“Bloody foolish” generals reach the higher ranks of the military hierarchy through excessive obedience and fear of failure-traits which serve them badly in dealing with the leadership of combat forces. ( N.F. Dixon, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, Futura, 1976)
The book ‘On the Psychology of Military Incompetence’ is about how the incompetency of military leadership led to victories in battle. The North African Campaign is a case in point, where Rommel was known to be a better general, but still lost to Montgomery, largely because of the latter’s incompetency.
A general’s rise to the rank is a path of strict obedience and the ‘fear of failure-traits’ are developed and honed into a second nature. In the end you have a ‘system’ generated general. It’s almost like a production line and when one goes the next takes over. One can see the succession line to a distance. Not much room for innovation in South Block.
In a couple of day’s time, the saga of General VK Singh’s date of birth and events around it will come to an end with him hanging his uniform. He will join the bottomless pit of veterans and will soon be forgotten. Not unless he follows Jaswanth Singh and others who took up a political career after retirement. The popularity of the armed forces in vote capturing is sure to fail as seen when General Cariappa contested the Southeast Bombay seat (he could have won hands down in Coorg, what a strategic mistake). General Singh will have to rely on oratory skills and local popularity, not a national one if he has to win. I do not know how well equipped he is in these two areas. I recommend that he get into politics for several reasons. The first to erase the myth that soldiers fade away, second, to raise the standards of the legislatures (it’s not the sole domain of convicts), thirdly to keep the enquiries on the dishonest generals going. I wonder if the ruling party (s) will give him a ticket. There are others that will welcome him with open arms.
There are many in the armed forces that can perhaps identify themselves with General Singh. The end of his career is marked with a moral battle ensuing between several pillars of democracy. To name them: the judiciary, the executive, to include the Ministry of Defence and fellow generals under his command. The involvement of legislature (politicians) seemed an indirect one as they are responsible for giving directions to the government. For these reasons, I think, of all army guys he is the best equipped with the knowledge of the pillars of democracy and thus a suitable candidate for politics. In fact the army should have a political wing that trains retiring army officers to get ready for a political career, why only an MBA?
To the rest of the nation this saga was nothing but an internal feud. In any case the people of the nation can do very little to change matters and are mute spectators in this non participatory democracy. There is no place where citizens can take matters to seek a closure to their woes, not even high-ranking generals. The whole incident has proved to be a sham perpetuated by the government. There could have been many endings to the saga and in a clean and healthy system there will have been a closure. In a sab kuch chalta hai attitude this will be forgotten by 1 April and life in India will go on.
The after effects of the saga will however linger on in South Block, the MOD and the Army. The detractors of the general are already crawling out of the wood works and articles on his stubbornness and ‘thank God it’s over’ are now in the press. One thing they all agree is on is VK Singh’s honesty and the fact that his successor will have to bear the cross for a while. Has a new trend been set up where future chiefs can be cut off while still in the cradle? Looks like this could be a potential source of trouble for any government.
It is very difficult to change a military mind. The army relies on traditions that go back centuries and any changes that are envisaged will be cosmetic. A chief can bring about change through innovative policies and personal example. In my opinion it is perhaps only General Sundarjee who introduced significant and new doctrines of combat. Others contributions were not significant enough to make a radical change within and outside of the army, except those of a combat nature and stand offs with the enemies of the nation. The nature of the chief’s office is institutional and any dynamism is within the four walls of the South Block. The least one expects is to go out with honour and respect.
Adieu la general!
Hail to the new chief!