General K.S. Thimayya resigned in 1958 over differences with the then defence minister, V.K. Krishna Menon, on a promotion case. He was a charismatic, very respected and popular Army Chief with a brilliant war record. Pandit Nehru persuaded him to withdraw his resignation and thereafter castigated him in Parliament. General Thimayya ignored this reproach and continued to serve. He became a lame duck Army Chief during his remaining tenure. Had he chosen to resign on a more substantive issue, like neglect of defences in the Himalayas, and stuck to his resignation, he could have gone out a hero, setting the right pattern for civil-military relations. The nation would have been saved the humiliation of 1962. Nehru need not have died broken-hearted. By 1962, the institution of service chief had been so degraded that the then Army Chief, General P.N. Thapar, seems to have had little say in the decision to go to war with China. On his way to Sri Lanka, Nehru told the press at Chennai that he had given orders to the Army to evict the Chinese from the Himalayas. A joint secretary at Tezpur conveyed this order on a chit of paper to Gen. Thapar. Fortunately the position of the Army Chief was redeemed by General J.N. Chaudhuri during the 1965 war, and more so by Manekshaw in 1971.
The Bofors scam ushered in an era of ongoing rampant corruption and the most blatant coverups. Hardly any of the numerous tainted political leaders have been convicted. Corruption, like a galloping malignant cancer, has been spreading to all departments of the government and to all sections of civil society. The Army has also been affected and a few general officers got involved in corruption. This has badly tarnished the Army’s image. A redeeming feature has been that unlike in the case of civilians, the tainted generals were promptly dealt with and punishment meted out to them.
* The author SK Sinha, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir
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