Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
The Age Of Differences...Wasn't It Born Before 1962?

The Age Of Differences...Wasn't It Born Before 1962?

Author: G.D. Bakshi
Publication: Outlook
Date: October 3, 2011
URL: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?278421

The MoD would do better to assess military threat from China than spend its energies on discrediting the army chief over the non-issue of his year of birth

Civil-military relations in India today have touched a nadir that is strongly reminiscent of the state of affairs in the run-up to our disastrous war with China in 1962. In that year, the circumstances were perhaps extenuating for a civil-military spat. There are none today. A military coup in Pakistan had then made the civil establishment in India paranoid. Unfortunately, this took the form of a McCarthyist inquisition to humiliate and sideline all professional military officers with combat experience and promote in their place officers from cushy peace station environments who were deemed pliable.

Matters reached a head when the civil establishment tried to foist a lieutenant general from the army supply corps (who was related to the then PM) as the army chief. Gen Thimmaya, a combat-experienced general, was aghast. He had been warning the government on the need to speed up military preparations against the Chinese. He was callously ignored and told that the Chinese would be handled by personal charm and diplomacy. Thimmaya resigned in disgust but Pandit Nehru persuaded him to withdraw his resignation. The moment he did so, he was ridiculed and humiliated in the national media. Timmy went home a heartbroken man. Three years down the line, the nation was faced with the traumatic military humiliation by the Chinese.

Today, there is a new civil-military gridlock which has been triggered off by a manufactured controversy around the age of the current army chief, General V.K. Singh. This at a time when equipment deals worth crores have been pending for two decades. The army has not been able to procure a medium artillery gun since the 1987 Bofors deal. The procurement needs to be expedited on a war footing in response to Chinese military modernisation and infrastructure capacity development in Tibet. If in the 1980s, the Chinese could build 22 divisions over two seasons, today they can field up to 34 divisions within just a month. Instead of speeding up things to meet this increased threat, the defence ministry is stonewalling every proposal being sent up by the current army chief. To ensure deterrence and counter the steep rise in Chinese capabilities, the army had put up a case for raising a strike corps for the mountains. The finance and environment ministries have shot this down, along with another proposal to build a road to north Sikkim. Are we heading for another military disaster?

The age of the army chief is at the heart of this increasingly unseemly controversy. The issues at stake have now been well-framed by the MoD accusations (leaked through a weekly). These virtually charge the chief with lying about his age. Gen Singh, a well-respected combat soldier, had begun his tenure with a concerted effort to improve the moral and ethical health of the army. Stringent action had been initiated against very senior officers on corruption issues. And since the current defence minister had a reputation for probity, it was expected that the two would gel well as a team. To everyone's surprise, the army and the MoD are now energetically engaged in trying to reduce the tenure of the chief. They are doing their best to provoke him into resigning by calling him a "liar". This is a very serious accusation that impinges most adversely on the honour and reputation of any military officer and the institution of the army.

Did the chief actually lie about his age? Despite a barrage of disinformation, the facts are now transparent and clear. There is only one document that lists the chief's date of birth (DoB) as May 10, 1950. This was the application form to the National Defence Academy that his schoolteacher B.S. Bhatnagar had filled for him at the age of 14. It is hardly legal tender. As against this, there are a host of legal documents that give his correct DoB as May 10, 1951. These include the matriculation certificate-mandated by the Supreme Court of India as the key document for determination of age. There are also the iafz 2040-the record sent by the Indian Military Academy on the commissioning of an officer-as well as the iafz-2041, the record of service sent by the officer's unit to the adjutant-general's (AG) branch. This is in addition to the birth certificate of the military hospital where he was born as also the Part II Orders of his father's military unit that record his DoB as May 10, 1951. Besides, there are the officer's ID card and the officer's passport. In the light of this overwhelming weight of evidence, three former chief justices of the Supreme Court have upheld the contention of the army chief and the AG branch, which is the real custodian of officers' records, that his DoB was May 10, 1951.

But Goebbels-style "spin-doctoring" has been used to spread the canard that the chief has sought a revision of his age to get an extended tenure. This is blatantly untrue. Gen Singh has consistently maintained from the stage of entry into the army that his correct DoB is May 10, 1951. Each and every annual confidential report (ACR) since he was commissioned bears this date. His crucial promotion boards till the rank of Lt Gen were done based on 1951 as his year of birth. If the MoD seriously believes its own strident accusation, then it must try the army chief for lying. However, the ministry is well aware of the weak legal ground it is on. Hence it is apparently trying to force Gen Singh into resigning through an orchestrated PR campaign of slander and unsubstantiated accusations in the media.

It is obdurately trying to defend an obvious goof-up, by making it out to be a classic case of the military defying the supremacy of civilian authority. That is far from the case. The chief has taken the extraordinary step of putting up a statutory complaint seeking redress from the raksha mantri. This is a formal and legal route for seeking redress. The chief has been called a liar. He is seriously aggrieved and would like to clear his fair name. The ministry is expected to apply its mind and act impartially while dispensing justice and ensure fair play. Instead of doing so, its minions have sought to damn the chief without even the pretence of a hearing. In trying to damn Gen Singh, it is destroying the very august institution of the army chief.

How did this whole unseemly controversy begin? It dates back to 2006 when the then army chief, Gen J.J. Singh, decided to set his line of succession two or three chiefs down as per his personal predilections. It was during this exercise that the disparity in records of Gen V.K. Singh's DoB held with the military secretary's (MS) branch and the AG's branch came to light. A look at the charter of duty of the two branches clearly indicates that it is the latter which is the designated custodian of officers' records. The AG branch had correctly recorded the general's date of birth as May 10, 1951. The MS Branch (despite receiving a copy of the officer's matriculation certificate in 1971) failed to correct its records. In 1974, it published the army list showing Gen V.K. Singh's DoB as May 10, 1950, and has since obdurately and incorrectly stuck to its flawed stance. It is also responsible for misguiding and misinforming the MoD. Of course, it was equally incumbent upon the ministry to seek legal advice at that stage itself to resolve the controversy well before Gen V.K. Singh became an army commander and then the army chief. Instead, Gen J.J. Singh tried his best to exploit Gen V.K. Singh's vulnerable position and virtually ordered him to accept 1950 as his year of birth or face the consequences of disobedience! A pained and baffled Lt Gen V.K. Singh complied, but with express reservations in writing. The same exercise was repeated in 2008 when he was elevated to the army chief's office. The MoD ordered an inquiry that was never held. It's a brand new concept of justice based not on facts and competence but the personal likes and dislikes and manipulative chains of succession worked out by the ministry.

This murky episode, however, serves to throw light on the opaque and manipulative nature of the MS branch. The ministry seeks to retain control by having its representative in the MS branch (MS-X) and tightly controlling all promotions to brigadier and above. In the pre-1962 era, this was used to sideline competent and combat-proven officers and promote sycophants and peace area specialists.

Some five decades down the line from the sordid saga of throttling the army in the run-up to the 1962 war, military historians can see that spectre looming all over again. There truly is a need to restore the ethical and moral tone of our army, precisely what the present chief was doing. Sacking him would send a very wrong signal to the rank and file.

Back                          Top