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Thursday, May 31, 2012

V.K.Singh : End of An Era

The General Goes Home...

General Vijay Kumar Singh comes from a Rajput family of this quaint village whose generations have proudly served in the Indian Army. But now there is anguish among the village patriarchs, and none of the younger generation wants to join the force after seeing the controversy that hit the “upright officer”. “Earlier, my father and his five brothers had served in the army and we three cousins, including Vijay, were in the force. Now after he retires, only his nephew will be there and we also do not want anybody else to join,” said Hari Singh, the Army Chief’s cousin. The septuagenarian, sporting handlebar moustache and sitting too upright for his age, has seen the bloody war of 1962 and retired as a Sipahi from the Army.

Said to be about 700-year-old, Bapora with a population of about 20,000 has soldiery in its blood with the village sending scores of valiant Rajputs to the Army. Locating the Army Chief’s home, about 160 km west of Delhi, is not difficult. Reach Bhiwani and ask anybody where is General Sahab’s village and one will be automatically guided to his modest pink and yellow house, equipped with bare minimum things. Only his drawing room seemed to have got a new sofa few years ago.

“What did he (the Army Chief) get for being honest? See his home; he has not added any property in his career, everything is ancestral. Had it not been the case, politicians would have fixed him by now for standing up against corruption,” his other cousin Honorary Captain (retd) Krishan Pal Singh chipped in. He was a jawan in 25 Rajput and was deployed as part of Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka along with the Army Chief. Gen Singh was awarded a Yudh Sena Medal for his stellar role in the operations in the island nation.

The village is proud of the General’s achievement as he is the first to have risen to the highest rank; earlier his father Col Jagat Singh was the highest-ranking army officer from the village. In his career spanning 42 years, the Army Chief has always topped the merit list. He is a graduate of the Wellington-based Defence Services Staff College as well as the US Army War College at Carlisle. He also did a Rangers Course, a prestigious commando training, at Fort Benning in the US.

Now the village is preparing for a grand party post the General’s retirement. “We will honour the son of the soil with a grand function. People from nearby villages also want to be part of the function,” said Tejbir Singh, who also sat on a dharna at Jantar Mantar in Delhi last month in support of the Army Chief. “I had asked the General to get my son recruited in Army as jawan. He said if somebody is fit, he will get chance on his own. I will not recommend anybody. He is that honest,” Tejbir Singh added. The whole lane of houses in Gen Singh’s village sends at least one person to the Army and the General makes it a point to meet all the ex-servicemen, including 90-year-old Capt (retd) Gugam Singh who is unable to move due to old age now. The villagers have one proposition for the government to make the son of the soil President—the Supreme Commander of the Armed  Forces. “President should be somebody outside of politics. There can be no better candidate than the General. However, even if he decides to join politics, we are with him,” said Krishan Pal.

End of an Era...

He was the Last the Army Chiefs who have seen action in India’s last full-fledged war of 1971. As a young Sub Lieutenant in the Rajput Regiment in 1971, General Singh had started training the Mukti Bahini army for the liberation of former East Pakistan on June 19. The experience in the 1971 war laid down the foundations of a keen strategist that he is known as presently. “Just before the war, Vijay had come to the village on leave. And he especially went and bought a lungi so that he can easily mix with the Mukti Bahini troops he was going to train,” said his cousin Krishan Pal Singh.

Also during 1971 war, one of his fellow officers had stepped on an anti-personnel mine and got blown up. He was severely injured and the General—then a young Sub-Lieutenant—carried him on his shoulder all the way to hospital. The officer lost a limb but survived to tell the tale of General Singh’s dedication towards his troops and fellow officers.

In 2011 when V K Singh again set foot on Bangladeshi soil as the Indian Army Chief, he carried along with him some “relics of 1971 war” to gift his Bangladeshi counterpart.

“Participating in an operation gives an army officer an experience which no amount of theory or courses can impart. So in that sense this experience will definitely be missed in the higher echelons of the Indian Army,” said an officer. The Army Chief, first commando to rise to the highest rank, later took part in Operation Pawan of the Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka against LTTE. “He is an expert in operations and planning and using the arms to their maximum. He turned all the rifles into LMG (Light Machine Guns) in Sri Lanka; even the LTTE guerillas were scared of him,” said Krishan Pal who had accompanied him as part of the troops who had gone to the island nation.

The Army Chief had learnt his first lessons of the war in 1971. The 13-day Bangladesh Liberation war in 1971 is one of the shortest wars in the modern history that also resulted in the formation of a new country. During the war, the Indian armed forces fought in both the eastern and western frontier before the Pakistani Army signed an Instrument of Surrender, and over 90,000 Pakistani soldiers were taken as Prisoners of War by India.

As a build-up to this, thousands of Bangladeshis were given shelter in refugee camps on the Indian side. These camps were used for training the fighters of the Mukti Bahini.
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