Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why Save the American Empire?



The strategic culture in India is heavily dependent on realist paradigms that comprehend international relations only in terms of anarchy and self help. Many in the strategic community deftly ignore the salience of critical studies in understanding of the changing dynamics in the international political economy and also the relevance of empires in guiding the global security agenda. According to Joseph Nye, "Not since Rome has one nation loomed so large above the others. Indeed, the word ‘empire’ has come out of the closet." But the Indian intelligentsia feels apologetic about using the word empire to describe America. The hesitation results from the fact that critical examination of empire naturally leads to studying in detail the exploitative relations carved out by the international capitalist order and the role of the comprador class in the developing world in sustaining such an order. Therefore, to avoid complications, realist models are adopted – these models offer an expedient explanation for the elite in the developing world to perceive parity with the empire in the global arms markets. 



The net result of strategic myopia is that the understanding of India’s position in the changing world continues to be based on a belief that the structural realism straitjacket woven by Western scholars is the most apt fit for nations like India. Kautaliya, India’s Machiavelli is often invoked to justify purchase of arms. Kautaliya’s famous quote, ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ is being increasingly used - to adopt a more confrontationist stance vis-à-vis China - and for getting cozy with the United States. It is mainly for these reasons that the current foreign policy discourse in India is predominated by the following wishful thinking, 

• America is too big to fall 

• China will not be able to sustain its growth rate and its internal political struggle will weaken it further 

• India must become a regional power and the only route to becoming one goes through Washington 

I consider it wishful thinking because there is hardly any empirical data that supports such assertions of the realist community in India. When you ask them why should India send its meager naval resources to South China sea –K M Pannikar’s 1945 book and his advocacy of naval bases is dug out to justify India’s quest to expand its maritime forces. The question that comes to mind is, why are many of the thinking Indians (if not the Indian government) behaving in a particular fashion vis-à-vis China? What is their motivation and what is it that they wish to achieve? 

The rise of anti-China cottage industry 

Inspired by American think-tanks, a cottage industry has sprung up in India that works overtime to locate reasons to confront China - ranging from perceived Chinese incursions into Indian territory to the general aggressiveness in Chinese demeanour. A big chunk of strategic community and armed forces think-tanks are engaged in commenting and also to a large extent shaping the Indian foreign policy directions - many of them constantly urge India to shed its cocoon and come out into the open to confront the Chinese. 

As the Indian version of John Mearsheimer, Bharat Karnad, says, "Over the years, the Indian armed services have become… cautious, defensive, incremental in thought and action, and risk-averse when it comes to China. The ultimate offensive realist, Karnad goes to the extent of saying it may be prudent to arm... Vietnam, with everything Hanoi desires, including the nuclearised Brahmos supersonic cruise missile." Similar sentiments are being openly expressed by others who want Indian ships to be almost permanently anchored in South China Sea. At another level the Indian National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon has initiated a debate revolving around the ‘use of force’ by India. In his address at the Cariappa Memorial Lecture, he brought out, "Today we are in a position to make a greater contribution to global public goods in areas such as maritime security. At the same time we are moving towards an Indian doctrine for the use of force." 

Kanard’s arguments intend to catapult India to becoming the regional power without wasting any time, Menon adopts a more nuanced approach hinting at sharing the global (or rather American) burden of providing ‘public goods’ (a euphemism for sharing the American burden of policing the world) in global security domain – a step by step approach – beginning with sending a more innocuous looking navy out - followed, perhaps, by unshackling the Indian army troops to operate under the command of an American general. 

Most of these talks about changing the ‘use of force’ doctrine and taking the Indian Navy to South China Sea are also being simultaneously debated in Japan and Australia. Japan, for the first time in post war history has started operating a naval base in Djibouti – it wants to become a ‘normal state’ fast. A normal state would mean a country that exercises total control over the means of violence at its disposal. However, many in Japan – much like many strategists in India - feel that being ‘normal’ means being towed by American ships to hostile regions to off-load ‘public goods’. 

Even the Australian strategic community is talking only China. A recent paper produced by three think-tanks - Lowy Institute of Australia, India’s Observer Research Foundation and the conservative Heritage Foundation from the USA has recommended, "The United States should form a three-way security dialogue with India, in part to help counter any naval aggression from China." ASPEN Institute, an American think-tank based in India recently released its Joint Study Group Report that urged India to "continue to welcome the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific as an indispensable contribution to Asia’s stability, peace, and security." The report lures India into joining the "so-called Quad states (the United States, India, Japan, and Australia)’ by stating that, "The United States, as the preeminent global power, matters crucially to India’s rise as a great power. The United States and India have a shared vital national interest in preventing a unipolar Asia." Many other think-tanks in US, like the MacArthur Foundation, International Assessment and Strategic Centre (the title of one of the articles "Looking Forward: Call for war in the South China Sea"), Carnegie Endowment for International peace and many other are busy churning out monographs, papers and books to feed the Indian strategic community almost on a regular basis as to how to recognize the reasons for rivalry with China. According to Ashley Tellis "the world’s two most populous states are doomed to rivalry as their power and interests expand." 

In the month of August, Financial Times, London and a day later the Wall Street Journal published reported that a Chinese warship confronted an Indian navy vessel shortly after it left a Vietnamese port in late July in the first such encounter between the two countries’ navies in the South China Sea. This story was denied by both the Indian Navy as well the Ministry of External Affairs, but none of these denials by the Indian establishment have deterred the Indian media as well the analysts from using this incident to corroborate their theories relating to the Chinese aggressive behavior and therefore, a matching response from India. 

Towards 50 years of uninterrupted peace with China 

Almost 50 years have passed since the last Sino-India war in 1962. For all these years, India never had any problems with China related to any issue. In fact, even the differences related to the border were put on a backburner. However, of late, we see one issue or another being raked up almost on a daily basis to create mistrust between India and China. The way venom against China is spread in seminars and media; one feels that war with China will happen sooner rather than later. 

This brings us to question the real motives of making India more aggressive. Is it in the larger interest of India that Asia becomes a conflict zone? It is certainly in the American interests that its hegemony in Asia Pacific is maintained at all costs. The question that begs answer is why should the onus of saving the American empire fall on India’s head? Why should we feel morally obliged to make sure that China is not able to disturb the American hegemony? China is our biggest trading partner, what we will achieve by confronting them and keeping ourselves continuously engaged in finding faults with Beijing rather than diverting our energies in exploring areas of cooperation. We have the example of Pakistan in front of us – It has taken Pakistan almost 60 years - to grant India the most favoured trading partner status - realize that confronting India at the behest of America has not yielded any dividends to them. And here is India, almost dying to commit the same mistakes as Pakistan by following the US dictates. 

Understanding the Empire 

To a common man the road to great power status is simple –just as China has used America to become powerful - India too can become a great power by courting America. But the essential point is Sino–US relations developed in the Cold War times and Beijing understood the rhythms of American empire well. The hierarchies of layers that form the empire can be summarized as – money (US treasury, federal bank), military (Pentagon), MNCs (trade) – with money forming the center of gravity of the empire. 

In the late 1970s the reform process started in China - it began courting the American MNCs to open up its trade. During this period, China gave no leeway to the US to even glance at its military. Nor did the Chinese ever made any attempts to learn or purchase military hardware from their American friends. So, in effect the Chinese interacted with the MNCs - the bottom level of the empire. However, by the end of the 20th century, China had acquired considerable economic clout, yet it never targeted confronting or courting the US military. But it had understood that the US empire could be tamed only by penetrating its financial structures – the top layer of the empire. While America was engaged in militarily planning to deny China from crossing the ‘first island chain’, China was quietly buying the US bonds and by the end of first decade of 21st century, China has caught the bull by the horns – determining the US financial and economic health - something that the USSR could not achieve despite their 12000 nuclear weapons. The Soviets had committed the mistake of interacting with the American empire at the level of their military and remaining indifferent to the MNCs and the money power. The dreams woven by the dollar power intoxicated leaders like Gorbachev to give up communism and therefore, his empire in central Asia and east Europe. 

India, a big military manpower market for the empire 

The Indian strategic elite that feigns ignorance of the imperial games, is just keen to join the bandwagon at any level. After the end of Cold War, New Delhi tried to join the empire through the MNCs - becoming an ardent fan of the ‘Washington consensus’ – jumping around at the world economic forum with a list of Indian middle class. But all this hardly impressed the Americans. Therefore, trade with America did not grow as per the Indian dreams. The Americans had different designs on India – they were eyeing the huge military manpower market in India. They had learnt well from the Indian colonial history that it was the military manpower from India that helped the British expand its empire far and wide into Africa. Thus began the process of making India join with the empire at the level of military. Joint naval exercises, intelligence sharing, training the best Indian armed forces officers under the IMET programs and much more started. The Indian elite and specially the Indian military elite were happy to be associated with the mightiest military power on earth – hoping to learn the tricks of ruling the world. But what the Indian elite are forgetting in the process are the lessons from the current history of Pakistan, Egypt and even NATO countries that had joined the stepped up military ladder to be in the good books of the empire. Empires don’t allow others to penetrate their military structure so easily – the Americans never divulged their military secrets even to NATO members and ensured that the technological gap was always maintained. 

As far as the armed forces like Pakistan were concerned – they are at best given the status of a non-commissioned-officer (NCO) by the Pentagon. Such armies are treated by the empire as cannon fodder. It is for this reason that India’s eagerness to impress the empire by offering their military defies all logic. If Pakistan armed forces are NCOs, India cannot hope to be more than a junior commissioned officer (JCO) in the Pentagon’s scheme of things. 

The armed forces are not commodities that you put on the table as bargaining chips with the empire. Because once a country mortgages its military, it loses control over it. And this is exactly the situation in India- encouraged by their American friends, the armed forces are displaying increasing tendencies to identify their corporate interest and rock the civil-military boat. Small issues like the army chief’s age are being used to assert the independence of the armed forces. The fear is not that the civil-military relations will deteriorate to threaten the democracy in India, but the concerns are related to the fact that both the armed forces and the civilian establishment in the country should operate as one single entity and march in step. Currently, on some issues the two seem to be out of step. 

The US has always found it convenient to deal with any country directly through its military - our strategy should be to deny US this space. It is for this reason alone that the Indian civilian establishment must sit with the armed forces and strengthen bonds and develop a clear understanding of the direction in which America is moving and trying to tow India along. Such an understanding can only come if we begin by doing a dispassionate analysis of the way the American empire is headed and what is happening in the domain of global money supply chains. 

America, a falling empire 

Just two decades ago - after a fantastic victory in Cold War- the United States of America had its chest out and chin up. But the 21st century America looks different. It is not the America that - weathered the defeat in Vietnam War with grace - stood tall against the Soviet encroachments into its empire - and more recently that demolished the threat of Islamic terrorism with a vengeance. 

Yes, today, the US is an ‘emperor without clothes’. Despite its almost total dominance in the global military domain, its body language defies its status as the emperor of the world. It stands naked - its true monetary worth lies exposed. The Rothschild banking dynasty that strongly believed, "give me control of a nation’s money supply, and I care not who makes its laws," is being openly questioned. As Benjamin Fulford at truth11.com tells us – "In fact, the entire Rothschild banking monopoly is in deep trouble. The IMF and the World Bank existed to force the Rothschild banking system on the countries of the world. "Our goal is to reboot the system, to start over and set all the parameters in a fair way so that all countries benefit from the pooled assets of the people of the world and not just Europe and North America." 

The process of rebooting has started through the ‘occupy wall street" movement. Where people are not directing their rage against - political class or a particular legislation, they are standing up against the overarching power of money that singly handedly controls all human interactions and relations on planet earth. As Jhon Hollway in a wonderful piece written in the Guardian brings out, "We rage against the government. But we know there is no answer there. Representative democracy holds our rage entrapped: like a rat in a maze, we run from one party to another but there is no exit. Things do not and cannot get better because behind political power stands another, greater power – the power of capital; the power of money." Questioning the very validity of capitalist democracies, Robert Jensen (Aljazeera) opines, "For all the trappings of formal democracy in contemporary US, everyone understands that for the most part, the wealthy dictate the basic outlines of public policies. This is cogently explained by political scientist Thomas Ferguson’s "investment theory of political parties", which identifies powerful investors rather than unorganized voters as the dominant force in campaigns and elections." It is the growing political consciousness among the people that is unmasking the true face of liberal democracies. More than the declining military budgets, it is the unveiling of the mask over the myth of the ‘American dream’ that indicates the decline of the American empire. That this facade is being brought down by the American people and not by Chinese spies or Islamic terrorists gives credence to the fact that the days of the empire are numbered. 

However, the danger is that as the American empire gets into a free fall, its elite that control all its wealth is getting afflicted with a dangerous disease. As Simon Jenkins writing in the Guardian says, "A virus seems to be running through the upper echelons of Washington and London that of a moral duty to wage war against perceived evil wherever it offers a bombing target. Anyone watching last month’s Republican primary debate in Las Vegas will have been shocked at the belligerence shown by the six candidates towards the outside world. It was a display of what the historian Kaplan called "the warrior politics … of an imperial reality that dominates our foreign policy", a fidgety search for reasons to go brawling round the globe, at any cost in resulting anarchy. The spectacle was frightening and depressing." 

This brings us to the point where we must ask as to why the US military is planning to hop from one end of the globe to another? Why is their quest to wage wars not getting satisfied? This is happening because the Churchills’ in US, UK and even in India (as in most of the other countries) want to save the empire by hook or by crook. This school of thought firmly believes that colonial possessions are a must to maintain healthy prosperity levels in the developed world. The shock wave sent out by the great depression led most of the industrial world to adopt socialism (welfare economics) in their home countries, while advancing capitalism in other parts of the world. China did exactly the same in 1980s, when it adopted capitalism under a communist umbrella. The only difference is that unlike the West, China neither has friends nor the might to go around forcing its world view across the globe. The rising debt is preventing the developed world from giving its public the comfort that they have grown used to. There are two options- to change the system and ensure that wealth is evenly distributed- this entails tweaking capitalism to the extent of abandoning it. This is not acceptable to many in the politburo of capitalism (like the Bilderberg Group). Therefore, the second option is to use the military to garner economic resources. 

The military option can easily be executed using the American air power, but mere bombing a place does not yield economic benefits. You have to send foot soldiers to occupy. And as Afghanistan and Iraq have proved, occupying countries is a costly and difficult proposition. To obviate this difficulty, the US wants to broaden its military alliance base beyond the Atlantic. The game plan as enunciated by Thomas Barnet is “to define international stability in the 21st Century. We’re interested in enforcing minimum rule sets, not the maximal rule sets associated with imperialism. We want a level playing field not just in global trade, but in global security as well. We want to administer the global security system, not rule it. Like those "system administrators" that keep the Internet up and running, America needs to play system administrator to the global security network. We need to keep globalization up and running—to be, in effect, its bodyguard." The proposals like 1000 ship navy and rekindling the imperial desires of France, Japan and the Indian elite is part of the global security structure envisaged by Barnet. 

As always, the class war is on at a global scale. On which side of the divide does India intend to be is the question that our strategists must address. At the end of Cold War, we decided to join the globalization bandwagon by following the liberalization and privatization route. While moving on the path of globalization, we treaded cautiously- retaining hold over our banking and insurance sector - thereby, partially, insulating ourselves from the vagaries of the global market place. Despite our measured approach, we could not prevent ourselves from being sucked into the hubris associated with privatization of state assets - the malice of big ticket corruption that we are trying to fight is a part of the same system that we adopted in the 1990s. Now, when the basic tenets and the inherent inadequacies of the same globalization are being questioned in its birth place, we do not understand as to where we should look. 

Now, the global leaders of capitalism want to globalize security- a ruse to appropriate the military strengths of medium powers to sustain the longevity of the empire. Before, entering this security infrastructure, let us ponder and ask some searching questions as what this entire game entails for our nation. What are the pros and cons of joining a globalized security network? How is it going to impact our civil-military ties? Entering such security arrangements will also involve sending our troops to fight imperial wars. Are we ready to sacrifice our men? Will our nation allow the use its sons to be used in wars that help a few elite to maintain their membership of the club run by 1% wealthy Americans? These and many more hard questions need to be debated extensively. 

The issue is not China. China has avoided wars for many years. It probably is not interested in a war at this juncture in its history, when it does not have adequate friends. Nor does China have an idea that can help it rule the world. India too does not have much energy to waste on fighting stupid wars. Even if we were to fight a war with China and win it - it will not help us beyond satisfying the egos of the elite. We need peace to develop. Just as America has not let war come near its shores, we must also prevent war into the Asian theatre. In fact, Asian nations must realize - America is on the decline, China is not strong enough - this is the most opportune moment to carve the continent’s security paradigm as equals minus a hegemon 


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Don't Expect Rafale to Fly the Indian Elite to 'Global High Table'

In the 1950s, two schools of thought emerged in the US strategic landscape - The ‘deterrent’ school and ‘war-fighting’ school. The disagreement lay in their divergent approaches. The war-fighting or ‘massive retaliation’ school represented by General Curtis LeMay and the US Air Force advocated maximum use of nuclear weapons sans restraint. The ‘deterrence’ school led by  a small group of civilians - Bernard Brodie, Thomas Schelling, Albert Wohlstetter and a handful of others from Rand corporation saw nuclear bombs not just as military weapons but as a political tool too. While the American civilian strategists saw nuclear weapons as political tools - many in the Indian strategic community see even the conventional weaponry as a political weapon. 


The bizarre argument, currently floating in the Indian strategic circles wonders how India could buy its future fighter aircraft based exclusively on technical grounds, completely overlooking the strategy needs. Reacting to the Indian Air Force’s decision to award Dassault Aviation the MMRCA contract, an Indian analyst posits, “Ideally, the Indian decision should have been guided by a strategy that balances reducing danger and broadening opportunity. Accordingly, the question for New Delhi should have been how to use this lucrative deal to beef up India’s strategic options. Thus, it is probably a strategic blunder to narrowly focus on technical specifications and capabilities alone, as many proponents of the IAF’s choice have done.” 


The problem with many of the Anglo-Saxon Chanakyas’ is that they were desperately hoping that this ‘mother of all’ arms deal would catapult Indo-US ties to an unprecedented level – making India a much better ally of the US than even the UK. When the F-16 was rejected, they were palpably dejected. Then in the next phase, when the U.K. led consortium selling Eurofighter Typhoon too failed to make the mark, it became hard to digest. After all, how could the men in uniform decide the course of Indian foreign policy? 


Unfortunately, it is the same set of ideologues who had earlier opposed India buying armaments from the erstwhile Soviet Union. Their opposition then was based on the argument that it was political and not technical consideration that led Indians closer to the communist block.


India is the biggest  importer of arms in the world. India holds the purse strings - why should New Delhi be the sucker - overlook its own needs to save some dwindling economies of the West. Much to the chagrin of sympathizers of Indo-US strategic ties, the IAF aircraft evaluation sheet had no column indicating the number of jobs a particular fighter would create in its home nation nor did the form contain the names of politicians whose fortunes were directly linked to the aircraft sale. 


The IAF’s agenda was simple - select the aircraft that is best suited to Indian needs -  is commercially viable for the exchequer over prolonged period – would help India hone its aircraft manufacturing skills. To evaluate the products put up by six aerospace corporations, the IAF trained six dedicated teams consisting of pilots and maintainers that assesed each aircraft through 660 different angles. For the first time, the Indian pilots flew each aircraft that was under consideration, twisting and turning them to the specified paramaetrs. A stringent evaluation procedure was evolved by the air force that is the best in the world and could easily be patended.  


We are living the 21st century and not in the 50s, when India was almost forced and fooled to buy British equipment rendered redundant at the end of WWII. India is the buyer - it is our prerogative to choose the aircraft that we deem fit and that choice ultimately rests with the armed forces -  the end user of the product. The imported warplanes are meant to help the air warriors defend India’ security and act as a deterrent to keep India’s policy options open. They are certainly not meant to fly certain sections of the Indian elite to the ‘global high table’. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

TEAM VK AND THE CULT OF VICTIMHOOD









In one of the animated discussions on the net - related to army chief’s age controversy -  a veteran based in USA – cited the applicability of Queen vs Dudley and Stephens (1884) to prove the culpability of former army chiefs and the military secretary in making Gen VK Singh sign a document that reflected his date as 1950. The Queen vs Dudley is the famous English case involving four men stranded in a lifeboat without food or water. Faced with the prospect of death the men decide to murder their weakest comrade, a seventeen year old orphan working as a cabin boy in their boat. The three men enjoy the boy’s meat till they meet a ship that saves them and takes them back to their mother land. After a few years, one of the survivors of the ship wreck writes his memoirs, where he mentions how they enjoyed the murdered cabin boy as breakfast. This revelation leads them to court that after a prolonged trial pronounces them as murderers. In the court, the three shipmates defend themselves by stating that it was their circumstances that led them to kill the boy – had they not taken that action their families’ would have suffered after their death. The court, however bases its verdict on the fact that the boy had not threated to kill his shipmates nor did he offer any resistance. Furthermore, the murdered cabin boy was absolutely unaware that he was  being sacrificed - nor did he volunteer to be the scapegoat. 

Using the above  case, the veteran conflated the situation of the cabin boy to that of Gen VK Singh. My submission was that it was a flawed argument that the army chiefs' in 2006 and then again in 2008 and 2010 had fudged the documents to victimize General VK Singh – equivalent of the hara-kiri that had been perpetrated against the cabin boy. What was conveniently forgotten by those desperately trying to prove Gen VK Singh's integrity  was that- in 2006, 2008 and 2010, it was not General VK Singh but his date of birth that was murdered – and he was party to the alleged crime and had enjoyed the ‘breakfast” that served him a smooth ride to the pinnacle of his career. While it was General VK Singh who had denied himself his correct date of birth, the blame was deftly passed on to the government. 


The entire argument in defence of the General VK Singh was woven to portray him as a victim –whose actual date of birth had been snatched away from him by his conniving predecessors in the army – using the bogey of ‘organizational interests”. The second imagined culprit was the government – the chief conspirator that wanted to deny General VK Singh an additional year in office – allegedly to have a more pliable general to clear some dubious defence deals. The third of course – as always - was the media that had contrived with the Babus’ to malign General’s reputation by calling him a soldier who put ‘self before service’.

The victimhood theory was carefully constructed to gather sympathy and rally all those who held any grievance against the bureaucracy and government. Many within and outside the army went on to believe the ‘manufactured truth’ – a lie - that was blurted out by a few select veterans on the television channels. One odd old veteran who dared to oppose the victimhood logic was castigated for the sins committed by his distant relative. Some even went to the extent of comparing the general’s crusade to Anna Hazare’s campaign to cleanse the corrupt system.

The campaign was moving as per the plan -  gaining momentum - and team VK was gung ho about prospects of their victory - till of course, six well researched articles in the Tribune took the wind out of their sail – exposing the games that were being played in army headquarters to change the general’s date of birth, keeping the ministry of defence in the dark. Despite the setback, team VK launched a frontal attack and stated that the articles were planted directly by the PMO – needless to mention, they did succeed in convincing many. However, by now, the divisions  within the media on the issue were discernable. Some sections of the media were blatant in making the general a hero even assisting the general in designing a media campaign to counter the opponents and project the image of a decorated commando tortured and tormented by the government.

Some of the most bizarre arguments were put forward in Gen VK’s favour - "Why was it that such certificates are not routinely taken from all officers about to be promoted, if it was a normal process step." The obvious answer to such a query was - other officer’s have no discrepancy in their DOB records, therefore they are not subjected to signing another document. Another frustrated argument that was witnessed on the internet forums and TV discussions –“why can’t the government just accept 1951 as the date of birth and close the matter”?

When asked as to why General VK Singh accepted his date of birth as 1950 at the time of promotion to senior ranks – team VK retorted -"people do all sorts of things for promotions , what the general had indulged in was nothing. Some even went on to suggest, “At least the Chief Gen VK Singh had the moral courage to admit that he did not have the moral courage to stand up to the "duress". But when questioned as to what the ‘duress’ was - did somebody threaten to murder him if he did not change his DOB?- did somebody threaten to attach his property?– none of the erudite members of team VK could offer a plausible reply. Sadly, team VK forgot that courage and honour are a function of time and space – you cannot piss in thin air to brandish your valour.

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.”