Indian Decade

India’s Vocal Army Chief

Indian Army Chief VK Singh has criticised governance in Jammu and Kashmir. Good.

While the Indian military brass doesn’t court publicity the same way its US counterpart does, it does occasionally speak its mind, discomfiting the central government and sometimes the ruling party in the process.

After the Indian Army and Air Force chiefs spoke out against deploying the armed forces against Naxalites (saying the military couldn’t be expected to fire on its own people) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apparently sent an admonitory circular to them asking they express dissenting opinions privately and officially.

However, current Indian Army Chief Gen.VK Singh has broken the gag order, criticizing the Jammu & Kashmir government for being unable to build on the goodwill created in the state by the armed forces over the last two years. Jammu & Kashmir  has witnessed a spate of protests recently, with stone-throwing youths confronting the security forces, prompting sometimes deadly retaliatory fire.

Gen. Singh hasn’t said anything new—it’s accepted in military circles now that the army can’t do any more than reduce the ‘minimum threshold’ of violence in Jammu & Kashmir. The political establishment will then have to build on this, through a process of free and fair elections, good governance, and so on. But while free and fair elections have been held in the area for the past ten years, robust administration, growth and rising employment opportunities, decent health care and fair educational facilities haven't materialized.

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Gen. Singh’s comments have drawn flak from the ruling Congress party, whose coalition partner the National Conference, leads the government in Jammu & Kashmir. But if the past is anything to go on, and given that the military enjoys enormous respect in Indian society, this won’t be the last time that Gen. Singh speaks out. Thank heaven for that.