Gen VK Singh likely to resign after loss in court
NEW DELHI: Will he or won't he? Resign, that is. The dominant sentiment in South Block, after General Vijay Kumar Singh lost the last battle of his career on Friday, was that the Army chief should put in his papers since continuing in office had become simply "untenable".
Some in the Army chief's lobby, reeling under the shock of the defeat in court, also admitted that Gen Singh was "actively considering" resignation despite his lawyers claiming "his honour and integrity" had been "restored".
Beyond lobbies and spin-doctoring, both military and civilian officers acknowledge the "grim reality" that "a huge trust deficit" has emerged between Gen Singh, who left for Jaipur on an official visit around 4.30 pm, and defence minister A K Antony.
When he assumed office in April 2010, Gen Singh promised to improve the Army's "internal health" by getting rid of corruption and transforming the 1.13-million force into a lean, mean fighting machine. Instead, he has ended up sharpening the infamous civil-military divide.
"Several Army projects and proposals, modernization and otherwise, are in a limbo. The Army itself is divided down the ranks. Gen Singh will virtually be persona non grata in South Block. A fresh start is needed," said a top military officer.
Another senior officer, among the chief's sympathizers, added, "Gen Singh, who was wronged by two previous chiefs but failed to get his due, can retrieve some lost moral ground by submitting his resignation. It will also put the government in a fix over the succession chain."
The defence ministry, however, does not think so. There is a pool of seven Army commanders (chiefs of one training and six regional commands) and a vice-chief to pick from if the chief resigns. "The government will cross the bridge once it comes to it," said a senior official.
It's well known by now that Gen Singh does not want Eastern Army commander Lt-Gen Bikram Singh (Sikh Light Infantry) to succeed him since he believes his date of birth was not corrected despite his repeated attempts as former chiefs like Gen J J Singh and Gen Deepak Kapoor wanted to fix the succession chain in Lt-Gen Bikram Singh's favour.
But with the government already beginning the process to appoint the new chief, Lt-Gen Bikram Singh remains the clear front-runner for the coveted post when Gen V K Singh retires on May 31 as scheduled.
But if the Army chief resigns beforehand, it will queer the pitch. As of now, Western Army commander Lt-Gen Shankar Ghosh (Guards Regiment) and Central Army commander V K Ahluwalia (Artillery), both commissioned in November 1971, are senior to Lt-Gen Bikram Singh, who is from the March 1972 batch.
While Lt-Gen Ahluwalia retires this month-end, Lt-Gen Ghosh has to call it a day on May 31. So, the two will retire if the chief carries on till May 31, paving the way for Lt-Gen Bikram Singh.
Successive governments have almost always upheld the seniority principle to anoint a new military chief, except in extremely rare instances like Lt-Gen S K Sinha's supersession by Gen A S Vaidya as Army chief by Indira Gandhi in the early 1980s.
Incidentally, if Gen V K Singh's year of birth had been settled at 1951, as he wanted, then present Northern Army commander Lt-Gen K T Parnaik would have taken over since the former would have continued in office till March 2013.