Going down all guns blazing. Gen VK Singh over the past two years

Three days later, Chief of the Army Staff, Gen VK Singh will pass on the baton to his chosen successor Lt. Gen Bikram Singh, currently the Eastern Army Commander.

Days before his retirement, Gen VK Singh has given a spate of interviews. 

I happen to do one too for NDTV, my fourth since he took office on 1st April 2010. 

In every interview he has done with me, I have found him to be forthright, forceful and a man who does not like to mince words. 

Below is the full transcript of the latest interview and the video too.

Just to give a comprehensive overview of what the General’s thought process has been, I am also pasting links to my earlier three interviews with him. Make your own judgement.

NDTV:  Let me start with the tenure you had. Eventful and controversial. How do you look back at these 2 years?

Gen VK Singh: Well as eventful as every chief has had because you start somethings, you push somethings, you try to achieve somethings. So i think all chiefs must have felt the same. Some controversies were raised or otherwise, not by me but i think they were percieved by some people. I found it to be a very happy tenure something which one started with aims and certain things I think it has been good.

NDTV: But the controversy, apart from your age controversy, which we will talk about later, the latest controversy which everybody is saying that you are going with guns blazing and you issued a show cause notice to a serving Lt. General which is not fair. What is your take on that particular incident?
Gen VK Singh: See the problem is people don’t understand how the army functions. And they are taking out bits and pieces and start making a story out of it. Incident took place in month of December and if I can quote a very senior IB oficer who was looking after north east, he said “it is a blot on the name of army.” It was that type of incident. It was outside the juridication of 3 Corps, should never have happened. Court of enquiry took its own time despite we trying to push them. Its come only at the end of April, now just the month of May is left. By the time it has been finalised, so what ever actions could have been taken two months back, if the court of enquiry had come in time. Now they are apprearing as if they are moving at the fag end of the tenure. That’s not the case and a show cause notice is a show cause notice so what is so big about it, what is the big deal.

NDTV: No, they are saying that you have tried to upset the succession plan in the Army.
Gen VK Singh: Army is not a monarchy, there is no succession in army, its not hereditary. People come, people are found fit and that is it. Somebody will become chief somebody will not become a chief. More than that there is nothing. My mind is quite clear: some mistakes have occured, a show cause notice was given and I think it has been morally wrong for somebody to go to press with that show cause notice.

NDTV: You mean this serving Lt. General went to press?
Gen VK: Obviously, it is a communication between me and him there is no 3rd party involved. He has got time till 26th he should reply, rather than seek the assistance of the TV channels.

NDTV: You said there is no succession plan in the army, but your entire age controversy is also seen as the part of succession plan, what do you have to say about it?
Gen VK: I wont put it that way. Yes certain things were done by some people to put certain things in place and Ibwont say more than that and I think it has received enough ink and paper in days gone by and there is no point in beating a dead horse. May be after I retire I will talk more freely about it.

NDTV: Are you bitter about it?
VK: No I am not bitter at all. I was never bitter. In fact I can share this, and I have said this in many forums. My ambition in life was to get a rank higher than my father. My father retired as Lt. Colonel, if I attained that I felt very happy and the 2nd part of ambition was that I should command my battalion. I commanded it. I commanded it for 3 years after that whatever has come is bonus. So I think even if I had got one day as chief I would still be ok.

NDTV: So you were not looking for additional…
Gen VK Singh: I was never looking for additional tenure, let me also say that I have told my honourable Raksha mantri the day you feel you dont want me, tell me, I will go away.

NDTV: Did this entire controversy, contrived or manufactured or otherwise, did it affect your working as the Army Chief because you came in with lot of ideas, the first day you told me that the army’s internal health must be set right. Do you think that affected it or you could still achieve something?
Gen VK: No it never affected me.  It was something which I put on a different plane all together. My professional life, my committment to the organisation never wavered because that is how I am made. I dont look at these issues as something which will come in the path of what I am doing.

NDTV: But there is also this critisicm which one is increasingly heearing much more as day go by, is that you are going to leave a faction-ridden army, a divided army when you leave your office..
Gen VK Singh: I really don’t know, when I go around I talk to people, I talk to my men I talk to my officers, I don’t find any factions, I don’t find any feuds, don’t find any divide. I think lot of people use there imagination to invent certain things and then put it out there, I dont think that is correct. Let me also say most of the army, most of it, does not feel it this way . There may be some disgruntled poeple in a 1.3 million strong army like any other organisation you will have some people who are disgruntled people who will bellyache, people who will crib, well thats part of it.

NDTV: You know they point out 2 or 3 incidents which I must point out to you, you must have heard that you went and inaugurated a former prime minister’s bust; then there was some Jantar Mantar rally and also on communal lines a PIL was though to be sort of supported  or tacitly was given support by you against your successor. What do you have to say to that critisim?
Gen VK Singh: All I would say is that a warped mind will only think of warped things. The former prime minister’s statue was in a school  which had invited me because I was visting that area which no chief in the history of Indian army has visited and i had gone there to interact with ex servicemen, when they came to know they invited me theys said we have got a statue. I said ex prime minister (so why not) but then there are some great newspapers, there are some great journalist who say oh! he was a rajput,  he(the Army Chief) is a Rajput, I think you cant be more sick that that. Tomorrow somebody visits the memorial of our great PM Lal Bahadur Shahstri, are you going to say that he is a brahmin? I think lets get out of this. similarli i have got no this thing with any PIL infact i dont even have time to see what is happening beyond what my profession is . So what is happening in PIL people went and sat out on jantar mantar, it is there wish where am I in it?

NDTV: somebody, some relative of yours was there at Jantar Mantar or so..
Gen VK Singh: Some relative must be there, some people from my village must have also gone, how does it make a difference. Lets not unnecssarily read things which are not there and describe motives which are wrong.

NDTV: But coming to the other controversial part, the press release that the army issued under your watch against Tejinder singh charging him, not only offering a bribe but being behind the conspiracy to defame you, do you have a regert about issuing that press release and is there is conspiracy against you?
Gen VK Singh: See I will put it this way, there is a media policy which was made in 2005. Army is authorized to do certain things specially when somebody is trying to malign the army and here was a case  where someone was deliberately doing it. It started with so called the bug story, it went on to the off air monitoring system and it persisted and I think I have always told to some journalists who meet me, it is like a mandi. Anybody who is doing anything in this mandi other people come to know and unfortunately this officer was out briefing people, telling them stories in a particular manner and therefore army had to come out and say here is a man who is planting stories and this is what his character is. We have got no regrets.

NDTV: Was there a conspiracy against you by a group of officers?
Gen VK Singh: See the thing is when there are some disgruntled elements when some people have some agendas like the great Sukna lobby had and the Adarsh lobby had, there be more such lobbies which come up obviously there interest coalesce they all come together and they all start thinking that  this is the person who has done A B and C, it has troubled us, now let us trouble him, so this makes a coterie, do all kinds of things, some of them are absolutely sick in mind I think they all require some sort of treatment because you cant do such things that is harming the organisation.

NDTV: But what about the governmnet?  A perception was that there was a lot of difference between you and the government as such, how do you see that relationship which you had with the government and going forward how it should be?
Gen VK Singh: See I dont know if there are differences between me and govenment. My perception of being a chief is I should be truthful and forthright in telling the government  which is the supreme authority that this is what is required and these are the fault lines this is our view and let me assure you I have had an excellent relationship with the honourable raksha mantri. I admire him for his integrity, equanimity and maturity and I haven’t found him wanting in any way in the type of support that we wanted. Whatever people might keep saying we have always provided him with the absolutely forthright advice.

NDTV: Do you think the controversies could have been avoided, would you be happier if all this controversies wouldnt have come up?
Gen VK Singh: See the problem is because we started action in the Sukna thing that gentelman wanted to start something because he wanted to use this as his defence so it came up. Well Sukna should have been avoided, buried, the chap should have been given another tamga, another honour and let go, that is one method of dealing with it. I think they have had a hand because their interests they felt were getting erroded to a certain extent because we insisted on transparency, we insisted on ensuring that everything is multi-vendored we insisted on ensuring that everything we take is good. I think that is all we wanted.

NDTV: Same thing happened in tatra when you actually said that everything must go multi vendored, what is the thing that took so long in reference to atra to come up , that allegation or that charge?
Gen VK Singh:  It didnt take me long, the day I was given this lucerative offer I went and told my raksha mantri, thats why I said I admire my raksha mantri, he has said so in the parliament.

Nitin: But he didnt take any action, neither did you that time.
Gen VK Singh: See what I told him was certain things which I did and if there were more things to be done then there must have been some lack of understanding where I am concerned but I think we went as per what was to be done and in any case we were trying to make our things multi vendored even before this was done, the multi vendor thing has started when I came in I said with the technology going up, with better vehicles coming in lets go multi vendor.Why do we have to carry old technology?

NDTV: Let me move away from all these controversies and move on to the transformation study that you have done and the test beds and the implementation of test beds, how far have we come in that aspect?
Gen VK Singh: We have come a long way, transformation was meant to make the Indian Army ready, relevant, agile, better structured and an army which can function in a network centric environment. A great deal of work has been done. We did the test beddings of our organisations where pivot and strike Corps were concerned, we did organisational changes in certain things in army head quarters to make it more effective. There were certain things required in the Corps of Military police, there were things required in the theatreizatin of combat support, we have test bedded. We are in the process of implementing logistic support system which will become more responsive, We have been able to bring a fair degree of awareness of network centricity and I am quite sure by the end of year we will see the results. I think as part of transformation the biggest thing that was required was change of mind sets.

NDTV: I was jus coming to that, did you find a lot of resistance because sometimes I feel more than the civil breaucracy it is the military beauracracy which is more obdurate
Gen VK SinghIt is not like that, I think change is something which is resisted everywhere

NDTV: Is there a change in focus in the Indian Army’s doctrines, just the focus in terms of who will be our main adversory– Pakistan or China?
Gen VK Singh: If you are a capability based army it doesnt matter, when you have created capabilities to deal with any threat that may occur  and we are slowly moving towards that.

NDTV: But have you got support from the government, because your letter again became bone of contention whcih you wrote to the prime minister, who leaked it? Why dont you shed some light on that particular incident.

VK: I really dont know who leaked it but I am quite sure and my army is quite sure that it is not the army that leaked it. Now there can be all kinds of  theories, all kinds of things which we scratch our heads on, somebody is going to find out this. Something came on PTI. But let me assure you, each man in the army knows it cannot be leaked out from the army. Where you talk of support, I think  we have got support. At times  because of our procedure, because of our great ability of not taking decisions in time, because of our internal service procedures where things take too much of time or we dont push things in  manner which  they should be pushed, the shorter tenures you dont have continuity, by the time the person learns his job, he is moving out. So all this have contributed (to the delay), we have put all this in place to sort this out.

NDTV: I have a question on that support itself, in terms of human resuorse management within the army we havent had, as far as my knowledge goes, a Corps commander in one of the Corps in past 6 months; you havent had a DG Assam Rifles for the past 6 months, we dont know who will be the army commander in the east or the West in next 3 days when they should be actually be declared much ahead. Dont you think that there is some kind of disconnect between the army headquarters and the  ministry of defence or some other authority.
Gen VK Singh: This disconnet is sad, all that I can say is that everybody has to make effort.  I have said so in number of forums in which we meet our officials from the MoD that everybody is a stake holder in how the army runs or the airforce runs or the navy runs . Lets not separate out that he is in uniform and he is not, Till the time we don’t combine, we will not be able to achieve results and some of these things which you are poiniting out, they are glaring inadequacies of the system.

NDTV: What is your future plan?
Gen VK Singh: I actually havent though of anything, I havent had time to think of what am I going to do after 31st, in fact the 1st thing that is happening which is I am still working on is my doctorate thesis which I am writing, it doesnt’ seem to be finishing, I am not satisfied. The subject is Afghanistan and the geo strategic importance of Wakhan. So it will take a little time, I am working on that, because finding time out of all other things that one does and then sitting late at night correcting or work out a thesis it is quite difficult. Like they say in this journey of 1000 steps the first step will start only on 1st of June.

NDTV: Will that step take you towards politics?
Gen VK Singh: I have got no clue at the moment, I havent even thought of it and there are N number of option available which one ultimately you decide on. Only time will tell.

NDTV: I am asking because you have got an offer from  Team Anna also.
Gen VK Singh: That is ok.. all kind of offers will come. You have to decide.

NDTV: When you joined the army in 1970 its been a journey of 42 years now , which is your most satisfying or most memorable moment because you have participated in the Bangladesh campign, you have been to IPKF and you have been in Kashmir, the northeast everywhere . What is it that remains in your memory?
Gen VK Singh :Wars will always remain etched for various things whether it was 71 where  we were busy for a long time it was not just those 16 days  but there was more to it. Operation Pawan was very interesting. One was there for 2 years,  that will remain ever etched. But when you look at a particular tenure and that tenure is the commanding officer’s. The whole ambition in life was to command your battalion.

NDTV: So these 42 years if you have to do it again would you do it differently?
Gen VK Singh: No, I think i would like to live it the same way. Well mistakes are there.  Other things are there, let all those lessons remain. But then i always give this little advice which I can give it to you also, live your present. Don’t think of the future, nobody has seen the future. If you keep thinking about the future then you will spoil your present also. That’s my philosophy. Each day is important, each moment is important and  think each moment of this 42 years is unique by itself.

NDTV: So when you are hanging your boots on 31st, can we say that you are leaving as a satisfied man, an army which is as good as it has been ?
Gen VK Singh: I am satisfied, I am quite sure my army, my family is good and it is a satisfied army.


(January 2012)

(July 2010)

(April 1, 2010)