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Among colleagues, Indian Army chief's popularity intact

Delhi,Defence/Security, Sun, 15 Apr 2012 IANS

New Delhi, April 15 (IANS) The better part of Indian Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh's over two-year tenure may have been marked by controversies ranging from his age records to bribe offers, but his standing and popularity among a majority of the 1.13-million men and women he commands still seems intact.


That's the sense one gets trying to gauge the reverence serving officers have for their chief, who is perceived as the most controversial ever.



Retired veterans, though, are divided whether the army chief's tenure has left a positive impact on the force itself or not.



Is he really popular among the troops?



'Absolutely,' proclaimed former deputy chief of the army Lt. Gen. P.C. Katoch to IANS over the phone. But did not explain how it is so.



A retired brigadier, who did not want to be identified, however differed.



'In the last two years, not much has been achieved by the army chief in terms of arming the troops with latest and the best equipment we could buy. Except for a couple of odd items such as armoured recovery vehicles for T-72 tanks, not much procurement has been made,' the brigadier lamented.



'Instead, the army chief's focus has been to get his age records amended so that he gets another 10-month tenure,' he complained.



The army chief had on March 12 written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, pointing out gaps in the defence preparedness of the force.



Among the serving officer cadre, though, there is an overwhelming support for the embattled chief.



'Of course, Gen. V.K. Singh continues to be a popular leader of the men and women he commands,' said a serving colonel in the army headquarters, who did not wish to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.



Particularly because they perceive his moving the Supreme Court against the defence ministry's decision to maintain his date of birth as May 10,1950 as an act of 'assertiveness' against bureaucracy's effort to put down the armed forces.



'Anyway, it is a personal issue of the chief, and other officers have no opinion to give on his age matters,' the officer added.



This sense of awe for a chief, who is the only Indian to have topped one of the world's toughest Rangers Course of the US Army at Fort Benning, is but natural, explained a lieutenant colonel.



'The army is structured in such a way that for any officer, his superior's command is the final word on operational and organisational matters,' he said.



However, Gen. Singh's image as an upright, incorruptible officer has only emerged stronger, he having 'blown the whistle' on a retired lieutenant general for offering him a bribe of Rs.14 crore for supplying 600 'sub-standard' Tatra trucks to the Indian Army.



'His actions against the corrupt lot in the force is well appreciated by a majority of the officers and men,' explained a serving major general. 'Most officers are honest and cannot be bought for money. This majority are with the army chief in his fight to improve the internal health of the army,' he added.



But the unease caused by Gen. Singh taking on the government over his birth date, which he still holds is May 10, 1951, has had its impact, with some of his close aides fearing a backlash once he retires.



And the recent reports of him having 'intimidated' the government in January this year by silently moving two key units of an armoured formation and the para commando brigade hasn't helped either, though the 'intent' for these manoeuvres by the troops has been denied by both the army and the government.



'For the troopers deployed in remote areas along the borders with inimical nations, the events that are reported in the media doesn't make any difference. They really have no time to read what's written or reported by the media and to form opinion on them,' a young major pointed out.



One will have to wait to see how history judges Gen. Singh's tenure of 26 months at the helm of the world's second largest standing army after he retires from over four decades of service on May 31.


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