General VK Singh, the Chief of the Indian Army, had approached the Supreme Court of India for settlement of his long pending age issue. In response, the august Court has, to quote KC Singh, “given a rap on the knuckles” to the plaintiff and thus has ended, to quote General GD Bakshi “this sordid and murky affair”. In consonance with the courtesy inherent in the Nations attitude towards it soldiers the august Court veiled its admonition in some good words for the General and by so doing opened for him the door for an honourable exit; the subsequent media debate has also been kind to the General. All said and done the Nation has cloaked its disenchantment with the Generals action by maintaining a level of dignity which is not seen very often in modern times. This maturity is possibly because of the high regard that the nation has for its soldiers rather than respect and affection for the person of the Chief.
This complete “sordid and murky affair” has been heralded to be the fight of a person of high stature for his “honour and integrity” and now that the “rap in the knuckles” judgment has been pronounced by the highest Court in the Nation everybody seems to be happy. The government is happy since the Chief will be performing his duty till the end of the term that it had initially laid out for him; the Chief is happy in the belief that his ‘honour and integrity’ stands redeemed as is being declared by his lawyer to all and sundry. This state of happiness and joy should not allow us to get into denial mode. There are many facets of probity and honour which are, as yet, open; there are many questions looking for answers.
When the controversy was raging there were as many opinions as there were mouths. All that was being said did not stay within the boundaries of decorum that the Supreme Court has maintained. Can this loss of ‘Honour’ of the noble institution of the Indian Army, which has been prostituted on the mantle of the personal ambition of a single individual, be redeemed? The honour code of a soldier dictates that the good name of the country and his unit is sacrosanct. All efforts at the individual and collective level are made to maintain this edict. Hundreds of officers have sacrificed their careers while taking responsibility for the misdeeds and mistakes of the troops that they command. The Chief went beyond the level of a unit many decades back, now he is responsible for the good name and honour of the entire service. By engineering this public spectacle has he not damaged the honour and good name of the entire institution and by so doing has he not broken the honour code of the service?
Would it be very wrong to feel that by raising this issue in the public domain the Chief has embarrassed his well wishers and near and dear ones starting from his school teacher who has been faulted for the initial error, his father who could not get the mistake rectified when his son was still under training, his service which, he feels, sat on the matter for years on end, his peers who broke all rules to see him reach the pinnacle of his service despite the blunder that was a part of his service profile?
Every family, every institution, every organisation, every country has problems; honour dictates that the same by absorbed rather than highlighted and should there be a prize to be paid so be it. This is the traditional concept of honour, however outdated, which continues to be a part of the Army’s ethics and every soldier, in and out of service, is well aware of the same. Many a soldier would have felt a sense of shame when the matter of military honour was being discussed in a superficial manner across the nation in news channels. Who will take responsibility for this collective sense of shame that the soldier community of the Nation has been subject to?
Every individual, oganisation and institution has a sacred responsibility to maintain the image and dignity of the nation. How will the Nation now overcome the indignity that this soap opera has heaped upon it? Lastly, the Army being a sentinel of the Nation has a very sensitive and responsible role to play. It cannot lose focus nor can it afford laxity due to avoidable extraneous issues. Who will account for the terrible amount of man hours that have been spent in the highest defence offices of the country for managing this matter? How will the trust deficit that has now developed between the defence ministry and its integrated headquarter of the Army be reduced? Is it not logical to assume that a better portion of the tenure of the next Chief will go in removing the ghosts of this drama? Who will take responsibility for the security risk that the Nation has been subject to and will continue to be subject to because of this single episode?
What should the Chief have done? He should have set aside his personal loss which, he feels, was caused by the systemic failures of the organisation, his own people and his seniors and very quietly cleansed the system to ensure that none suffers the way he did in the future. This is what was expected of him as an honourable soldier. How is it that the very person who wanted to take the Army ‘back to basics’ forgot its basic code of conduct? This is what every honourable soldier across the country is wondering about. In a nutshell, scar of this age controversy will remain for ages.