Monday 22 July 2019, 11:43 AM
THE CHIEF WITH TWO AGES
By IANS | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 9/22/2011 12:00:00 AM

Last few months have seen Army Chief V.K. Singh’s name in the media in a controversy relating to his age.  The general is an outstanding soldier who is a renowned strategist and a brilliant practitioner of military craft.  I have known him well for over four decades.  However, I differ with him and his well wishers on a few counts.

The General has submitted a statutory complaint in the matter of his birth date.  Army Act Section 27 affords a right to any military person who feels wronged by the decision of any superior to seek remedy from the Central Government.  The remedy is available from a junior most soldier to the senior most commanders to air his grievances or difficulties or denial of entitlements, aspirations or expectations.  However, there are a number of reasons that make the case of the Army Chief different.

General V.K. Singh had joined National Defence Academy in June 1966.  The entry is regulated by the Union Public Service Commission.  Three years later he entered Indian Military Academy and on completion of his training was commissioned in the Infantry during June, 1970.  1950 was recorded as his year of birth when he filled out UPSC admission form for entry to the National Defence Academy.  Sometimes in 2006 the entry of 1951 in the matriculation certificate came to be reported.

The regulations enjoin that any discrepancy in the date of birth is to be reported within first couple of years after entry into service.  The claim is then examined and settled.  It is learnt that some other officers had got the requisite changes made in their birth data.  In this case, the officer could have taken timely recourse to those provisions to get the actual date entered in his dossier.  He did not.

While a Major General and waiting to be cleared for elevation to a three star general he gave a written assurance to abide by 1950 year and not to stake any claim for year to be reckoned as 1951.  Having once forwarded such an undertaking and gained promotion to a higher rank, would it be open for him to demand that 1951 be accepted as the year of his birth.  There are numerous allegations and counter allegations by the two sides.  It has been asserted that V.K. Singh was pressurized to submit an undertaking to avoid withholding the processing of entire selection board.  Such an explanation does not appear to be convincing.  Any soldier and moreso a general is expected to display adequate mental robustness to resist or withstand any unjustified pressure. 

Some believe that the case was put on fast track by engineering a query under the Right to Information Act enquiring the dates of birth of all the Army Commanders and above.  Certain members of political parties are reported to have met the Prime Minister to plead the case of the Army Chief.  The outcome is not known.  It may not be out of place to recall that a senior Air Force Commander was severally censured a few years back for writing to political leader of his caste seeking his help to get a more lucrative post.  

Army Headquarters took unusual course of seeking the opinion of three former Chief Justices.  Solicitor General was also contacted to ask for his views in the matter. They are all said to have ruled in favour of Army Chief.  It is not certain whether they were  privy to all relevant documents.  Perhaps they were approached without the concurrence of the Government.  If so, such a precedent may have dangerous consequences.  Any soldier, say a person convicted by a court martial, may obtain and forward comments and recommendations of former judges or law officers to demand reversal of valid and bonafide decisions.

The matter is being projected by a few as a civil military conflict.  Such a view appears to overlook the fact that the matter was handled by three successive military secretaries starting with Lieutenant General Richard Khare.  If the Army did not agree to accept.  1951 as year of birth, would fault lie on the Ministry of Defence?

A plea was also put forth that a raised to treat 1950 as year of birth will be a set back for Army’s cleansing drive. Such an assertion portrays the succeeding line of succession as incompetent to proceed against dishonest and corrupt elements.

This matter has raised a few larger questions.  Can a senior commander be allowed  to use his Headquarters to pursue his personal case against the higher authorities?    Should a General be retained to serve as a Chief, if he has any complaint against the Government.  Till what stage should a correction be allowed in date of the birth which has direct bearing on the line of succession.  Would it be fair to upset the legitimate expectations of those likely to rise in the seniority driven line up for elevation to higher ranks.  

Army Chief would have earned the nation’s admiration, if his differences with the political leadership were based on any major policy decisions or on strategic security issues rather than an individual and personal matter.  A chief is expected to set an example to abide by the decision of the political leadership even where the consequences are not to his liking individually.  He has risen to the very top position in the Army which is administered by well regulated orders and rules.  It is ironical that having attained the senior most position he has now chosen to project his grievances against the system.  A significant fact is that there are discrepancies in the documents held by the Adjutant General’s and Military Secretary’s branches of the Army Headquarter.

A statutory complaint in the shape of an alternate remedy has to be first submitted before approaching a court of law seeking judicial remedy.  That may be the next step.  Any delay in disposal of the complaint or an unfavourable decision may lead to the matter being taken to Armed Forces Tribunal and further acrimony.  The outcome of this matter would be keenly awaited.

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THE CHIEF WITH TWO AGES

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भारत डिफेंस कवच की नई हिन्दी पत्रिका ‘डिफेंस मॉनिटर’ का ताजा अंक ऊपर दर्शाया गया है। इसके पहले दस पन्ने आप मुफ्त देख सकते हैं। पूरी पत्रिका पढ़ने के लिए कुछ राशि का भुगतान करना होता है। पुराने अंक आप पूरी तरह फ्री पढ़ सकते हैं। पत्रिका के अंकों पर क्लिक करें और देखें। -संपादक

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