One hundred days: Army Chief roots for institutional supremacy
by Jaibans Singh on 08 Sep 2012 8 Comments

Army Chief Gen. Bikram Singh completes one hundred days in office on 8 Sept 2012, no doubt a short period in the tenure of such a senior functionary, but significant as it gives an insight into the policies being adopted by the incumbent. Gen. Bikram Singh took over at a time when the army was in the throes of its worst ever internal crisis. An acrimonious face off between the previous Army Chief, Gen. V.K. Singh and the government had created tremors across the establishment and beyond. Personal agendas had overtaken the traditional professional approach of the Army. A deep feeling of mistrust had developed between the Army Headquarters (AHQ) and the Ministry of Defence (MOD).


There were several other critical issues at hand; a sensitive situation on the borders, changing facets of insurgency/terrorism, and an increasingly unstable neighbourhood, all posed a unique set of security challenges. The lackadaisical pace of defence modernisation and defence acquisition was creating widespread alarm. Service personnel and ex-servicemen were quite unhappy with the government’s apathy to their demands.


As Gen. Bikram Singh got down to work, what became immediately visible was a professional, understated approach. At the outset he addressed the two prongs of building institutional strength and creating a conducive work environment. As a first step he placed the institution before the individual; he took the media limelight away from the person of the Army Chief and directed it towards the Army as an institution. Media personnel were encouraged to cover the Army rather than the Chief. The end result was a welcome relief from the daily dose of acrimony of recent days and a stress on relevant military issues.


In a short period, the new Chief seems to have broken the walls of distrust that had come up between the AHQ and the MOD. The first discernible step in this direction was building of a good rapport with Defence Minister A.K. Antony. In turn, the Defence Minister by word and action has clearly demonstrated unstinted support for the Army Chief. As a result, an energised MOD has already put on fast track all such military hardware acquisitions whose shortage was a cause of alarm. Most importantly, the Chief has been given the leverage to set things right and put his policies in place.


The Defence Minister visited Jammu & Kashmir after a huge gap of 18 months; in an encouraging show of professional cohesiveness he was accompanied by the Army Chief and the Defence Secretary. The Defence Minister firmly put to rest all speculations about revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the State, and at a later date he dispelled anxieties about the possible demilitarisation of Siachen.


Apparently, General Bikram Singh has convinced the government to follow the Army’s recommendations on these sensitive aspects and then, befittingly, left it to the Defence Minister to declare the policy of the government. Similarly, with regard to persisting anomalies in the pay and allowances of defence personnel, the Defence Minister referred the matter to the Prime Minister in a strong letter. As is known, the Prime Minister referred to the subject in his Independence Day speech and gave an assurance that it would be dealt with appropriately. So it seems that finally the AHQ and MOD are finally on the same page, working towards common objectives.


The new chief accords top priority to the internal health of the force. He has undertaken extensive tours of units and formations on the ground. At every destination he has interacted with and addressed officers and soldiers and shared with them the values close to his heart. He has stressed upon supremacy of the institution over the individual, operational readiness, efficient discharge of constitutional responsibility, defence preparedness, discipline, return to core values of soldiering, officer-soldier bonding, austerity, financial probity, and above all, resort to corrective rather than punitive action et al. General Singh has shown that he holds veterans in the highest regard; during interactions with old soldiers he has assured them that their interests will be taken care of, and they believe him and have faith in him.


A good beginning notwithstanding, the Chief has a tough road ahead; having set the ball rolling, his challenge is to maintain the momentum. The security situation has unique dynamics; Pakistan is disintegrating, China is following a two-faced policy and the neighbourhood is caught in a web of intrigue and insecurity. Internally, the situation in Jammu & Kashmir continues to simmer; the North East and Naxal problem are looking for some dynamic responses from the army.


The cohesiveness with the MOD has to translate into delivery of modern weapons systems on the ground; the MOD and AHQ need to synchronize important decisions regarding the career and professional interests of the rank and file in order to mitigate problems of stress. The values the Chief talks of have to be strengthened with sustained effort; justice has to prevail, graft has to be controlled, and modernisation has to be pursued relentlessly. All this will call for professionalism, maturity and sagacity in decision making on the part of the Chief.


Gen. Bikram Singh has wisely maintained a low personal profile while letting his work do the talking. He exudes an understated confidence that is encouraging. He has made his presence felt in aspects of higher defence management and also at the grassroots. This has raised the nation’s confidence in him by several notches. It is evident that he is firmly in the driver’s seat with a good grasp of the environment and challenges. If the last 100 days are an indicator, it can be safely presumed that the Indian Army will move forward positively in the coming days.


The author is Editor, Defence 

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