By MG Devasahayam (A retired IAS Officer)
........Published in the Statesman on 01 Feb 2012
THE President made a profound statement while addressing the nation on the eve of the 63rd Republic Day: “While bringing about reforms and improving institutions, we have to be cautious that while shaking the tree to remove the bad fruit, we do not bring down the tree itself.” But, under her nose an institution called the Indian Army is being rudely shaken and being brought down by the very government she is presiding over. Despite being the Supreme Commander of India’s armed forces she has not even lifted a small finger to stop that.
Republic Day is an occasion of joy and celebration because on that day in 1950, “We, the People of India, gave ourselves a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic anchored on Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation”.
Sixty-two years have passed and every year we go through the ritual of celebrations and parades with the armed forces in general and Army in particular in the vanguard. It is the members of these forces who have defended and protected our democracy through their valour, sacrifice and total sense of patriotism, bereft of any political ambitions as in our neighbouring countries. It is largely because of them that India stands tall as a sovereign Republic.
Among the armed forces, the Army is the largest and the most visible face. The chief of that force has a special status in the nation’s affairs, irrespective of his place in the order of precedence. The present government at the Centre has lost the faith of a vast majority of the people because of colossal failures almost on all fronts, except mortgaging the nation’s assets and resources to MNCs. Now the Chief of the Army Staff himself has lost faith in this government and has knocked the doors of the Supreme Court seeking justice.
Instead of resolving the matter amicably by rendering substantial justice to the General, worthies of the kleptocratic state have the cheek to display indulgence. They claim that even if the apex court order goes against the Army chief, the government will not summarily sack him. What morbid magnificence after treating General VK Singh in the shabbiest manner possible!
The controversy is supposed to have arisen due to different sets of records maintained on the General’s Date of Birth (DoB) in the Adjutant General (AG) and Military Secretary (MS) branches of the Army headquarters. There are facts in the public domain suggesting availability of several records and documents in the AG Branch ~ school register, matriculation certificate, father’s record of service in the Rajput Regiment, form No. IAFZ-2041 filled up in IMA ~ establishing the General’s DoB as 10 May 1951.
The MS Branch is stated to have an application form for the written entrance exam to the National Defence Academy signed by a 14/15-year-old boy and some assorted papers mentioning Singh’s DoB as 10 May 1950. The two branches have not reconciled the documents for over four decades.
The Attorney General and the MoD are sticking to the MS Branch records in determining the General’s DoB as 10 May 1950 because it is this branch which is responsible for the promotion and posting of senior army officers. This is the spin that is going around.
But a confidential communication dated 01 Jul 2011 (A/4501/01/GEN/MS(1)) from Lt.-Gen. GM Nair, Military Secretary to Defence Secretary, tells a totally different tale. On four occasions:
-No: 2 Selection Board, Sept 1996 ~ Fresh case 1970 batch for promotion to the acting rank of Brigadier;
-No: 1 Selection Board, 25 Oct 2001 ~ Fresh case 1970 batch for promotion to the acting rank of Maj. Gen;
-No: 1 Selection Board, 18/19 Sept 2003 ~ Special Review (Fresh) Case 1970 Batch for promotion to the acting rank of Maj. Gen; and
-Special Selection Board, 30 Sept 2005 ~ Fresh case 1970 Batch for promotion to the acting rank of Lt. Gen.
The date of birth of the General Officer (VK Singh) put up by the MS Branch and considered by the Selection Boards was 10 May 1951.
This means that the MS Branch had accepted, adopted and documented 10 May 1951 as the DoB for empanelling Gen. Singh for promotion and posting as Brigadier, Maj.-Gen. and Lt.-Gen. in 1996, 2001, 2003 and 2005 respectively. Where then was the dispute and the occasion for the former Amy Chiefs to talk to VK Singh in 2008 and 2009 and make him ‘accept’ 10 May 1950 as his DoB? On what grounds was the ‘statutory complaint’ of the Army Chief rejected, reportedly without the knowledge of the Prime Minister, forcing the General to go to the Supreme Court? The government owes an explanation to the people.
Looking at the state of the Republic one tends to lament and despair in the manner of Marcellus in Hamlet, having just seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the late king of Denmark: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Considering the way things are being handled even by an otherwise god-fearing man like AK Antony, there seem to be ghosts looming in New Delhi. One is the MNC lobby that is incensed with General Singh’s principled opposition to the deployment of the Army to decimate the tribal population of Dandakaranya forests to hand it over to mining interests. The General had said: “We cannot do this on our own people. Naxalism is not a secessionist movement.’’
Former Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat saw another, even mightier ghost, when he said: “Former Chief Justice of India JS Verma has said Singh had brought in probity and honesty. He is being moved out just when large arms deals are going to be signed. This means that the arms lobby and a few people who are going to be affected are behind this.”
To this could be added the ‘victims’ of the tough stand taken by General Singh on corruption, particularly former Generals involved in the Sukna land scam and Adarsh Housing Society scandal.
This is probably why a specious and non-existent theory of ‘line of succession’ was dug out and touted about for rejecting the army chief’s statutory complaint. The ‘line of succession’ is a concept which is anti-democratic and related to royalty and monarchy. Why then is the Attorney General repeating this ad nauseam? Obviously in support of the MoD’s sinister agenda.
VK Singh belongs to a family that boasts a martial tradition. He hails from Bapora village in Haryana’s Bhiwani district, a district that I had the privilege of raising and building up as its first Commissioner when it was established in December 1972. This village, hardly a couple of miles from Bhiwani, had a large number of serving soldiers and ex-servicemen. Being an ex-soldier myself, I had closely interacted with the simple folk of this village.
Men of General Singh’s ilk serve and die by the Army’s standards of integrity and honesty. When men like him and the Army he commands are impaled, it is the people who bleed. Pray, does not the President, who swears by institutions, have a duty to effectively intervene and save this institution from further damage? The nation awaits an answer.