The palpable tension engulfing South Block over the last several months somewhat dissipated as the clock struck noon on Thursday with General Bikram Singh first saluting and then taking over the reins of the Army from General V K Singh. The disquiet-dispelling need for a fresh start was evident soon after with defence minister A K Antony urging the military brass and the civilian bureaucracy to now shed their “bitterness’’ and work closely together to ensure the modernization of the 1.13-million Army. The minister promised all government support to Gen Bikram Singh in undertaking the endeavour in “a focussed manner’’.
Antony also conveyed to senior officials that though the last six to eight months of Gen V K Singh’s contentious tenure had been “a turbulent phase, an aberration’’, it was time to move on. “The minister said the bitterness that had developed in the last few months must not be carried forward,’’ said a source. This candid admission of the huge civil-military divide in the defence establishment from the normally taciturn minister is enough indication of just how bad things had become since Gen V K Singh began his messy age row with the government.
The tussle, with Gen V K Singh even becoming the first serving military chief to drag the government to court, steadily escalated to other areas with all sorts of confidential documents and letters — even the Army chief’s top-secret letter to the PM about “critical hollowness’’ in operational capabilities — finding their way into the public domain. Forget all this, said Antony, “We should not carry the baggage of the last six to eight months.’’
But it may not be that easy since the adversarial civil-military equation has been a grim reality of South Block for decades, with both bureaucrats and military officers viewing each other with mutual suspicion in the absence of any real integration between the Service HQs and the defence ministry.