Plot seen in Indian army chief's age row
By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - India's Chief of Army Staff General Vijay Kumar Singh is at the center of a raging debate. Unlike his counterpart across the border in Pakistan, who is often in the spotlight for his political ambitions, the Indian army chief is caught in a controversy of less import. It is over his age.
The general claims that he is younger than what the country's civilian bureaucracy insists he is.
The spat could culminate in an unseemly civil-military confrontation in the courts, should Singh decide to seek judicial redress. It would be the first time in India's history that a serving army chief has challenged the government that appointed him in court .
A well-respected combat soldier and a brilliant strategist, Singh took over as army chief in March 2010. He maintains he was born on May 10, 1951, a fact supported by over a dozen documents, including his birth certificate, his school-leaving certificate and his passport. This is the date of birth that the office of the Adjutant General, the army's official record keeper, has for the army chief.
But according to records with the office of the Military Secretary, which handles promotions and postings, he was born on May 10, 1950, the date of birth mentioned in his application form for entrance into the National Defense Academy (NDA).
If he was born in 1950 he would have to retire on May 31 this year. If 1951 is his year of birth, he would retire in 2013. The Ministry of Defense has ruled that the army chief's year of birth is 1950 and hence he must retire on May 31 this year.
Singh argues that his term as army chief should end only in 2013. He maintains that the date of birth in his NDA application form is a mistake committed when he was 14 years old, by a teacher who filled in his form on his behalf. He says he had raised the issue of the discrepancy with his predecessors, General J J Singh and General Deepak Kapoor, and asked that the dates be reconciled but that neither acted on his request.
Stinging stories have been leaked to the media by both sides. Bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defense sneer at the army chief's "single-minded determination" to make 1951 his year of birth. They accuse him of petulance and say he is trying to get himself another year at the helm because of the perks and privileges that come with being a general.
They point out that under the rules any discrepancy in the date of birth should be reported within the first couple of years after entry into service. Why didn't Singh settle the issue earlier? He has been accused of fudging his age and of lying.
Singh insists that his honor is at stake; hence the dogged determination to clear his name. The issue is one of personal integrity, not of tenure, he says.
His supporters in the armed forces, both serving and retired, say that this is not just a personal battle between an aggrieved general and a civilian bureaucracy. Singh heads a 1.2 million-strong army. His humiliation will affect the morale of the soldiers as well as the image of the military as an institution.
On the face of it the controversy is over Singh's age. But scratch the surface and other issues emerge - succession, parochialism and corruption.
Obviously, Singh's date of birth and retirement impacts the line of succession. If he retires in May 2012, he would be succeeded by Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, who heads the Eastern Command of the Indian army.
However, if Singh retires next year, Lieutenant General K T Parnaik, who currently heads the Northern Command would become the army chief. The succession plan would be thrown out of gear should Singh resign in the next few months. If Singh's tenure is not completed, Lieutenant General Shankar Ghosh, who heads the Western Command, could succeed Singh.
Sources in the army say told Asia Times Online that back in 2005-2006, the then army chief General J J Singh insisted that V K Singh accept 1950 as his year of birth. The logic behind the move was apparently to ensure Singh's retirement as army chief in May 2012, clearing the way for Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, a Sikh like General J J Singh, to become the army chief.
If there is truth to this allegation, it is a worrying development as the Indian armed forces have held true to secular principles.
Analysts have also drawn attention to General V K Singh's tough stance on fighting corruption in the armed forces. It may be recalled that in 2008 when a scam involving transfer of 71 acres [28.7 hectares] of land adjacent to the Sukna army camp in West Bengal was transferred to a private educational trust, it was General V K Singh, then lieutenant general heading the Eastern Command, who dug in his heels to ensure that the role of General Avadesh Prakash, a close aide of the then army chief General Deepak Kapoor was unearthed.
Singh went against the wishes of Kapoor, who wanted only administrative action taken against Prakash and others, to insist on a court martial.
What does this have to do with General V K Singh's date of birth? In 2008, when army headquarters formally accepted 1950 - the year recorded by the Military Secretary as Singh's year of birth - the military secretary was Lieutenant General Prakash.
Singh has also promised stern action against all army officers who benefited from the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society, which was meant for army widows. Among those who could face punishment is Kapoor.
Clearly, there are many powerful people in the armed forces and the civilian bureaucracy who would like to see Singh's wings clipped, his tenure shortened and his credibility undermined. The confusion over his date of birth came in handy to them.
With the Defense Ministry rejecting Singh's statutory complaint to consider May 10, 1951, as his date of birth, the army chief has exhausted in-house remedies available to him. He can approach a court of law which can either be the Armed Forces Tribunal or the High Court.
When he filed the statutory complaint with the Defense Ministry, Singh became the first chief of the Indian army to do so. Should he take on the government in court, it will be another first to his credit (or discredit).
The government will be hoping that Singh will not go to court. It is believed that is working on a compromise solution.
Meanwhile, a new problem has surfaced with regard to who should succeed him. Frontrunner Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, it appears, was involved in a "fake encounter", or staged shooting, in Anantnag in Kashmir in 2001. A case has been filed in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The past is coming back to haunt India's likely new army chief.
Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore. She can be reached at email@example.com
Plot seen in Indian army chief's age row
Prabir Goswami · DSSC Wellington
What a pity that the media is looking at this while the Govt is not even looking at other issues, like the following:
1. No talk of appointing a CDS.
2. Go slow on Army modernization.
2. All promotion boards of Brigs & above unusually delayed.
3. Go slow on OROP for Offrs.
4. Go slow on empanelment of various hospitals for ECHS, 124 applications pending since Feb 2010.
5. QD from CSD not being paid back to fmns & units as hithertofore.... Deposited with Consolidated Fund of India for allocation to various NGO's like NEHRU FOUNDATION, SONIA MUSEUM, INDIRA TRUST, RAJIV BANK, RAHUL COOPERATIVE, VADRA BROTHERS, PRIYANKA PARLOURS ETC ETC, for the last two years.
6. No cars through CSD for service pers unless approved by an application from QMG. Same facility is available to all police pers through Police canteens.
7. All civilian Directors & above in MOD authorized individual DD staff cars with service drivers whereas Maj Gens & equiv posted in A/N/AF HQ have to requistion & share cars.
8.All civilian Directors & above in MOD authorized treatment in R&R but ESM are turned away.
9.All civilian Directors & above in MOD authorized CSD facilities including Liquor.
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