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Army baton in hand, ?Tiger? roars

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  • Published 1.02.05

New Delhi, Jan. 31: General Joginder Jaswant Singh today took over as the chief of army staff and immediately ordered the army to take responsibility for a family that was harassed by an officer in Kashmir.

Signalling that the healing touch will be the cornerstone of the army?s policy in the insurgency-prone state, General Singh has responded in his own style to a Kashmir where the ?situation is heading towards near normalcy?, as his predecessor, General Nirmal Chandra Vij, who retired as the army chief today, said.

General J.J. Singh takes over ceremonially tomorrow but the baton passed on from General Vij who retired at noon today because the rules do not allow the army to remain headless.

Last month, General Singh broke down on national television shortly after being named army chief designate, as he recalled the help he had got from a former militant who was trained in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and whom he had pardoned.

?JJ? or ?Tiger? as his friends and colleagues call the general, brings to the office of the army chief a shot of secularism that the defence establishment has so far lacked ? he is the first Sikh to rise to the rank of a four-star general.

He also brings into the office a wealth of direct command experience in Kashmir, unlike his predecessor, General Vij, whose biggest achievement is perhaps the construction of the fence along the Line of Control.

But such is the way of senior level appointments in government ? including that of service chiefs ? that sectarian interests sought to play a role in elevating the meritorious officer. In 2003, the chairman of the National Minorities Commission, Tarlochan Singh, had written to the then defence minister George Fernandes, that if J.J. Singh were to be made army chief, it will be a big morale booster for the Sikh community.

In the past, at least two Sikh officers came within a whisker of being made army chief but were overlooked ? Lt Gen. Harbaksh Singh and Lt Gen. Bhagat. There is little to suggest immediately that Tarlochan Singh had a hand in J.J. Singh?s appointment in the UPA regime though, because the general was the seniormost officer in line for the post.

He is also credited with crafting the army?s new war doctrine when he headed the Army Training Command (ATRAC) in Shimla. He also has a reputation for experimenting with ideas and was the chief analyst for the army of America?s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the Kargil war (1999) he was the additional director-general of military operations and became the public face of the army.

His predecessor, General Vij, was the director-general of military operations during the war and courted some controversy when he broke with an army tradition and briefed a political party. General Vij and Air Vice-Marshal S.K. Malik were asked by the Vajpayee government to brief the BJP?s national executive on the progress of operations in Kargil.