Army Chief General VK Singh’s controversial tenure comes to an end today

 

Army Chief Gen VK Singh

General V K Singh, who took over the reins of the army 26 months ago with an image of an anti-corruption crusader, will retire as Army Chief on Thursday bringing to an end a controversial tenure that was marred by rows over his age and fissures among the military brass.

62-year-old Singh, who will hang up his boots after 42 years of service, will be succeeded by Eastern Army Commander Gen Bikram Singh, who will have a tenure of two years and three months.

Gen V K Singh, who took over as the Army Chief on March 31, 2010 with an image of honest, firm and upright officer, will leave behind a legacy of controversies starting from a row regarding his age.

Opinions were divided on the tenure among former top officials of armed forces with some hailing him and others criticising him.

Even as controversies clouded the last few months of his tenure as the head of the 1.3 million-strong force, he had laid the roadmap for transformation of the army into a lean and mean fighting unit.

He had also flagged concerns over the shortage of arms and ammunition and impressed on Government the urgent need for immediate steps to shore up purchases.

A native of Bapora village in Rohtak district of Haryana, Gen V K Singh’s tenure saw the unprecedented step of an Army Chief dragging the government to the court seeking a change of date of birth in official records that would have given him an extra ten months in service.

Gen Singh had two dates of birth entered in the Army records — May 10, 1950 in the Military Secretary Branch and May 10, 1951 in the Adjutant General’s Branch.

The dispute over what should be treated as his actual date of birth led to a running battle between him and the government which finally ended after the Supreme Court refused to accept his contention that 1951 was his year of birth.

The Army Chief disappointed his supporters when he chose to continue in the post after the setback in the Supreme Court.

Before the dust over his age row could settle down, he made headlines when he alleged in an interview that he was offered Rs.14 crore bribe in 2010 by a retired Lt Gen for clearing a deal for procuring “sub-standard” Tatra trucks.

He had said that he had immediately informed Defence Minister A K Antony about the offer but there was no action, prompting government to issue repeated clarifications in Parliament. It created a stir in Parliament which also took up the issue for discussion.

General V K Singh was mired in another controversy when a letter written by him to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh highlighting shortages and deficiencies in the army found its way to the media.

He also faced allegations of trying to change the line of succession when he issued a show cause notice for censure to 3 Corps Commander Lt General Dalbir Singh Suhag, who may head the Army after General Bikram Singh, in a case related to failed intelligence operation in Assam last year.

Commenting on the 26-month tenure of Gen V K Singh, retired Lt Gen Shankar Prasad said, “History has not spared Jawahar Lal Nehru, it did not spare Winston Churchill either. History will not spare even Gen V K Singh either.”

“I think it will take 26 years to get things back on track after the 26-month tenure of Gen V K Singh comes to an end. I think the best thing to do at this moment would be let the man retire and say goodbye and farewell to him,” Lt Gen Prasad said.

Refusing to comment on his performance, Gen Singh’s predecessor Gen Deepak Kapoor said the next incumbent will have to work “very hard” to restore functional relationship between the Defence Ministry and the Army Headquarters.

“Along with this the next Army Chief will have to improve the morale of the troops and the preparedness of the armed forces,” Gen Kapoor said.

Former Western Air Commander A K Singh praised Gen Singh and said, “I would say that his biggest achievement has been highlighting the rampant corruption in the military and the Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs).”

But, he criticized the Army Chief’s stand on his date of birth issue.

“If I have to underline his negative sides, I would say that his strong stand on his date of birth was not justified.

He forgot that he had accepted 1950 earlier as the date when he was taking benefits. This was the biggest blot on his tenure.”

In the age controversy, the two dates came to light in 2006, leading to the row in 2010 when he approached the government for treating 1951 as his date of birth.

This was rejected after which he filed a Statutory Complaint in May 2011 with Defence Minister A K Antony which was again not accepted.

After this, the General took the unprecedented step of moving the Supreme Court which on February 10 forced him to withdraw his plea.

During the controversy, the ties between the Defence Ministry and the Army Headquarters were affected as Gen Singh accused bureaucrats of being biased against him.

In the appointment of Director General of Assam Rifles also, the difference between him and the Ministry came to the fore when the latter scrapped the Army Chief’s panel of officers recommended for the post sent directly from the Army Headquarters to the Home Ministry.

At the fag end of his tenure, when it seemed that things had quietened down, Gen Singh issued a show cause notice to Lt General Dalbir Singh Suhag, who is tipped to the head the Army two years later, for alleged lapses in handling a failed intelligence operation and put his promotion on hold.

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