General (retd) V.K. Singh’s recent allegation against the Indian army yet again underscores his lack of judgement and tact. But this is only the latest in a series of episodes where he has deliberately courted controversy. The ex-army chief’s conduct in office, particularly his decision to take the government to court and his attempt to torpedo the appointment of his successor, did considerable damage to the army’s institutional ethos. Having shed the uniform, the general has sought to reinvent himself as a star muckraker and scourge of all the ills afflicting the country. As a citizen, he is of course free to play any role in public life. But as a former service chief, he is the custodian of a tradition that has its own demands. In any case, is the tack taken by him really worthy of his expertise and standing? Take, for instance, his claim that the government had lost its legitimacy and that Parliament ought to be dissolved. Apart from the contempt that it displays for our political institutions, it raises important questions. Could the general’s views have been all that different when he was in office just a few months ago? Doesn’t it suggest a disturbing lack of allegiance to the principle of democratic control of the military?
Even by his own rights, such sensationalism is unlikely to be useful. If the general does seek a big-bang entry into politics, he would do well to consider other successful examples of soldiers. US Gen Douglas MacArthur basked in the warmth of public adulation after being sacked by President Harry Truman, but the soldier who got the Republican nomination for presidency in the next election was the low-key Dwight Eisenhower. When it came to real politics, the Republicans went with a soldier who demonstrated constructive leadership in public life and had a record of being a consensus-builder. This is as it should be. Gen Singh, however, seeks to carry over into public life the peremptory style of a military commander—now deployed in an agitational mode. This is hardly a recipe for success in democratic politics.