The Lost Fight of a Tough General - The New Indian Express

The Lost Fight of a Tough General

Published: 01st December 2013 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 29th November 2013 06:04 PM

The general starts by recapturing life amongst his clan—the Tomars of Bapora. While offering glimpses of a way of life, the focus is on an ancestry “dating to 1411”, Tomars being one of the 36 ruling clans. Their heritage, unbending demeanour and living and dying by their own rules, seem to have left indelible impressions on young V K. The rather concise format yet accommodates a weird tale of how a cobra let him be, a toddler then, alone in a room.

Any reader, fed so much of fetish to start the book with, could conclude that the general is more clannish than a man brought up in the cosmopolitan environment of the armed forces, should be. However, in my association with the general, I have never noticed the slightest parochial streak.

The narrative races through his years in NDA and IMA. He was to add the commando dagger to his trophies. He went on to share the best student award at the Rangers Course with the US Army. He was a brilliant professional beyond debate, till a single controversy cast a shadow on a lustrous career.

An account of the Bangladesh war follows. He is as candid in his criticism of the odd officer who failed the litmus test of combat as he is in praising those who fought valiantly. It’s when he narrates how he resisted going for the mountain warfare course that a streak suggesting defiance of authority comes to the fore. It is apparent again when he goes to the area commander to change his posting, on being given a ticket to Mhow, and even more so when he meets the military secretary on posting as the Brigadier General Staff, XI Corps. Officers are definitely not expected to accept all that comes their way, but such responses are not encountered so often in the officers, either.

The issue of his date of birth is repeatedly retold. It comes to fore again when it was time to become a lieutenant general. The story of then Army Chief General J J Singh wanting to chart a line of succession for his bête noire to succeed V K after the latter’s impending tenure is explained in detail. The compelling circumstances that led to his signing a letter accepting his date of birth as 1950 and not 1951 are enumerated.

Prior to taking over as the chief, the Sukhna land scam fell out of the army’s closets. As the army commander, V K ordered a probe. He took over as the army chief and was to state later that he had been proffered a bribe by a recently retired general to continue purchases of Tatra vehicles at exorbitant prices. V K had walked up to the defence minister and told him that the Army would not clear the file. V K denounces the bureaucracy—babus, as he calls them—and the political leadership in no uncertain terms in his book. Very few soldiers would disagree on that count.

Meanwhile, V K’s relationship with the ministry was deteriorating by the day. A law ministry noting confirming that his school leaving certificate will determine his date of birth, brought with it a whiff of breeze to his sails. However, the defence ministry did not move. Having tried every other means available, V K approached the Supreme Court.

What remains unaddressed in the book is equally important. The despondent mood of the officer corps as he fought to establish his correct date of birth? It chipped away at the faith his officers and men had in him. V K was tough and honest, and officers expected that as army chief would get their dues. Most of the recommendations of the Army’s Transformation Study that he had led gathered dust as he lost all influence in the ministry.

With time, increasing numbers of officers came to believe that V K was orchestrating the campaign to build a platform for entering politics. If that be true, it was breach of faith. In the final count, there were no winners. The government lost face, V K the battle and the army a lot of time. The book too hasn’t really got the sheen, and will surely fade away.

S K Chatterji retired as a brigadier in the Indian Army.

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