I've never been a very big fan of Gen JJ Singh. Even when he was the Western Army Commander and I was working with Hindustan Times in Chandigarh, I had a few run- ins with his MGGS who used to be very unhappy with my news coverage. And then there was the famous crying incident which took place when he held a press conference after his elevation as COAS was announced and every effort was made by his staff to persuade me not to write about it. I went ahead while my counterpart in a national daily wrote such a glowing piece that it seemed that it was not the General who had shed tears but the Pakistan COAS!
Be that as it may, I am disgusted to read open allegations being made about how Gen JJ Singh, now the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, was guided by religious sentiments in ensuring that Gen VK Singh retires on a certain date so that another Sikh, Lt Gen Bikram Singh could become the COAS. What were earlier insinuations have now become open allegations. Assisted no doubt by the fact that the government has had a very dim view of the protestations of Gen VK Singh about the change of his date of birth.
I would not go so far as to say that the directions for unleashing this mudslinging campaign against Gen JJ Singh have come from the very top. But what I would certainly like to believe is that the spin doctors who are managing the media campaign in favour of Gen VK Singh's assertions have now decided to take off their gloves and brace themselves for a knuckle fight.
It is a matter of time before the mudslinging acquires another dimension and also involves mediapersons of different media houses. For all we know the spin doctors may start targetting those journalists who are not taking a stand in their favour in the age-issue.
Be that as it may but the fact remains that the reputation of a former COAS is being trashed as it it were of now value. Gen JJ Singh is perhaps keeping mum because of the Gubernatorial appointment he holds but the fact remains that it has now been decided in principal to malign him and to attribute pro-Sikh sentiments to him. The fact that he was the first Sikh COAS is now being used to denigrate him.
If there is proof of him having deliberately run down Gen VK Singh then go to court and get it decided. It will give the Governor a chance too to rebut the arguments and defend himself. But what some of these uniformed spin doctors are not realising is that such malicious campaigns are harming the organisation more then any individual. Not only are you running down a former COAS but you are also casting an aspersion on the reputation and character of a current Army Commander just because he is a Sikh.
These are dark days for the senior leadership of the Army. It may just slip into an avoidable free fall if the war of words escalates and the mud-slinging attains a momentum which becomes difficult to control. The government needs to look at these developments seriously and needs to check them. An institution which has several hundred years of proud history must not be held to ransom by a few individuals who have their own personal priorities fixed firmly in their sights.
Service before Self must not change to Self before Service.