First Person | Honour and Honesty

Among his various loose comments, has Gen. V.K. Singh also admitted to perjury?

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

For a man who spearheaded Indian Army’s ambitious study on ‘transformation’ during his tenure as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C), Eastern Army Command, General V.K. Singh was most resistant to change once he became the army chief. Perhaps, by that time, the only change he thought was important was in his date of birth.

Defending his interview to a news channel, which has sent most of the retired general-community in a tizzy, Gen. Singh wondered if allegations of army (under him) trying to topple the Omar Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir emanated from the fact that he ‘fought tooth and nail’ chief minister Omar Abdullah’s efforts to revoke Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from parts of the state. Whatever Abdullah’s detractors may have held him guilty of, none could deny that he was seeking change. Those fighting him were obviously resisting change. Not a big deal. People resist change all the time because of the present-induced complacency. And change calls for courage. Complacent are rarely courageous.

Perhaps, it is this habit of complacency that explains Gen. Singh’s another statement. In an interview to a news agency, he rubbished the insinuation that he tried to spike his successor’s chances of becoming the chief by altering the army’s line of succession.

Talking to ANI, he explained: “There is a case against Bikram Singh in the J&K High Court which has been going on. If we wanted to create problems…, we would have changed the stance of the army which it took when the incident occurred. We have not done it. It involves the killing of a man, a 70-year-old, who is labelled as a foreign terrorist. There is no terrorist in J&K who is more than 30 to 40-years-old. And therefore, there was a hue and cry raised by humanitarian groups in J&K because there was a family, a poor Gujjar family, who identified this man as theirs.”

Of all the statements and clarifications that Gen. Singh has made in the last three weeks since he started on his hunting spree, this is the most dangerous. And strangely, this is the one ignored by everyone; a sad reflection on how seriously we take human rights. Effectively, what Gen. Singh is saying is that the army knew that the victim of the then Brig. Bikram Singh was an innocent civilian, but it deliberately lied to the court to save its own. Does this not amount to perjury? Clearly, this has not been the only instance of Indian Army lying on oath in a case of human rights violation, given the abysmal rate of conviction against personnel wearing olive green.

Gen. Singh has assiduously built a reputation of probity within and outside the service. Even today, he claims to be on the side of the righteous. Whether it is Anna Hazare’s plebeian movement or a farmer’s rally, he stands for just causes. Why did he then allow the army under him to lie about the dead? Is honesty important only when it falls in the financial domain? Or a few dead people in conflict-ridden states like J&K do not impinge upon the conscious of honest soldiers?

Is it any wonder then that there is a difference of nearly a thousand in the human rights violation figures offered by the human rights groups and the army? Is it any wonder that there is absolutely no accounting for the unmarked graves in the state? Let’s not even start on the disappeared and the disabled.

If indeed Gen. Singh’s heart, mind and conscience were in consonance, he would have effected change, not in the state of J&K — that’s not his job — but within the army. He would have recognised AFSPA for what it is: The single-most powerful tool that is systematically crippling and undermining the morality and honour of the Indian Army and its brave men. It gives soldiers a comfortable blanket in which to hide their misdeeds. A soldier with no fear of accountability or with the knowledge of an amenable boss willing to lie on oath to save him, is a soldier with no honour. And a soldier without honour or morality is not fit for war. Isn’t that what Bhagwad Gita says? With his complicity, Gen. Singh has been instrumental in dishonouring the army. As far as paying politicians is concerned, I have no idea what the army has being doing in J&K or other troubled states since Independence. But I know for sure what it was doing in Kashmir when Gen. Singh was the chief and his hand-picked officer was general officer commanding (GOC), 15 Corps in Srinagar. I had gone to interview him on army’s famous Operation Sadbhavana where he espoused his ‘Ji Janaab’ doctrine. Before we were to leave, he discreetly handed over an envelope to my photographer, a local.

The mysterious envelope was too much for me to retain my good manners. The moment we got into our taxi, I pestered the photographer to open the envelope to see the contents. A 500 rupee note nestled inside. The photographer was livid. I was embarrassed. At some mental level, the corps commander was one of us, an Indian. And he had completely let me down in front of a powerless Kashmiri civilian. Did it then not show that India is holding onto Kashmir only through military and money?


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