Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gen. V K Singh's age debate: Indian Army's honour at stake?

India has been hit hard by an unprecedented psychological shock following a controversy over the two dates of birth of Army Chief General V K Singh.

The question now agitating the public mind and the rank and file is as to when he was born actually. Since it creates confusion over his retirement and succession, the Indian Defence Ministry last week ruled that the Army Chief's year of birth would be taken as 1950, and not 51.

Indian media reports suggest that the government's decision on the date of birth (DoB) of the man who heads the Indian Army, may not provide the closure many have been hoping for. Experts say a complicated and lengthy legal battle could follow in the next few months.

The controversy first surfaced in 2006 when two different dates of birth were detected by the Army brass in two different sections. General Singh's year of birth in the military secretary's branch was May 1950 whereas the adjutant general's branch recorded his year of birth as 1951. Singh was elevated to the rank of Army Chief in 2010 and at that time 1950 was taken as his year of birth.
Right year of birth 
General Singh who has not only consistently claimed that his right year of birth was 1951 (10-05-1951 to be precise) as recorded on his matriculation certificate but has also secured legal opinion in his favour from as many as three former chief justices of India. The three Chief Justice of India in their legal opinion in writing have supported General Singh's stand that he was born in May 1951.

Within the last two years, the Army was hit by two land scams - Sukhna and Adarsh - involving many senior officers and the previous chief Gen Deepak Kapur. Now the new chief who came with the clean-up agenda is mired in controversy.

His well-wishers feel that general Singh is possibly being targetted for his hard stand in court-martialing two Lt Gen level officers in Sukhna land scam and against Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai that he wants demolished.
Personal integrity 
If the Army chief does challenge the government's ruling it would be a first for its kind case - at that level of seniority - in the Indian defence services and opinion is divided on whether or not that would be a wise course of action for someone like General Singh who is widely regarded as a soldier and leader of great virtue and impeccable credentials when it comes to personal integrity.

Opinion is also divided on the issue of how a possible challenge by General Singh would reflect on the professional culture and training of the Indian Army at the highest level.

Earlier, a section officer in the Union law ministry-responding to a right to information query - supported in writing General Singh's claim of 1951 as his correct year of birth. However, on the advice of the attorney general, the then law minister Veerappa Moily once again held 1950 to be the correct year of birth of Gen. Singh.

The opinions of Chief Justices of India in favour of General Singh followed the law minister's ruling that army service rules did not allow any change in the date of birth after two years of joining service. The law ministry had further stated that since General Singh had himself accepted 1950 as his birth year in a written undertaking the matter should be treated as closed.

Former Chief Justice of India V N Khare had in his written opinion challenged that line of argument on the grounds that General Singh - as a sitting Army officer bound by service rules and the strict protocol which marks defence services - had little choice but to accept the diktat of his superiors on the date-of-birth issue.

It is apprehended that General Singh had earned some displeasure from the ruling quarters on certain issues in recent time.
Ration supplies 
In an unprecedented case, the Chiefs of Army and Air Force had to appear before the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee in January in connection with alleged irregularities in ration supplies.

General V K Singh also faced political criticism by opposing the use of the armed forces in anti-Maoist operations. He argued that the Left-wing extremism or the Maoist problem is more of a law and order and socio-economic problem to be handled by the local police forces and the central police forces.