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Chief’s Birth Date Storm:NEEDS INSTANT BURIAL, by Dr PK Vasudeva, 12 Sept, 11 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 12 September 2011

Chief’s Birth Date Storm


By Dr PK Vasudeva

Retd Col & security analyst


It is unfortunate that the controversy over Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General VK Singh’s birth date has brought down the image of the Army in general and also of its highest institution, the COAS in particular. Clearly, it must be given an instant burial. As the Chief of Army Staff’s dignity should not be compromised.


General VK Singh is not only a ‘no nonsense’ man but also an officer of high repute. He is cleaning the Army by bringing in discipline of the highest order. Wherein, he is not even sparing senior general officers who are indulging in corruption.


This is not all. Documentary evidence of his birth date fully supports his claim. For nearly three decades and more, year after year the annual list issued by the Military Secretary's office and readily available to all officers, unlike the Adjutant-General's branch record, showed the wrong date.


Importantly, General Singh did not make any attempt to correct his birth date when he was a junior officer, as captain, major, colonel and brigadier. Had this been done in the early years, the issue could have been easily resolved between the two branches of Army Headquarter’s.


Besides, when the issue was raised after Gen Singh attained a very senior rank of Lieutenant General it got linked with the succession plan of the Army’s top leadership. Bluntly, today the issue boils down to whether Gen Singh as the COAS will have a two or three-year tenure. Needless to say, the answer to this query will disturb the army’s hierarchy.


Factually speaking, in 1947, a Government committee comprising three senior Secretaries, RN Banerjee, Vishnu Sahay and HM Patel, recommended that as in other Ministries, the Defence Secretary should have a status higher than the three Service Chiefs, who were only departmental heads.


In 1947-48, the then British Service Chiefs took up the matter with Lord Louis Mountbatten, saying it was ridiculous to equate Service Chiefs with departmental heads. Being key players in ensuring national security and integrity, like in all other democracies they should have the right of direct access to the Prime Minister or the Head of Government.


At the instance of Lord Mountbatten, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided that the three Service Chiefs would have a status higher than the Defence Secretary in the warrant of precedence. This continues to be so even now.


Thus, in view of the COAS’s exalted position, it is most unfortunate that a public controversy involving him has broken out. More. For the first time, a COAS has filed a statutory complaint on a personal matter. The Defence Secretary is presently examining Gen Singh’s complaint and awaits the Defence Minister Antony’s decision. Needless to say, this lowers the dignity of the COAS’s high office, which must take precedence over Gen Singh’s personal interest.


Pertinently, there are few examples of former eminent Army Chiefs’ worth recalling. In 1949, the senior most Indian officer General KM Cariappa was expected to become the first Indian Army Chief. But a hitch arose. He was perceived as being too friendly with officers of the undivided Indian Army serving in Pakistan.  


There were rumours that Lieutenant General KS Rajendrasinhji would instead be made Army Chief for political reasons. Reportedly, Lt Gen Rajendrasinhji met Nehru and told him that he would resign if appointed Chief by superseding his senior Cariappa as it would set a wrong precedent and might lead to politicising the Army. Undoubtedly, Rajendrasinhji set a shining example. 


Also, relevant is General KS Thimayya’s case. He was not only a charismatic leader and a true soldiers' general but also the only Indian to command a brigade in a battle during World War II. His combat record in command of a division in Kashmir was outstanding, particularly during the Battle of Zoji-la. As Chairman of the Neutral Nation Commission in Korea, he had won international acclaim and added lustre to the office of the Army Chief.


However, he fell out with the then Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon on a matter of principle and tendered his resignation. That shook the country. Nehru appealed to his patriotism and assured him he would resolve his problem with Krishna Menon. General Thimayya withdrew his resignation but the next day Nehru castigated him in Parliament for immaturity.


Despite that, he continued to serve as a lame duck COAS for the rest of his tenure. This did immense harm to his reputation and to the Army. The bureaucratic stranglehold over the Army increased and the Army got increasingly marginalised in decision-making. This also contributed to the humiliating debacle of the China-India war in 1962.


Further, another example is that of the GoC-in-C of Western Army Lieutenant General SK Sinha who was posted to Delhi as Vice Chief and was officially told to be the under-study of the Chief, as he would be taking over from him on the COAS’s retirement.


Surprisingly however, Sinha was suddenly told one day that the Government had decided to supersede him and appoint Lieutenant General AS Vaidya as the COAS. Sinha resigned without any fuss and regrets. He did not question the Government’s decision nor thought of exercising the option of submitting a statutory complaint and neither going to court. True, this led to a furore in Parliament and the media but General Sinha did not withdraw his resignation on principle.


Consequently, in view of the above examples, it is hoped that the present unseemly controversy over the COAS’s birth date be given an instant burial. Undeniably, the dignity of the high office of the Chief must not be compromised.

General Singh should continue doing a good job entrusted to him by the Government and withdraw his statutory complaint in keeping with the high traditions of the Army and preserving the dignity of the Army Chief. ---- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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