When pondering over this particular succession plan, the Army Chief went by the Army List, which gives the date of birth as 10 May 1950. The Army List is prepared by the Military Secretary Branch and contains minimal details such as date of birth, date of commissioning etc. The Military Secretary Branch otherwise deals with postings, promotions, deputation, retirement etc. and is not the legal repository or otherwise of personal and family details of an officer.
Right from the time an officer enters the Training Academy, till he retires and even after, all records are maintained by the Adjutant General (AG) Branch. As per the AG Branch, Gen VK Singh’s date of birth is 10 May 1951. It may be highlighted that like the records maintained by AG’s Branch, the Army List has no financial implication.
It may also be reiterated that by the time Gen VK Singh rose to the rank of Lt Gen he had faced several promotion boards – all with the date of birth as 10 May 1951. It includes the board from Brigadier to Maj Gen and subsequently Maj Gen to Lt Gen – all personally approved by none other than the Prime Minister himself.
If indeed the contention of the Military Secretary Branch that Gen VK Singh’s date of birth is May 10, 1950 is tenable, then all his promotion boards are illegal and have huge financial implications. In fact, the legality of his entire career comes under question.
On December 14 2007 MOD had queried MS branch for reasons of recording DOB as May 10 1950 & asked for reconciliation of the correct DOB with AG branch and asked for conduct of enquiry for the same. A note on the file said "ENQUIRY NOT TO BE CONDUCTED".
HOW WAS THE CONTROVERSY CREATED?
The said Army Chief, in order to effect his succession plans, activated his Military Secretary and tried to badger Gen VK Singh by generating the age controversy. With the same foul intention, an explanation was sought. Notwithstanding 1950 or 1951, Gen VK Singh’s claim to the post of COAS was not affected. It was the fate of Gen VK Singh’s successor, which hung on these dates. The said Army Chief’s protege could only realize the appointment of COAS, if somehow Gen VK Singh was made to agree that he was born in 1950.
For Gen VK Singh the issue of date of birth was never a controversy. The MS branch for the first time indicated to him that as per the Army List, his date of birth was May 10, 1950 and not May 10, 1951. The subsequent Army Chief also reignited the controversy, rather very strongly, after the issue of awarding of NOC to Government Land to a private party for allegedly extraneous considerations in Sukhna Cantt came up.
The person who allegedly played the key role in the scam was the Military Secretary himself. He, along with many others, is facing trial by the judiciary. Reportedly, the same lobby has been joined by the Adarsh Scam lobby to dislodge Gen VK Singh.
In addition, the role of arms lobby cannot be ruled out. There are insinuations that one retired Lt Gen, dabbling in arms business has been active in the bid to supply Tatra Vehicles, manufactured abroad, through an Indian Public Sector Enterprise at nearly double the cost than what is available off the shelf. Reportedly, the Army Chief, despite all kinds of persuasions has turned it down and thus invited the wrath of this supplier and many others of his ilk.
Readers will recall that Gen VK Singh took over office when the Army was bedeviled by a series of scams and unsavory incidents. He took upon himself to stem the decline and undeniably has made a difference. It is natural that the vested interests treat him as the enemy and has joined the rival camp sphere headed by the senior officer, who stands to benefit most, if Gen VK Singh was made to be born on May 10, 1950.
This officer is blatantly playing the sectarian card and has reportedly been keeping a very close relative of arguably a very top decision maker in good humour at the place of his posting to influence matters. The volt face by the Law Ministry on the age issue is being attributed to this factor.
Reportedly, there has been an allurement of post retirement sinecures by some people in the government to Gen VK Singh, if he were, to accept his date of birth as May 10, 1950. Therefore, many vested and corrupt interests are riding over the ambition of one individual. Even the media has not been spared. One TV channel based on a fake municipality certificate beamed a programme to show that Gen VK Singh was neither born in 1950 nor 1951, but in 1949. The bluff was easily called.
THE DILEMMA OF A CHIEF
Under the circumstances, what does a Chief do? Reportedly, Gen VK Singh was seriously contemplating resignation out of sheer disgust. But then he was rightly advised that it would amount to surrender to negative and anti-national forces. Moreover, most rank and file, who have no clue about the details of the fabricated controversy would construe that Gen VK Singh’s contention was legally and morally invalid right from the outset.
Gen VK Singh was advised by certain quarters to go to the Court. He was told that legally his is a watertight case. He emphatically rubbished the advice on the grounds that it would not only morally be wrong, but will set a precedence which will destroy the moral and institutional fabric of the Indian Army for all times to come. Thereafter, no military personnel will have faith in the administrative and judicial system of the Army. No Army Chief will have the moral authority to enjoin upon Army personnel to refrain from going to civil courts.
This dilemma of Gen VK Singh was exploited just before he took over as COAS by powers that be in Army HQs. In fact, the same powers treated this dilemma as vulnerability. Gen VK Singh, then Lt Gen, was asked to give an undertaking that he will not raise the issue of age.
In response, the General replied to the effect that he would act in the best interests and traditions of the Indian Army. Nowhere did he give an undertaking that he accepts his date of birth as May 10, 1950.
The detractors of Gen VK Singh have however been misquoting the said letter in the media. Since Gen VK Singh cannot go to Court, the AG Branch of the Army sought the opinion of four retired Chief Justices of India. The logic behind approaching more than one judge was to obtain various shades of opinion and avoid any possible insinuation about the move being motivated and partisan.
All the four judges have unanimously given the view that Gen VK Singh’s date of birth, May 10, 1951, is unimpeachable.
Image: In this handout picture released by the Press Information Bureau on March 31, 2010, incoming Army Chief V K Singh shakes hands with outgoing Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor (L) in New Delh. (Photograph copyright AFP)