Sunday, January 22, 2012

General on slippery slope….

New facts have emerged which are challenging the claims made by General VK Singh regarding his age. His contention till now was that the date entered in the UPSC form for admission to the NDA in 1965 was a typo error – since the form had been filled up by a clerk. But now there are more facts emerging that show that the General may have made many more typo errors….

The first piece of new information is that it was not only in 1965 that the General mentioned 1950 as his date of birth (when the clerk filled up the entrance form for NDA). Four years later, he repeated that date of birth in the IMA confidential dossier before being commissioned into the Indian Army (this time in his own handwriting since the dossier is a confidential one).The General now claims that he repeated the error for the sake of having consistency with the previous NDA entrance form. This would mean that the General became aware of the mistake made in the previous NDA entrance form during these four years. How did that happen? If it was a clerical error, he would have no reason to suspect that the date was wrong in the NDA entrance form right? Nothing had happened in those four years that had brought up the error to his notice.

The second piece of new information is that the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) headed by the PM had sought a “second confirmation” from the General in January 2008 before General Singh was made one of the eight commanders of the Army. The ACC had returned the file back to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) even though the MoD had in fact taken that clarification from the General. The MoD then took a second clarification from the Army HQs that the date of birth was indeed 1950. The General now claims that he was pressurized by the then General Deepak Kapoor in accepting this date – and that as a soldier he could not disregard the then General’s orders. That’s a strange interpretration of discipline!

The third piece of information is that as recently as in November 2009, the General had again reassured General Deepak Kapoor that he would stick to the 1950 commitment he had made in 2008. This was four months before he was appointed Army Chief.

Unfortunately for General Singh, these emerging facts paint a rather poor picture of his claims. It gives the impressions that there is more to it than the General is claiming – that maybe, the General has been “opportunistic” – agreeing to 1950 when it suited the need and challenging it when that became more suitable.

Unfortunately also, it appears that the General is blaming others for all his problems. First, it was the clerk who filled up the date wrong in the NDA entrance form. Then it was his boss, the General of the Army in 2008, who ordered him to continue with 1950. Then again in 2009, it was his boss who ordered him to nod his head in servile obedience. This is not the image we have of armymen. We expect many things from them – but most certainly we expect them to stand for honesty even at the cost of personal sacrifice. Here we have a situation where it appears that the General went along with all the confusion because it served his purpose then. And now he wants the date changed since it serves his purpose best now. This is hardly the kind of sacrifice and honesty we expect from our military leadership.

I had argued in my previous post on this subject a few days back that had 1951 been the date since the very beginning, the General would probably not even have become General. In a highly bureaucratic system of working – where “batch of commissioning” is the most important factor in deciding promotions – there is a world of a difference between 1950 and 1951 when the opportunity for a promotion opened up. There is many an officer of higher capability and better performance that has missed the opportunity to become General simply because another officer with a batch advantage was present at that time. Here it appears that the General preferred 1950 when being considered for the top job – thus edging past others from his peer group – but when he had achieved that goal, he’s now demanding that 1951 be considered the age.

There is no shame in the Government of India battling it out with the General in the Supreme Court. While it should ideally have been avoided, I don’t see anything wrong that the Government has done in its homework. The Government did do a second check before appointing him as the Chief. What more could it have done? It could have taken a safe approach and avoided promoting him given the controversy around his age. It chose not to do that – going by the word the army senior had given. Did it make a mistake in doing that? I don’t think so. It also tried to find an amicable settlement to the row over the last few days – but the General seemed bent on pursuing his battle.

It’s a personal battle that the General has taken to the Supreme Court and the apex court will no doubt settle the matter. By rejecting a PIL in this regard, the SC has stated clearly that this is a personal suit and there is no way a PIL can be admitted. Equally, by rejecting the views of former CJIs, the SC has sent a strong message – stob lobbying. That’s another thing we do not expect from armymen. Armymen do not go around canvassing their case.

If there is anything that is harming the morale of the troops, it is the stand being taken their biggest boss – supposedly for personal gain. The next time a soldier is laying down his life on the borders, he will think if it is all worth it at all. If his top boss can put his personal gain ahead of the country’s, why should he not do the same? If the army is about discipline, the General’s conduct certainly hasn’t set a great benchmark.

In the past, we’ve seen sections of the army having got corroded by the cancer of corruption. Now we’re seeing the spread of personal ambitions – rather than the country’s needs – taking roots. This is the time for quick and decisive action. This is the time for the SC to send an appropriate message.

The real truth is that the General has a lot of thinking and explaining to do. He has a lot of typo errors to correct, without making any more. He may well be right about his date of birth being 1951, but he will never be able to explain why he took so long to bring the matter up like this. He will never be able to explain why even four months before he was appointed General, he didn’t correct the perception. And he will never be able to explain, why four months before retirement, he has now brought this issue up. The General is on a slippery slope….

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