The unprecedented phenomenon of the carefully planned and orchestrated succession (I railed against) that fetched General Bikram Singh his promotion as Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) is coming home to roost. There’s enormous tension between the army chief and his field commanders, who have little respect for a “political General” and resent his being hoisted on them and the fighting forces. The last such general, it may be recalled, was the little lamented BM Kaul appointed by his uncle and PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, to lead the newly constituted IV Corps during the short China War in 1962, and the next one too, Lt Gen Suhag,the present eastern command head who, in the Bikram manner, has been emplaced in line for shoehorning into the COAS-ship (this despite a vigilance case not hindering his elevation as GOC-in-C, Eastern Army) once Bikram finishes his tenure.
This has been particularly evident in the strained relations between the Northern Command and Bikram Singh. The issue came to a boil, and has been simmering ever since the April 2013 PLA armed intrusion into the Depsang Bulge. The army headquarters (AHQ) did nothing to temper the impression created of Indian army units being smacked around by the Chinese when the reality was that units of the Leh-based XIV Corps were all the time countering the Chinese, move for move, with “power patrolling” of their own. It came to a head when, even tho’ the Northern Army commander Lt Gen Parnaik was in Delhi, he was not asked to brief or even to assist in the briefing of the Defence Minister AK Antony and NSA Shivshankar Menon that COAS Bikram himself undertook to do, and from which Parnaik was entirely frozen out. So Bikram hogged the limelight, showcased his supposed grasp of the unfolding situation which the relevant army commander actually understood far better. Post-Parnaik, a reluctant Chachra, abruptly moved by Bikram from the Western Command chieftancy in Chandimandir to helm the Northern Army, bad blood between Udhampur and AHQ has continued. An additional reason for Chachra’s ire, it is snidely said, was his unhappiness with being moved to the hotspot from his Chandimandir perch, where he was happily passing time doing little other than supervising the completion of the construction of his bungalow in Gurgaon!
The problem of an army chief who isn’t respected by his commanders is a serious problem that will continue for several more years with Suhag in train. Indeed, there are disturbing parallels between Bikram and Kaul — both of them loquacious to the point of distraction, specializing if in anything than public relations — Kaul handled publicity material for the Eighth Army in the Maghreb; Bikram was army spokesman during the Kargil imbroglio — more show dogs than pit bulls. More on that some other time. It is a problem that’s seriously affecting the army. The seams are showing.