Friday, December 2nd, 2022 18:49:25

The Price Of Being Honest

Updated: August 6, 2011 2:12 pm

The matriculation or higher secondary or 12th board certificate serves as the unimpeachable basis for date of birth in respect of Indians. The Supreme Court too has ruled as such in unambiguous terms. Some vested interests inside and outside the country are, however, desperately trying to turn this simple truism upside down in case of the present Army chief Gen VK Singh. They have for very long been engaged in subverting the very institution of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) by engineering a controversy with regard to age of the present incumbent in their bid to supplant him with a convenient and pliable officer.

All through his career, till he became Lt Gen, his date of birth (10 May, 1951) as reflected in the matriculation certificate was taken as the basis and never doubted. However, towards very late in his career when he appeared on the horizon of being the strongest contender of Army chief some vested interests fabricated a controversy that his date of birth was 10 May, 1950 based on legally untenable rather preposterous arguments.

It is common knowledge that but for a specific succession plan initiated some years ago, the ‘age’ controversy in respect of Gen VK Singh would not have been created. Why such premiums on a succession plan? This question should nag any intelligence hand dealing with internal and external intelligence. Besides the succession plan there were also moves to prevent Gen VK Singh from becoming COAS.

The entire controversy poses some very serious questions. Why is the discomfort level with Gen VK Singh so high in certain quarters? Is Gen VK Singh being targeted for being non-pliable, upright and intolerant of corruption? Is there a design to weaken the professional moorings of the Indian Army by manipulating and attacking its moral and social fabric?

It is about succession

The controversy is not merely about age and tenure of present chief. More importantly, it is about succession, which was scripted few years back (2006) by none other than, the then Army chief who allegedly bent backwards for a government sinecure on his retirement and was rewarded as such. The succession script naturally attracted vested interests in the form of politicians, arms lobby, businessmen and ambitious Army officers. The controversy needs to be, therefore, understood in its simple entirety.

It is a moral issue

The controversy surrounding the age of the Army chief continues to concern the Indian people about the state of health of the Indian Army. It is indeed denting the very edifice of the Indian Army. The senior officers in the Army depending on their career calculations are divided over the issue. The other rank and file perceive the controversy in the manner they are fed by the rival camps. The overall consequence is that the image of the Army and the honour and the moral authority of the office of COAS has never been attacked so viciously by insiders and vested interests for non-operational reasons. The Pakistani press is agog with half-truths on the issue and has been insinuating poor health and the unity of the Indian Army.

            When an Army chief vouches for a simple detail like his date of birth, it should be moralistically and euphemistically unassailable. Lack of truthfulness and integrity in the leaders, who have chosen the profession of arms has invariably resulted in the compromise of a country’s physical integrity. The armed forces sensitivity to moral issues is best exemplified by Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda of the US Navy, who committed suicide in 1996 over the controversy of his wearing a medal which he was not entitled to.

            It cannot be denied that the psychological integrity of the Army has been fraying over the years. Gen VK Singh’s ‘age’ controversy should not be viewed in isolation. It is actually a manifestation of the deterioration, misuse and subversion of the office of the COAS for nearly a decade.

Who created the controversy?

An impression is being sought to be conveyed by the vested interests and detractors of Gen VK Singh that the controversy was created by him just to ‘enjoy’ the office of the COAS for an additional year. This is travesty of truth.

The fact is that as far as Gen VK Singh is concerned, it was never an issue. Nor was the issue ever raked by the Army HQs or mod in his service career as he rose to the rank of Lt Gen with his date of birth as 10 May, 1951. The first time the issue was raised (2006) when an Army chief known for his ambitions for presidentship of social and golf clubs, and penchant for working out succession plans several notches downwards. He raked-up the issue to ensure passage of one of his favourites, purely on sectarian considerations to the office of the COAS. In this case, he had planned succession three interventions below.

Legal and financial implications

When pondering over this particular succession plan, the said Army chief went by the Army list, which gives the date of birth as 10 May, 1950; the Army list is prepared by the Military Secretary (MS) branch and contains minimal details such as date of birth, date of commissioning etc. The MS branch otherwise deals with postings, promotions, deputation, retirement etc. And it is not the legal repository or otherwise of personal and family details of an officer. Right from the time an officer enters the training academy, till he retires and even after, all records are maintained by the Adjutant General (AG) branch. As per the AG branch, the date of birth of Gen VK Singh is 10 May, 1951. It may be highlighted that like the records maintained by AG’s branch, the Army list has no financial implication.

It may also be reiterated that by the time Gen VK Singh rose to the rank of Lt General he had undergone several promotion boards— all with the date of birth as 10 May, 1951. It includes the board from brigadier to Major General and subsequently Major General to Lt General—all personally approved by none other than the Prime Minister himself. If indeed the contention of the MS branch that Gen VK Singh’s date of birth is 10 May, 1950 is tenable, then all his promotion boards are illegal and have huge financial implications. In fact, the legality of his entire career comes under question.

On 14 December, 2007, the MoD had queried MS branch for reasons of recording DOB as 10 May, 1950 & asked for reconciliation of the correct DOB with AG branch and asked for conduct of enquiry for the same. Noting on the file was found saying “enquiry not to be conducted” – sinister designs on vested interests for not to settle the issue towards rightful conclusion.

How was the controversy created?

The said Army chief, in order to effect his succession plans, activated his MS and tried to beleaguer Gen VK Singh by generating the age controversy. With the same foul intention, an explanation was sought. Notwithstanding 1950 or 1951, Gen VK Singh’s claim to the post of COAS was not affected. It was the fate of Gen VK Singh’s successor, which hung on these dates. The said Army chief’s protégé could only realise the appointment of COAS, if somehow Gen VK Singh was made to agree that he was born in 1950.

For Gen VK Singh the issue of date of birth was never a controversy. The MS branch for the first time indicated to him that as per the Army list, his date of birth was 10 May, 1950 and not 10 May, 1951. The subsequent Army chief also reignited the controversy, rather very strongly, after the issue of awarding of NOC to government land to a private party for allegedly extraneous considerations in Sukhna Cantt came up. The person, who allegedly played the key role in the scam, was the MS himself. He, along with many others is facing trial by the judiciary. Reportedly, the same lobby has been joined by the Adarsh scam lobby to dislodge Gen VK Singh.

In addition, the role of arms lobby cannot be ruled out. There are insinuations that one retired Lt General, dabbling in arms business has been active in the bid to supply tatra vehicles, manufactured abroad, through an Indian public sector enterprise (BEML) at nearly double the cost than what is available off the shelf. Reportedly, the Army chief, despite all kinds of persuasions has turned it down and thus invited the wrath of this supplier and many others of his kind.

Readers will recall that Gen VK Singh took over office when the Army was bedeviled by a series of scams and unsavory incidents. He took upon himself to stem the decline and undeniably has made a difference. It is natural that the vested interests treat him as the enemy and has joined the rival camp sphere headed by the senior officer, who stands to benefit most, if Gen VK Singh was made to be born on 10 May, 1950.

This officer is blatantly playing the sectarian card and has reportedly been keeping a very close relative of arguably the top decision maker in good humour at the place of his posting to influence matters. The volt face by the law ministry on the age issue is being attributed to this factor. Reportedly, there has been an allurement of post retirement sinecures by some people in the government to Gen VK Singh, if he were, to accept his date of birth as 10 May, 1950.

Therefore, many vested and corrupt interests are riding over the ambition of one individual. Even the media has not been spared. One TV channel based on a fake municipality certificate beamed a programme to show that Gen VK Singh was neither born in 1950 nor 1951, but in 1949. The bluff was easily called and in face of legal action the channel apologized.

The dilemma of a chief

Under the circumstances, what does a chief do? Reportedly, Gen VK Singh was seriously contemplating to resign, out of sheer disgust. But then he was rightly advised that it would amount to surrender to negative and anti-national forces. Moreover, most rank and file, who have no clue about the details of the fabricated controversy would construe that Gen VK Singh’s contention was legally and morally invalid right from the outset.

Gen VK Singh was advised by certain quarters to go to the court. He was told that legally his is a watertight case. He emphatically rubbished the advice on the grounds that it would not only morally be wrong, but will set a precedence, which will destroy the moral and institutional fabric of the Indian Army for all times to come. Thereafter, no military personnel will have faith in the administrative and judicial system of the Army. No Army chief will have the moral authority to enjoin upon Army personnel to refrain from going to civil courts.

This dilemma of Gen VK Singh was exploited just before he took over as COAS by powers that be in Army HQs. In fact, the same power treated this dilemma as vulnerability. Gen VK Singh, then Lt General, was asked to give an undertaking that he will not raise the issue of age. In response, the general replied to the effect that he would act in the best interests and traditions of the Indian Army. Nowhere did he give an undertaking that he accepts his date of birth as 10 May, 1950. The detractors of Gen VK Singh have however been misquoting the said letter in the media.

Since Gen VK Singh cannot go to court, the AG branch of the Army sought the opinion of four retired chief justices of India. The logic behind approaching more than one judge was to obtain various shades of opinion and avoid any possible insinuation about the move being motivated and partisan. All the four judges have unanimously given the view that Gen VK Singh’s date of birth, 10 May, 1951, is unimpeachable.

Why different dates of birth?

The best judges are the readers. I am, therefore, making an endeavour to explain as to how the anomaly in the date of birth did actually arise.

Gen VK Singh entered Birla Public School with date of birth as 10 May, 1951.

He passed out from school with provisional matriculation certificate with date of birth as 10 May, 1951.

Meanwhile, when Gen VK Singh was still in school, the teacher then, one Mr BS Bhatnagar, who was keen on sending maximum students to National Defence Academy (NDA), as he did every six months, brought Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) forms for entry into NDA from Delhi. The forms were filled by him, who erroneously entered the date of birth as 10 May, 1950 instead of 10 May, 1951. Mr Bhatnagar later on went on to become principal of Lawrence School Lovedale as also Dally College Indore. He also has vouched that there was indeed an error in filling the date of birth on the UPSC form with regard to Gen VK Singh.

Even his medical examination form as an air force candidate before joining NDA reflects 10 May, 1951 as his DOB.

Gen VK Singh passed the NDA exam and submitted the provisional certificate, which reflects the date of birth as 1951.

Once the provisional certificate arrived at the UPSC, the anomaly was observed and the date of birth was settled as 10 May, 1951. Gen VK Singh has the acknowledgement letter, but unfortunately the details of correspondence are not available with the UPSC, which as per the rules destroys most documents after lapse of certain years.

When Gen VK Singh graduated from NDA and entered Indian Military Academy (IMA), his date of birth in the IMA dossier is reflected as 10 May, 1951. The covering envelop, however, mentions 10 May, 1950 probably due to the anomaly that had been settled long back, but still persisted due to clerical oversight or negligence. This envelop with no legal sanctity is being overplayed by the detractors of Gen VK Singh.

When Gen VK Singh passed out of IMA, the identity card issued by the adjutant bears his date of birth as 10 May, 1951.

On joining the unit, Gen VK Singh filled up the prescribed form giving all details, which was countersigned by the commanding officer with date of birth 10 May, 1951 and forwarded to AG branch at Army HQ. These forms are filled at certain intervals of service and contain all personal and professional particulars. In all these forms the date of birth in respect of Gen VK Singh is reflected as 10 May, 1951.

Subsequently, in 1971 on completion of young officers course, Gen VK Singh visited his village and found that his original matriculation certificated had arrived. This certificate too carries his date of birth as 10 May, 1951. He submitted the same to the AG’s branch in the Army HQs through his unit in April, 1971.

Gen VK Singh in his journey to the rank of general has undergone selection boards right from the rank of major and upwards. In each of these boards, his date of birth is reflected as 10 May, 1951.

 

Conclusion

The most critical asset of armed forces of any country is the character of its leaders, who command men by example and moral authority more than anything else. Weapons and equipments are function of time, geopolitical environment, and security circumstances. They can be acquired from the domestic or international market. Character cannot be purchased or borrowed.

Any Army can be destroyed by a successful propaganda campaign against the very leaders who provide sustenance to the moral and psychological fabric of the organisation. In the history of warfare, it has been practiced by adversaries in war and peace with mixed success. At times, it has proved to be detrimental to victory against otherwise superior foe.

At present the same is being perpetrated on the Indian Army not by adversaries like Pakistan or china, but from within by Indians, which include Arms Lobby and other vested interests. The pawns in this game are some scheming and ambitious Army officers.

One venerable retired Chief Justice of India, in his solicited opinion, conveyed that Gen VK Singh’s age must be upheld as 10 May, 1951, failing which there will be huge impetus to corruption. The former judge has grasped the controversy in its entirety.

Finally, I may ask the readers what would have been the response of the government if hypothetically the case was converse i.e. If Gen VK Singh’s date of birth was 10 May, 1950 in the matriculation certificate and 10 May, 1951 in the UPSC form or the Army, list? And what would have been the verdict of the readers if general had insisted that the government must go by the UPSC form or the Army list? If the verdict is a ‘no’, then why the present controversy?

By RSN Singh

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