The Weekend Leader - Birthday pangs

When the army records have one date, it is just 'political lying' to decide on another

Sam Rajappa


Vol 3 | Issue 10

“An honest man’s the noblest work of God,” wrote Alexander Pope. Honesty is a vanishing commodity, according to a recent research study by Essex University.

Paul Whiteley, author of the report, says low level dishonesty has increased across the social classes, although the younger generation is, on the whole, even less scrupulous than the older one.

Gen. V K Singh: A victim of power play

In 1712, Jonathan Swift wrote a treatise on “The Art of Political Lying.” If only defence minister AK Antony had read Swift, he would have handled the raging controversy about the date of birth of the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. VK Singh, with finesse.

When the good soldier was born in the army’s own hospital in Poona on 10 May, 1951, and this fact was duly recorded in the service record of his father who was also an officer of the Indian Army, there was little scope for fudging the DOB of VK Singh.

When United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wanted their favourite, Lt.-Gen. Bikram Singh to succeed VK Singh as the Chief of the Army Staff, and realized it can be achieved only by retiring VK Singh 10 months ahead of his tenure, Antony, known for his honesty, had no option but to change the year of birth of the Army Chief.

Unaccustomed to such skulduggery, he went about the matter in such a crude fashion that India has become a laughing stock among the comity of nations. Not only the Defence Ministry, but all institutions of the nation from the President, the Supreme Court, down to the babus in the government have come out poorly in the battle of the general’s age.

Incensed by the cavalier treatment meted out to the Army Chief by the UPA government, a memorandum signed by thousands of ex-servicemen, including high ranking officers of the three services, was submitted to the President in her capacity as the Supreme Commander of the armed forces, seeking justice. She chose to remain mum.

The Supreme Court, prepared to strike but not willing to wound the government, cleverly skirted the issue by persuading the government to withdraw its 30 December, 2011, order to change the DOB of the Army Chief arbitrarily, and the Army Chief to withdraw his petition seeking justice.

The operative part of the judgment reads: “As a matter of fact, the question before us in the writ petition is not about the determination of actual date of birth of the petitioner, but it concerns the recognition of a particular date of birth of the petitioner by the respondent (Union of India) in the official service record.

“In view of the statement made by Goolam Vahanvati, attorney-general, and the limited controversy in the writ petition, counsel for the petitioner does not wish to press the matter further and he seeks withdrawal of the writ petition. Writ petition is disposed of as withdrawn.”

It was a travesty of justice that both the Defence Ministry and the Supreme Court showed scant regard to the legally acceptable documents like VK Singh’s birth certificate, matriculation certificate, and entire service record till the UPA came to power. Birth is a natural occurrence ordained by providence and it cannot be altered by any government order.

The government’s contention and misinformation campaign that there was a discrepancy in the date of birth of Gen. VK Singh maintained in the Ministry of Defence and in the Adjutant-General’s office in the Army Headquarters is simply not true.

A confidential communication dated 1 July, 2011, from Lt-Gen. GM Nair, Military Secretary, to the Defence Secretary, and seen by Defence Minister Antony, categorically states that 10 May, 1951, was taken as the DOB by various Selection Boards for promotion of VK Singh to Brigadier in September 1996, to Major-General in October 2001 and Lt.-General in 2005.

The plot begins when Gen. Joginder Jaswant Singh of Maratha Light Infantry takes over as Chief of the Army Staff on 1 February, 2005. He was the first ever Sikh to rise to the top in the Indian Army.

In the preceding months, as Gen. NC Vij’s tenure was coming to an end, there was speculation that JJ Singh might be superseded by Lt.-Gen. Shammi Mehta, an Armoured Corps officer.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabanthak Committee issued a strongly worded statement favouring JJ Singh which was prominently featured in The Tribune and few other newspapers.

Gen. Singh’s age controversy threatens to leave an ugly scar on the Indian army’s image

The Tribune was used again, this time to pillory Gen. VK Singh by the government. For the first time in the history of Indian Army, the communal card came into play, though the SGPC statement might not have had any bearing on the Appointment Committee headed by Manmohan Singh clearing JJ Singh’s elevation to the top spot.

Within months of taking over, he plotted a succession plan. That Deepak Kapoor would take over from JJ Singh was a foregone conclusion by then. After Kapoor who, would depend on the Selection Board which was to meet towards the end of 2005 to decide on which officers were to be promoted to coveted posts.

After working out various permutations and combinations, JJ Singh discovered that VK Singh, who was a Corps Commander by then, would be the obvious choice to succeed Kapoor, but if his tenure could be curtailed to two years, the way could be cleared for Bikram Singh, the present chief of the Eastern Command, to take over in May 2012.

At that time, Bikram Singh was not a front runner as there were other officers with better credentials ahead of him in the succession pyramid. But they could be sidelined with a bit of deft tweaking.

Those to be neutralised included Brigadiers Padam Budhwar and MM Chaudhary, and Major-Generals Shujan Chatterjee, AK Singh and Ravi Arora, a gold medalist from the same batch as Bikram Singh.

For JJ Singh’s succession plan to succeed, VK Singh should remain in office till 31 May. On 3 May, 2006, the Military Secretary branch was asked to rake up VK Singh’s date of birth issue based on an error in his application form at the time of joining the NDA as a teenager, and asked to accept, in writing, that he was born in 1950, with the promise of an inquiry which was never held.

Antony, who is fully aware of all the machinations in the ‘fixing’ of VK Singh’s age, like Pontius Pilate, washed his hands of the matter, pleading helplessness.

National security demands the Chief of the Army Staff who served the nation with utmost honesty and dedication is not denied justice at the fag end of his distinguished career.

Sam Rajappa is Consulting Editor of The Weekend Leader

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