Friday, January 13, 2012
The ‘age row’ – Coup against the Army Chief
By Karan Kharb
Dust kicked up in the media has the Army Chief’s date of birth at its core even though it is not the real issue. Sadly, the Government authorities including ministers have sought to portray it as if Gen VK Singh were greedy to hang on to his chair longer by seeking a ‘change’ in his date of birth. If it was so, why should the Government try to bargain with him by dangling ‘compensatory package’ in the form of post retirement sinecures like appointing him ambassador or governor ‘if he agreed’ to retire in accordance with the wrong date of birth? These offers reported widely in the media have not been denied by the Government until now – a live fact that lends credence to the existence of a more sinister intrigue squirming beneath the innocuous looking ‘date of birth ruckus.’
Gen VK Singh has a proud record of unimpeachable credentials as an officer and a gentleman. Even his enemies, if there were any this side of the borders, would find it hard to question his integrity. For a man who has served the country with selfless devotion, any suggestion of greed guiding his petition is not only unfair to the country’s Army Chief – proud symbol of nation’s military might, but also utterly bad for the country and its military where officers lead by personal example. And Gen VK Singh’s personal example has been undoubtedly the most outstanding in all respects all through his long service career. If the general was greedy, he would grab the sinecures offered and oblige the authorities but his principles do not allow him to give up unless the wrong is set right – no matter how lucrative the offer in lieu.
The argument of ‘personal greed’ pushing for a ‘change in the date of birth’ also gets demolished by the fact that Gen VK Singh was fully qualified to be where he is today because neither of these dates would come in the way of his promotion to general’s rank. The ‘change’, if ever it was required, was settled long ago before his admission to the National Defence Academy when the UPSC had sought clarification about the variation in the date birth given in his UPSC application form (10 May 1950) and the date given in his School leaving Certificate (10 May 1951). Having fully satisfied itself from his clarification then, the UPSC had accepted the date given in his School Certificate as the correct date of birth and closed the matter. Everybody knows that legally and conventionally the School Leaving Certificate is the accepted authority for date of birth in all government departments. In the instant case it has also been reinforced by his ‘Birth Certificate’ issued by a Military Hospital. Where is the scope for doubt? Further, at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) when merit list of the passing out course is drawn, dates of birth of each gentleman cadet (GC) is scrutinised while fixing the seniority and allotting Service number to the newly commissioned officers. They are then issued with their Service Identity Card that carries the officer’s date of birth. The IMA authorities too recorded 10 May 1951 as VK Singh’s date of birth in all his documents, which continued without any shade of ambiguity from any quarter until he was seen as a possible contender for the post of Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). Had there been even an iota of ambiguity in his date of birth, he would not have been granted Commission.
Now, as the storm gathers more dust it raises many intriguing questions. When did the second date of birth first appear in the MS Branch records? How did a wrong date of birth erased by the UPSC long ago creep in surreptitiously in the Officer’s service documents at the MS Branch so many years later? Why was no question raised on his annual confidential reports (ACRs) which carry date of birth and are submitted to the MS Branch every year? Why also were no questions raised on other periodical submission of service documents, reports and returns received from the officer’s Unit/Headquarters showing the same date of birth that came to be challenged by the MS Branch years later? Why was the confirmation given by the Adjutant General’s (AG’s) Branch not accepted by the MS Branch even though it is the AG’s Branch that is the official custodian of personal records of officers of the Indian Army? Why did the Ministry of Defence retract its initial decision to order an investigation in the matter? If the General’s contention is wrong, why are the authorities trying to placate and ‘rehabilitate him honourably’?
It is well known in the Services that senior officers of the rank of major generals and above routinely weigh their inter-se probability of rising to higher positions and appointments in the coming years. In a milieu involving course mates and known equals in the Service, it is easy to calculate as to who is in the run for the top rung and who will miss out by superannuating before the incumbent Army Chief retires. Being Chief of an Army which is world’s third largest is naturally a very prestigious and enviable distinction for an Army officer. Besides the lustrous embellishments of the high appointment, the position also has unique authority and an assurance of due prominence in the annals of India’s military history. Obviously, the position of the COAS is lucrative enough to make many in the queue aspire for the high position. However, if there be an unscrupulous person in this queue, the systemic process can be manoeuvred and manipulated especially in times when some very senior army officers including an MS have been recently court-martialled for unbecoming conduct. It is therefore relevant to ask whose interests are served most if Gen VK Singh’s date of birth is altered from 10 May 1951 to 10 May 1950? And who misses his chance to be considered for the top job if his genuine date (10 May 1951) is accepted as actual? The answer to these simple questions will provide you the thread that leads you through the weave to the coterie that conspired and connived to vitiate and circumvent service records of an unsuspecting soldier like VK Singh.
It is the General’s magnanimity that he is simply asking for removal of the ‘mischief’ in his record and not raking up the issue to unravel its cause. An enquiry into the matter might embarrass his predecessors and the Government. Therefore, Gen VK Singh’s is not a case of ‘change of date of birth’ as is being projected in the media. It is becoming more obvious that the entire case is actually a conspiracy that was hatched at the Army Headquarters (MS Branch) to pave the way for some ‘favourite’ who would otherwise have to retire as a lieutenant general unless something is done to force VK Singh out of office in a manner that would appear normal retirement on a date desired by the ‘coterie’. Hence the mischief and fudging of his service records at the MS Branch (Army Headquarters) – and lo, even the Government appears to be conniving in the plot after initial wavering – the Law Ministry upholds one date, the Attorney General upholds another!
Sadly, these are dirty times marked by endless high profile scams in the Government. Even the Army’s image stands smeared by some of its own generals who drifted and succumbed to allurements in a couple of cases of unbecoming conduct. At the time of assuming the office of the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen VK Singh had declared that he would clean up and improve the ‘inner health’ of the Army. True to his word, he has acted against the malaise swiftly and sternly without fear or favour. This healthy trend to restore inner efficiency and professionalism of the Army must continue.
The need of the hour is honest and upright commanders at the top because officers given to manipulation and intrigue for self-advancement can wreak havoc for the country if assigned sensitive offices of high authority in the Armed Forces. It is desirable that absolute and fairness and transparency is observed by the Government in tackling issues concerning military leadership and morale of the Forces. Prudence suggests that truth and justice alone must be allowed to prevail in the Armed Forces, even if such recourse appears unpleasant and bitter for the time being. The on-going ‘date of birth row’, as it has come to be known, must be quickly resolved in a transparent and judicious manner by accepting the General’s actual date of birth as actual and he must continue to serve his full tenure with full dignity and honour that is due to him.