THE recent decision of retired army chief, General J.J. Singh to contest assembly elections in Punjab on an Akali Dal ticket, sparked off a debate within the military community (serving and retired) on whether ex-chiefs entering politics is a right step befitting their appointment and whether their involvement would benefit the military?
He is not the first though. General Shankar Roychowdhury was the first in recent times; however he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. In the present government, General V.K. Singh serves as a junior minister in the ministry of external affairs.
In a discussion on television, retired chiefs, Generals Roychowdhury and J.J. Singh defended their decision to join politics, stating that their participation would benefit the military.
The discussion failed to bring out the fact that joining politics at the state and national levels are two different issues. The only silver lining was that General J. J. Singh’s decision to join politics was taken well after he left the service; hence his ability to influence the military community had considerably reduced.
Secondly, while the military has been represented earlier in the government, as also is presently, has it been beneficial?
The well known names of retired officers in political circles are of Major Jaswant Singh and Major General B. C. Khanduri. Jaswant Singh had served as minister of defence and foreign affairs in the Vajpayee government while Khanduri was minister of surface transport in the same government and subsequently chief minister of Uttarakhand. He presently heads the parliamentary committee for defence. In his present appointment, he has regularly hauled up the defence ministry for its shoddiness in handling procurement of essentials, including bullet-proof jackets and boots, necessary for the functioning of the military.
However, neither of them above were chiefs of the service. They created the impression that retired officers in parliament would benefit the military community, alas it was not to be.
General V. K. Singh’s involvement and support to military matters, including the One Rank One Pension (OROP) agitation, has been minimal. To maintain his military links, after all it was the military which enabled him to rise to his present level, he should have either supported the OROP demand or kept quiet, however negative comments including criticising protesters and suggesting they accept the half-baked press release by the government was what flowed. Further, his contribution and comments to the ongoing battles of the seventh pay commission, disability pensions and allowances has been little, to state the least.
Hence, while an ex-chief presently in the central government, is unwilling to support his erstwhile organisation, expecting a similar appointment to contribute at the state level, provided he is even elected, is asking for the moon. Claims would be made, as were done when electioneering was in progress in 2014, but realities turn out to be the opposite once they join the government.
The military has always prided itself on being apolitical. The chief is a role model for his service. Every soldier looks up to his chief as a single point authority who would do his best for their welfare by interacting with the government in power. In short, he is a demi-god.
Politicians are generally considered unreliable, only interested in obtaining power and winning elections by any means. Hence, while military personnel interact with the bureaucracy as part of their responsibility, they stay away from politicians. For an ex-chief to turn to politics is hence a huge disappointment.
A video clip of General J. J. Singh, presently viral on social media, speaking in an uncultured manner, unexpected of a senior army officer, only adds to the disappointment of the military family. There is no opposition to any other rank officer or soldier participating in elections, other than a service chief. The chair of a service chief is considered too sacrosanct to be discarded for petty political gains. His appointment as a governor, on the other hand, is always welcomed and respected.
The rank and file expect a chief to follow Douglas MacArthur’s maxim, old soldiers never die, they just fade away.
On a chief entering politics, the mass opinion is that he has let down the prestige of the office he once held, as he joins ranks with those whom the military tends to avoid.
If this becomes a norm, then in the future a chief could begin contemplating a political career while in service and thereby commence supporting the party he is likely to join, either directly or indirectly. This would imply politicisation of the military right from the top and signal the end of an apolitical service, which would be a sad day. Hence, we need to consider laying down a time limit, prior to a chief even considering joining politics.
courtesy : dawn news