Friday, February 10, 2012

Army Chief Proposes, Supreme Court Disposes


The Supreme Court has finally disposed off army chief’s petition on age. The army chief is satisfied that his honour has been restored - but one is not certain if the prestige of the office of Chief of Army staff has come out unscathed through the process. Today morning the court proceedings began with the government withdrawing its 30 December 2012 order that had  quashed army chief’s statutory complaint to reconcile his date of birth to 1951.

The Apex court maintained that 1950 would continue to be the date of birth of Gen VK Singh in all service records – consequently, his date of retirement from the service would also be May 2012. However, the court refused to determine the actual age of the Gen VK Singh – without commenting on the validity of date of birth mentioned in general’s passport. This happened mainly because, the petition filed by the general pertained to correction of DOB in service records and not about the veracity of 1951 as his DOB or the authenticity of matriculation certificate. The chief’s petition had adroitly steered clear of ‘change in DOB – as this course would have directly led to the dismissal of the petition on the grounds that no changes are permitted in DOB towards the fag end of a government servant’s career.      

That the age matter did not fall into the civil-military conundrum was highlighted by reminding the general that the government had never been prejudiced against him. In fact, if one was to look at the records closely, it can be safely said that Gen VK Singh is one of the luckiest generals -at every stage in his career as a senior officer, the major discrepancy in his age records was overlooked to promote him without any board of inquiry to settle his records –  going to the extent of asking his consent to determine his age.

The court also reminded the general that having reached the zenith of his career he was not expected to wash the dirty linen in public. The court judiciously avoided getting deeper into the intrigues that led Gen VK Singh to sign on the dotted line accepting 1950 as his DOB, prior to climbing to the top of army pyramid -as this would have exposed many chinks in the army’s amour and exposed them to public – making the entire structure including the COAS staff look not so clean. The entire argument in support of the chief had been constructed - to portray him as victim of some deep conspiracy and as the first and the last General in India. There is no gainsaying the fact that Gen VK Singh is an illustrious soldier however, he has been as good or as bad as any peace time general and the country could very well do without the general serving another year as the chief.


This is not the first case where one could smell manipulations in promotions - there have been many such cases in the past. One is not sure if ever we would be able to arrive at a 100% foolproof system of promotions - not only in the armed forces but in any other profession too.  There were two options before the general in 2008, when he was asked to accept 1950 as the date of birth. The first one was to accept the lower DOB, 1950 and have a hassle free journey towards being a four star general. And the second option was harder, it would have led the General to contest the DOB and go through the procedure of board of inquiry, thereby reducing the probability of becoming the chief. General VK Singh consciously went in for the first option and ensured a smooth transition from a three star to four star rank – and in the process closed his options to settle his date of birth issue within the army. 


Let us face the fact, the fight was never about DOB, because the MoD has not asked the general to change his passport. It was always a fight for Date of Retirement. The court in a very dignified language empathized  with the pain that our very able chief was undergoing and advised him to be wise enough to change tack in consonance with the direction of the wind. In nutshell, the court reminded us all  of an old adage “you can’t have the cake and eat it too.”