Gen. Rameshwar Roy. When Roy was on deputation to the home ministry, there were allegations that he had misused funds for personal purposes. The home ministry was at first reluctant to release Lt Gen. Roy but relented on the army’s insistence.
The defence ministry has also turned down the army chief’s recommendation to appoint Lt Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain, the chief of the 15 Corps in charge of the Kashmir valley, as the DGMO. Lt Gen. Hasnain’s release would also require the consent of the home ministry. Hasnain, widely credited with bringing down violence in the Valley during his stint, will revert to army headquarters, not in the post where Gen. V.K. Singh wanted him but to a less important office.
Some other officers are aggrieved over Gen. V.K. Singh’s tinkering with the promotion policy. Gen. V.K. Singh gave army commanders the power to award “discretionary marks” to assess an officer’s performance. This was resented by some of the officers who felt that this would lead to bias.
The defence ministry also held up the recommendations for 40 major generals for six months. As a result, many of the officers had to retire. Only last month, the defence ministry cleared the promotions of 14 major generals as lieutenant generals and 32 brigadiers as major generals.
There are 240 major generals and 81 lieutenant generals in the 1.2 million-strong army. This means that the higher an officer goes, the more difficult the competition becomes. A lieutenant general serves for two years more than a major general and a major general serves for two years more than a brigadier.
In an interview to a newspaper during an official visit to Kathmandu last week, Gen. V.K. Singh indicated he suspected that a nexus of army officers and bureaucrats had engineered the story of the coup that wasn’t. These “rogue elements”, he suspected, were drawn from among the ranks of those who did not find it convenient to serve under him.
In army headquarters, there are insinuations that information on the movement of two units on the night of January 16-17 was passed on by an officer from among the discontented lot to the Intelligence Bureau of the home ministry in an “alarmist” fashion.
-via News Bullet