Military and Indian Politics- The VK Phenomenon –

V K Singh

Retired Chief Of Army Staff General VK Singh’s appearance with the right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at the Rewari (Haryana) ex-servicemen rally has split the opinion on the ethics and morality of soldiers joining politics in India. The main argument put forth by many including political parties is that this would set a wrong precedent and impact the apolitical nature of the armed forces. Newspapers also speculated that this coming together might also result in induction of General VK Singh into BJP.

Now that calls for some serious investigation.

The armed forces are apolitical to the extent that they do not interfere in active politics while in service in any capacity nor do they serve interests of any political party. But Indian constitution gives each member of the military community to exercise his/her right to franchise. So to that extent each soldier is free to choose his ideology or have political leanings which in no way affects his/her professional judgement or conduct as an apolitical member of the military.

Secondly, the armed forces are known for their integrity and loyalty to the flag. Since India’s birth, the armed forces and its persons have displayed the highest sense of commitment and dedication in their personal and official capacities as a disciplined force of the republic, despite reservations of some bureaucrats and politicians, as displayed in the run up to the Indo China war of 1962. But the sacrifices of the armed forces over the last 64 years have allayed any such misapprehensions.

Thirdly, post retirement, which happens at an early age for the soldiers, they have been known to join politics and have served the country with distinction. Gen SK Sinha, Gen Roy Chowdhury, Gen BC Khanduri are some names that come to mind. By their very disciplined and committed stands in the political arena these ex-servicemen have infused quality leadership with a vast understanding of strategic issues. If more ex-servicemen join politics upon retirement the quality and character of political leadership in the country is bound to improve manifold.

Next, the interests of serving and retired defence personnel have suffered because of politician’s ignorance of military matters and bureaucratic firewall between the two. In times to come, more and more retired military persons will join politics as defence forces have large number of people with sharp intellect and integrity which is driven by lofty ideals and patriotism.

So the first argument that General VK Singh’s mobilisation of ex-servicemen would impact the apolitical character of the armed forces is a non starter. In US and other Western military’s soldiers have made a smooth transition from a military to a political career and contributed meaningfully to the nation’s growth by strengthening the political discourse. India should be no different.

The second argument is rather personal and speculates on whether an embittered retired Chief would be pitted by BJP against the congress supremo Sonia Gandhi. Whether he would join BJP is also debatable. People will see him drift around Anna Hazare, Ramdev and now the BJP and make up their own conclusions about him. However, in an interview with NDTV’s Nitin Gokhale, the General has been non-committal about his true intentions while denying that he would contest against Sonia Gandhi. What he finally does is still a mystery.

However, considering the standard of political discourse in the country, the Congress would not hesitate to link his in service actions as a Chief  in the context of his politics. This might cause the government to open cans of worms to discredit him, something, which might not bode well for the way the army is perceived. The way UPA handled encounters, it shows they don’t care about upholding public faith in institutions.

The idea of former generals joining electoral politics is laudable. Colin Powell is a good model. Alas, Gen VK Singh is creating an entirely different model.

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