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Soldiers of the Party
Earlier this month, the former chief of the Indian army, General V. K. Singh, joined the BJP, less than two years after retiring. It was an unprecedented move. None of his predecessors had ever joined politics in such a manner. But this first occurred in a specific context and as the culminating point of a series of events.
Over the last few years, ex-servicemen have taken public stands more often than before — usually against the UPA government, overtly or covertly. The first controversy crystallised around the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which had been denounced by human rights organisations as the root cause of abuses by the military in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast (especially Manipur), because of the impunity it granted to the army and paramilitary. The UPA government appointed the Jeevan Reddy committee in 2005, to review the working of the AFSPA. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had then claimed that he would show zero tolerance for human rights abuses. But P. Chidambaram, as Union home minister, said the “army had taken a strong stand against any dilution” of the law. The AFSPA has not been repealed or amended, suggesting that the military has prevailed.
Last September came the The Indian Express’s revelations of an army probe report on the functioning of the Technical Services Division (TSD), a military intelligence unit set up in 2010 by the then army chief, V.K. Singh. It had allegedly attempted to topple the J&K government and spied on politicians and ministry of defence officials.
The same General Singh had been in the news for a tussle over his date of birth. He had even appealed to the Supreme Court to delay his mandatory retirement for one year, on the grounds that the date in the army records was wrong. He lost the case and retired in May 2012. But in January 2012, the manœuvres that two army units had carried out near Delhi had touched off unprecedented alarm in the MoD.
Last but not least, the letter that V.K. Singh had sent to the prime minister, denouncing government delays in the procurement process, made its way into the public domain. As a result of the alleged hindrances to the modernisation of the army, V.K. Singh declared in his letter, the Indian army was now “unfit for war”. He reiterated these criticisms in Courage and Conviction: An Autobiography, the book he published after retiring, along with charges of corruption against the UPA.
Through these controversies, the BJP has taken the army’s side. The party expressed strong reservations about any dilution of the AFSPA in J&K or Manipur. In September 2013, party president Rajnath Singh, speaking on continued…