Sunday, February 05, 2012

Army Chief has date with Honour

The debate in the media about the Army Chief’s date of birth has developed in a manner that points and counter points have been brought before the public in ample measure.  However, for some inexplicable reason a few periodicals (eg, India Today, January 16) have not hesitated in twisting facts and projecting a one-sided view to the public. In a series of articles more recently published in ‘The Tribune’, events and documents, including classified, have been quoted to establish only one thing: that Gen VK Singh’s UPSC form bears 10 May 1950 as his date of birth and that he later had ‘accepted’ the same as correct even though his actual date of birth as per his birth certificate and school leaving certificate bear 10 May 1951. Interestingly, the MS Branch relied more on the ‘UPSC Form’ (10 May 1950) whereas the AG’s Branch has relied on documents that are legally required and accepted in all government departments – school leaving certificate and birth certificate (10 May 1951).  What it implies is that the Army HQ had two sets of Gen Singh’s date of birth and that the officer is said to have ‘accepted’ the one ‘preferred’ by the MS Branch. The unfair inference being sold is that the General has reneged on his ‘acceptance.’  These misgivings need to be clarified.
Who’s seeking the ‘Change’?
Gen VK Singh has never sought any ‘change’ in his date of birth. Actually, he has been all along resisting the ‘change’ that the authorities have sought to make in his service records in an arbitrary manner. He is actually questioning why his authentic date of birth (10 May 1951) is repeatedly being sought to be amended to read as ‘10 May 1950’ – the latter being an error rectified long ago.  Yet, how strange that the authorities have relied more upon what he as a boy of 14-15 entered in his UPSC form for the NDA entrance examination in early sixties and not upon documents that are universally accepted as legal proof of facts like date of birth like his School leaving Certificate and Birth Certificate issued by a Military Hospital where he was borne. 
Interestingly, the Master Data Sheets (MDS) – a crucial document prepared by the MS Branch (Army HQ) in respect of officers under consideration for promotion by the Selection Board – have all through shown the correct date of birth (10 May 1951). Strangely, the same MS Branch started raising questions on this date from 2006 onwards.  When the MS wrote to him informing that ‘19 May 1950’ would be treated as his correct date (year) of birth and not ‘1951’ and that the AG’s branch was being advised to amend their records accordingly, Gen VK Singh wrote back questioning why his date of birth (1951) was sought to be changed/amended. 
On being asked by the Army HQ, Gen VK Singh only expressed his confidence in those who were his superiors then and expected them to resolve the anomaly by maintaining what is correct and authentic in all respects. Normally, a ‘change’ is requested by those in whose cases the records have a date different from what they have to offer.  In Gen VK Singh’s case the Army HQ had a conflict within – the AG’s Branch records showing it as 19 May 1951 while the MS Branch (having insidiously re-invented an obsolete date rather late) started showing it as 10 May 1950 from 2006 or so onwards. The General’s simple and single contention has been ‘let the true and actual date of birth remain. If the authorities had any doubts about his certificates, they could have got them verified/re-verified rather than deciding in a highly questionable manner.  Rather than seeking a ‘change’, he is merely trying to prevent a ‘change’ that is being unfairly imposed upon him.
Has the General reneged on his Undertakings?
The claim that Gen VK Singh has ‘reneged on his undertakings’ is also grossly false and nothing more than a maligning campaign against the General. Photocopies of operative portions of communication between Gen VK Singh’s and the Army HQ published in Outlook (January 30) and ‘The Tribune’ have exposed the dirty games and treacheries at work in the highest corridors of power at South Block. Far from ‘accepting’ 1950 as his year of birth, the General has said enough against the move to alter his date of birth in very candid yet respectful way. “I have been greatly hurt and pained by the aspersions cast on my integrity and military reputation….Thus I have no qualm in giving in writing whatever I was asked for, despite my reservation,” (his letter dated July 1, 2008 to Gen Deepak Kapoor, the then Army Chief, as quoted in Outlook, Jan 30). In another letter dated November 12, 2009, he reaffirms his stand on the issue thus: “I have taken your directions in letter and spirit…..after the MS wrote that this function is of the AG branch, I have treated this issue as closed.  I am sure you are well aware of these facts.”  Succinctly, Gen Singh’s much publicised ‘acceptance’ ran thus, “…whatever decision taken in organisational interest is acceptable to me.” Far from giving his ‘acceptance’, these respectful submissions carry enough pain and resentment against the MS Branch machinations and yet he reposed great faith and trust in his ‘Chief’ (Gen Deepak Kapoor) because he believed that organisational interests would be best served by upholding the truth which in this case was his date of birth (10 May 1951) and which, so he thought, Gen Deepak Kapoor would honour. Alas! his faith was betrayed. 
Further, is it not weird that departing from official norms and laid down rules, the authorities proceeded to obtain ‘undertakings’ and ‘acceptance’ for deciding upon a date of birth from the affected officer himself? How can government officers be called upon to choose and ‘accept’ or ‘deny’ their own date of birth? How can a factual date of birth be changed on any account whatsoever, ‘undertakings’ and ‘acceptance’ notwithstanding? Out of the three documents – UPSC Form, Matriculation Certificate and Birth Certificate – prudence dictates acceptance of the latter two, the UPSC Form being no more than an application form submitted by the individual concerned while the other two are from authorities legally authorised to certify facts of truth. The question of Gen VK Singh reneging on his ‘acceptance’ is therefore fundamentally fallacious and grossly misleading. 
Dignity of the Office of India’s Army Chief
  There is a category of people who feel that by suing the Government in the Supreme Court Gen VK Singh has ‘lowered’ the dignity of the high Office of the Army Chief. This again is a propaganda being inspired by those who have an axe to grind. There are innumerable cases of government officers pending in courts against the Government. Also, it is neither illegal, nor unbecoming of a Chief’s position in any manner to seek redress of grievances in accordance with the law of the land and in full adherence to the procedures prescribed by the Government itself. Therefore, it is not merely a question of seeking redress and relief for himself but also his moral duty to vindicate the honour and dignity of the high Office he holds by showing to the Army and the Nation that he does his best to vindicate the honour and dignity of the office he holds.
Gen VK Singh knew that both the dates were OK for him and could have lumped what was being thrust on him.  But he refused to accept what he believed was factually wrong even at a time when stakes were crucially high for him. As an Army Commander he proceeded against some very senior officers for their misdemeanour without fear or favour much to Gen Deepak Kapoor’s discomfiture.  His courage has contributed to restoring and fortifying the honour and dignity of the Office he holds and the trust reposed in him.       
Now, just to mark the contrast, sample this communication from a ‘Joint Secretary’ (Major General’s equal) to the Gen Deepak Kapoor about a Lt Gen who is tipped to be Army Commander soon:-
‘Bimal Julka, Joint Secretary (G/Air), MoD, in his letter of 21 January 2008, warned the Army HQ that MoD would reconsider its proposal to promote him (Gen VK Singh) as Army Commander if he persisted with “an attitude apparently questionable and not reflective of the qualities expected from any Army Commander”.’ (As quoted by Raj Chengappa in ‘The Tribune’).
The contents of this communication fall in the category of ‘warning’ and ‘admonition.’ As per the established practice in government departments, junior officers – civil or military – do not ‘tick off’ seniors and those who in protocol enjoy a higher status. If such a warning/admonition was ever warranted, it would be more appropriate if it was signed by the Defence Minister or in any case not by any officer lower than the Defence Secretary. That such a letter came to the Chief from a ‘joint secretary’ who had no compunction to restrain himself from using such objectionable language against a potential Army Commander, and the Army Chief not only tolerated but seemed to pass on the ‘threat’ to a General who would subsequently replace him as India’s Army Chief has surely smothered the high office. The least the Army Chief (Gen Kapoor) should have done was to write to the Defence Secretary enclosing the Joint Secretary’s letter and expressing his disapproval of the impropriety of the JS using the language and matter unbecoming of his position.
And even as the case is sub-judice in the Supreme Court, an errant Babu at the MoD has audaciously assumed the role of Providence and, intervening in the internal Service matters, asked the AG Branch (Army HQ) to ‘change’ their records so as to read ‘1950’ (the impugned date/year) as the year of Gen VK Singh’s birth. It is this kind of bureaucrats who, acting on behalf of the Government, erode people’s faith in the Government, tarnish its image and destroy its institutions.  

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