A quick end to an emerging controversy is in the interest of a new government, especially one that has set an ambitious agenda for itself. The question of succession in the Army leadership was expected to be one such impending row as the Bharatiya Janata Party had raised issues of propriety when the outgoing Congress regime chose to name the next Chief of the Army Staff towards the fag end of its term and with well over two months to go for the incumbent to retire. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley has done well to give an early quietus to this question by declaring in Parliament that Lt. Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag’s appointment is final and that the government stands by it. The National Democratic Alliance regime has chosen wisely to stay above the temptation to politicise it. By deciding that it would continue to defend the Army chief-designate against a legal challenge in the Supreme Court, the ruling party has indicated that it never had a problem with Lt. Gen. Suhag’s suitability or merit, and had reservations only about the timing of his appointment. For sections of the ruling party, the government’s error, if any, may have been in its consistency: it has repeated in a recent affidavit in the Supreme Court the contents of an affidavit that the previous UPA regime had submitted before the Armed Forces Tribunal. Those contents include remarks against V.K. Singh, former chief of the Army and a Minister in the present government, charging him with acting without material basis and in a premeditated manner while imposing a ‘discipline and vigilance ban’ on Lt. Gen. Suhag in 2012.
While the Defence Ministry is expected to maintain consistency in ongoing judicial proceedings, there can be no justification for Mr. Singh to comment on the government’s conduct and cast aspersions on the reputation of the Army chief-designate. Mr. Singh is no stranger to controversy, but it was hoped that he would give up his contentious ways after getting elected to the Lok Sabha with a massive victory margin and being appointed a Minister of State, for the North East, among others. The least that was expected of him was that he would avoid voicing an adverse opinion on an issue in which he was fully involved while in service. It is disquieting that one wing of the government casts aspersions on a Minister while he publicly questions the Union government’s stand. So far, the government has merely stated that there can be no politics over the Army chief’s appointment and does not seem to be embarrassed by the whole episode. It can afford to ignore calls for his resignation or removal, but there is little doubt that there is a case for Minister V.K. Singh to be advised restraint, and the adverse remarks on him toned down.