Monday, January 16, 2012

Is the General willy-nilly dragging the office of COAS to the streets?

Just after the army day celebrations on 15 January 2012 - the Indian Army chief has done a commando action by filing a writ petition questioning the government's decision to treat his date of birth as May 10, 1950 instead of May 10, 1951 as claimed by him on the basis of his matriculation certificate and other documents.

What is the chief trying to achieve through this open display of defiance? The general is flogging a dead horse – the discrepancy in his age did not hold any of his promotions, the government even overlooked it when Gen VK Singh was to become a four star general, the highest that an officer can achieve in his career. Nobody in the army ever raised the issue of him being a ‘fraudulent entry’ on the basis of wrong declaration of age in his NDA entry form. Then, why is Gen VK Singh bent upon following a dangerous course of action?

Is he aware of the fact that his action may help him “restore his honour” but in the process destroy  the basic tenets of the civil-military edifice in the country.What happens if the government sacks Gen VK Singh for defiance? And if this action of the government eventually leads to mass scale discontent in the country, let alone in the army, it may even lead to a regime change in the country! Willy nilly the office of the chief of Indian Army will then be involved in the political change in the country. If such a scenario was to play out on the national stage – it will mark the death of the apolitical character of the armed forces.

And what happens if the chief’s claims about his age are proved wrong? There are sources that state that the Army chief also appeared for the 35th course NDA examination- which he could have done only if his date of birth was 1950, incidentally the same date appears in his NDA entrance form for the 36th course that he actually took admission into. Obviously this is the origin of the age row.

The final question is moral- if the chief would have raised the issue of resolution of his age row at the time of his appointment as corps commander or the COAS - he would have put his own benefits at stake. That would have been honour indeed. But Gen VK Singh backed out then.

In his defence, terms being used are “duress” and “emotional blackmail” to justify his acceptance of 1950 as his date of birth. Do these terms allude to qualities befitting a soldier who the nation can trust for fighting the enemy? The line of succession argument offered by some is flimsy, since all officers at the highest level choose the best out of those who are equally deserving. Of course it is every chiefs prerogative to influence the line of succession and there is nothing unusual if Gen JJ Singh in his wisdom did so. In fact senior officers always influence the promotion of officer’s right from the rank of Cols when the pyramid becomes steep. Gen VK Singh has instead chosen the time to challenge the government at a time when it is going to affect him the least - and his juniors the most.