Why is Antony playing ducks and drakes with the Army?

By RSN Singh, Canary Trap, Special to Firstpost

In reply to a question in parliament, Defence Minister AK Antony stated that the present Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), Gen VK Singh, got his last three promotions officially predicated on 10 May 1950 as his date of birth. This statement is not in consonance with the records held in Army Headquarters (AHQ), which clearly indicate otherwise - 10 May 1951.

The defence minister’s statement may be construed as breach of parliamentary privilege . It is sad commentary on the health and vulnerability of our institutions that a simple issue pertaining to the date of birth of the chief of the apolitical Indian Army is being politicised not only by the government but by certain segments of the media as well.

An article in the 19 September issue of India Today is titled “Lies of the General”. It is the most obnoxious attack on Gen VK Singh, rather the office of the Chief of Army Staff of India.

The article claims to be based on documents obtained through RTI. If the article, and more so its title, has any credibility then the government should remove Gen VK Singh immediately, as no army can afford to have a ‘liar’ as its chief. And in case, at some stage, the article and its title are found to be motivated, then India Today must come clean for the sake of its credibility and prestige failing which the army  must initiate legal action against the weekly for targeting the office of the COAS.

If, Gen VK Singh did not have incontrovertible and clinching material and evidence, and if there were no ugly dimensions being inflicted on a simple issue of date of birth (DOB), which does not involve ‘change’ but ‘correction’ in the legally insignificant Army List, four former and very honourable chief justices of India and a former solicitor general, all with unimpeachable records of personal and judicial probity, would not have given their opinion in favour of Gen VK Singh.

 Why is Antony playing ducks and drakes with the Army?

Defence Minister A.K. Antony. Reuters

The case is extremely simple and does not require a fantastic judicial mind to unravel the truth, based both on ‘proof’ and ‘motive’. Unfortunately, various military secretaries since 2006, goaded by their bosses to adhere to a particular succession plan, first raked up the issue after Gen VK Singh had put in 35 years of service and then gave convoluted and specious arguments to disfavour Gen Singh’s correct date of birth: 10 May1951.

In hindsight, the intention of the concerned authorities in the Army HQs seems to be suspect as they never wanted to accept their mistake and reconcile the DOB in respect of General VK Singh. On 25 January, a Joint Secretary in the MoD, Bimal Julka wrote to the military secretary: “…. a detailed inquiry may be conducted in to the matter to find out the correct date of birth of the officer immediately in consultation with the AG branch”.

But no inquiry was conducted.

Subsequently, in response to an RTI, the AG branch sought the opinion of the legal advisor to the ministry  of defence, who in turn solicited the advice of the law ministry. Both confirmed that Gen Singh’s date of birth was 10 May 1951.

Curiously, the matter was referred again to the law ministry on the plea that the opinion given was by a junior officer. If a joint secretary to the government of India is junior, then one wonders who are ranked senior officers.

Matriculation certificate Vs UPSC form

On 23 May 1965, Gen Singh, who was a minor and had still not appeared for his matriculation exam, applied for the NDA. The UPSC form, as in the case of other students, was filled with the assistance of school staff. They erroneously had the DOB of Gen Singh filled as 10 May 1950 instead of 1951. In the absence of a matriculation certificate, a school leaving certificate from the school (Birla Public School, Pilani) and  a certificate from the unit (14 Rajput) of the father of Gen Singh, i.e. Major Jagat Singh duly signed by the commanding officer, was forwarded to the UPSC, which clearly indicated the DOB of Gen Singh as 10 May 1951.

It was a clear case of erroneous entry and oversight as no sane individual will declare himself older contradicting what is contained in the documents supporting it. It may be emphasised that Gen Singh was eligible for NDA with both DOBs - 10 May 1950 and 10 May 1951.

According to the India Today article, the Attorney General stresses that the UPSC form is “to be filled in the candidate’s own handwriting, he has to declare …the statements are true”. The missing link between the words ‘declare’ and ‘the statements’ is mischievous. The correct sentence is “I hereby declare that the statements made in the application are true to the best of my knowledge and belief”. The words ‘knowledge and belief’ do cater to inadvertent human errors.

The UPSC form is only an ‘application form’. An application form can only be initially scrutinised. The details filled therein have to be verified by other documentary records, which in case of DOB is the matriculation certificate and is considered unimpeachable and of greatest evidentiary value in the eyes of law.

As per UPSC rules, primacy has to be given to the matriculation certificate for verifying the DOB. Had it not been for this the UPSC would not have raised a query to clarify the DOB in respect of Gen Singh. An Under Secretary of the UPSC, Sri Krishan, wrote to Gen Singh on 18 June 1966:

“With reference to your application for the above examination, I am directed to say that you have claimed 10.05.1950 as date of birth in Col. 5 of the application, whereas in the certificate submitted by you the date of birth is shown as 10.05.1951. You are required to clarify the discrepancy and intimate the correct date of birth”.

Subsequently, the matriculation results were out in June and Gen Singh’s father sent the ‘Provisional Certificate’ (DOB 10 May 1951) on 24 June 1966 through a special courier, which was acknowledged in writing by the UPSC. A copy of the acknowledgement letter is available with this author.

The matter was thereafter never raised by the UPSC. Such cases are not rare and the UPSC on receiving provisional certificate allows a candidate to continue on a provisional basis till receipt of the original certificate.

Therefore anyone, who, based on the UPSC form, contends that Gen Singh was born on 10 May 1950 and not 10 May 1951 is implying that Gen Singh is a liar, his father Major (later Lt Col) Jagat Singh was a liar, and the authorities at the Birla Public School, Pilani, were in connivance with the father and son, because ‘they could then foresee that a 14-year-old lad would be the COAS not for two years but three years! ‘This is legally and morally preposterous and reprehensible.

Not ‘change’ but ‘rectification’

On commissioning in 1970, Gen Singh was issued the Indian Army Identity Card by the Indian Military Academy, which endorses his DOB as 10 May 1951. It is obvious that consequent to the submission of his provisional certificate his DOB in the main record was corrected.

In 1971, when Gen Singh (then second lieutenant) visited his ancestral village after many years, as he normally spent his vacations at the place of posting of his father, he found his original matriculation certificate. The certificate had taken a tortuous journey - i.e. Rajasthan Secondary Board of Education – Birla Public School, Pilani – his father’s original unit (14 Rajput) – Rewa Recruiting Office and NCC, Narnaul (the two places his father subsequently served) – and finally to his ancestral village.

The certificate had remained unattended, as his father had moved out to Bhiwani where he expired. Gen Singh instantly submitted the original certificate to Army HQs AG Branch through his unit 2 Rajput. If the DOB in the original certificate was at variance with other records, the AG’s Branch would certainly have raised query.

The AG’s Branch has consistently and categorically maintained that all records available with it testify Gen Singh’s DOB at 10 May 1951. The AG’s Branch is the legitimate and official record holder of all documents. When a RTI query was raised in February 2011 on Gen Singh’s age record, it was directed to the AG’s Branch and not the MS Branch.

While Gen Singh was commissioned in 1970, he submitted his original certificate in 1971, and the Army List was published in the year 1974-75. Therefore, the consistent stand by concerned Military Secretaries (MS) that as per rules, “no request for change/correction of date of birth will be entertained after a lapse of two years from date of commission” is motivated and mischievous. Motivated, as there was a gap of four years between the commissioning of Gen Singh and publication of the Army List. Mischievous, because the word ‘correction’ was ‘inserted’ as Gen Singh had consistently maintained that he has not been asking for ‘change’, but ‘correction’ in one particular place, i.e. Army List.

Army List has no legal sanctity

Intoxicated by their bureaucratic power, they disdainfully dismissed the fact that they had no authority with respect to the DOB of an officer, the real custodian and authority being the Adjutant General Branch. In a letter dated 21 June 2008, the military secretary wrote to Gen Singh, “we are constrained to maintain your official date of birth as 10 May 1950, and same may kindly be reflected in all your records and documents. The AG’s branch is accordingly intimated to amend the records being maintained by them.

Continues on the next page..

The above direction is ridiculous. Firstly, the MS branch has no authority to ask the AG’s Branch to change its records, in fact it is otherwise. Secondly, DOB cannot be changed on a mere direction of a branch of Army HQs. In directing the AG’s Branch, the MS branch, in its ignorant megalomania, did not consider what would happen to Gen Singh’s passport, driving licence, insurance, pensions, retirement benefits, etc.

In any case, available information suggests that the MS never asked the AG to do so.

The Army List on which various military secretaries premised their case should find its place in the wastepaper basket as far as DOB and its verification is concerned. It appears that these officers were acutely aware of the omissions and failings of the MS branch that they headed and their legal limitations on the issue and therefore resorted to intimidation, the implied threat being sabotage of the promotion in case Gen Singh did not obey their diktat of accepting the incorrect date of birth that the MS branch had recorded. Sample these:

Army General VK Singh. Screengrab/ibnlive

“… we are constrained to maintain your official date of birth as 10 May 1950, and the same may kindly be reflected in all your records… Please acknowledge and confirm acceptance” (letter from MS to Gen VK Singh  dated 21 January 2008).

“Request fwd (forward) ack (acknowledgement) and confirm acceptance of date of birth as given in para 5 (five) of letter dated 21 January 2008… (.) If reply not received by 1000 hrs on 25 Jan 08 action deemed appropriate will be taken (.) (from MS to Gen Singh  dated 24 Jan 2008).

Once it felt that it had succeeded in its coercion bid, the MS branch, in a rare moment of magnanimity, conceded in January 2008 in a letter dated 25 January 2008 to the ministry of defence: “Based on UPSC commissioning documents and MS branch records, Army List indicated the date of birth of IC-24173 Lt Gen VK Singh, AVSM, YSM as 10 May 1950. The Officer had indicated his date of birth as 10 May 1951 to AG’s branch based on SSC certificate issued to him in 1971 by Rajasthan Secondary Education Board. The dichotomy of records between AG’s records and MS records was not reconciled because of lack of coordination between the two branches at that point of time. The officer had also been mentioning 10 May 1951 in all his ACR’s but the MS branch did not seek clarification/reconcile his date of birth.”

The bogey of ‘acceptance’

In the present context in the army, wherein the journey from Major General to General takes only four to five years, any minor impediment, that too motivated, can override the entire life’s toil and derail the future of even the most upright and conscientious officer. The stakes are, therefore, very high, which the respective military secretaries, and their benefactors exploited to the hilt.

Given the vitiated circumstances it is therefore perfectly legitimate for any man of character to buy conditional reprieve when enjoined upon by his superiors that he take a temporary undertaking due to inexplicable organisational constraints with a promise of ultimate justice and redemption of honour. That is exactly what Gen Singh did. Sample these:

“Whatever decision taken in organizational interest is acceptable to me” (from Gen Singh on 24 Jan 2008). Note: This did not satisfy the MS and was followed by a threatening signal.*

“In view of the above constraint and in discussion of date, I will mention the date of birth as directed”. ( Letter from Gen Singh, dated 13 Jan 2008).

Finally, Gen Singh, then Army Commander, wrote to COAS General Deepak Kapoor,on 01 July 2008: “I had no qualms in giving in writing whatever I was asked for despite my reservation… I have deliberated and thought over all aspects of the issue and feel compelled to bring it to an ethical and logical conclusion. At the outset, I would like to know the ‘constraint’ mentioned by the MS Branch”. 

Any ‘acceptance,’ that too under coercion, does not change the moral and legal parameters. Self-declaration or ‘acceptance’ of DOB cannot even get you a driving licence or passport, let alone make one a COAS. Moreover, the general did repeatedly appeal to the residual moral sense of the concerned powers in the Army HQs, but was stonewalled by the predetermined and ‘inviolate” succession scheme scripted by the same people who are in the docks today for various moral violations, including abuse of their high offices.

India Today is, therefore, spot-on to say; ‘’On May 7, then Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar noted that the amendment of the army chief’s date of birth would impact the succession plan.’’ What alternatives does an army officer have under the circumstances? Further, the India Today article, right at the outset, says: “Army Chief General VK Singh said he was born in 1950…”

Further the India Today article says, “…it got him three promotions…”. This is complete misrepresentation of facts and truth. A document  dated 01 July 2011 signed by the present Military Secretary Lt Gen GM Nair categorically states:

On scrutiny of past records pertaining to selection boards, it has been observed that the MDSs pertaining to IC-24173 Gen VK Singh, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, ADC, which were drawn up at the time of his consideration by various selection boards for promotion to select ranks, reflect the date of birth of general officer as 10 May 1951.

Gen Singh never ‘said’ or ‘admitted’ but was ‘alternatively coerced and made to feel obligated to accept the directions of his seniors in the plea of organisational interests’, and was placated by assurances of redeeming his position.

Gen Singh should have realised that these same forces could have settled the matter in a few days if, on the direction of MOD, they had conducted an inquiry and reconciled the DOB based on the evidentiary and supporting documents held with the AG’S Branch, the legitimate custodian. But that was never the intention!

Notes to Table 2:

* The India Today article has quoted the Attorney General: “police verification in 1966 also shows date of birth as 1950”. The documents available with this author speak otherwise. These documents are: verification done by DIG CID IB Rajasthan vide his letter No. CIL/SB/VR-G/ (V-8) 64/66/4465 Jaipur dated 22/06/1966, Serial 6 of IAFF(P)-14, and verification by SHO Bhiwani, SP Hissar, District Magistrate, Hissar, and authenticated by DIG CID Punjab signed by DIG(CID) Punjab Sarwant Singh letter No. 1295/MA/ date 22 July 66. It may be noted that Haryana had not separated from Punjab then. These letters categorically give General VK Singh’s DOB as 10 May 1951.

** On 30 March 2011, MD Paliath, IDAS, Principal Controller, wrote to Lt Gen VK Chaturvedi, Director General of Manpower Planning, AG’s Branch : “I find from records maintained here (copy of Form-A at the time of commission enclosed) that the date of birth of the COAS Gen VK Singh is already shown as 10 May 1951”.

***   The date of birth (10 May 1950) entered in the UPSC form was not backed by any documentary proof. It was questioned and a clarification was sought by UPSC itself. Gen  VK Singh promptly had submitted documents, which supported his contention that the entry in the application form was erroneous and his date of birth was 10 May 1951.

**** The DOB in the Army List was mere perpetuation by the concerned branch of the erroneous entry filled in the UPSC form, which UPSC had rectified long ago.

Conclusion

Which are the lies of the General? There is only one truth, the succession plan to suit one individual. The desperation of the government is unmistakable and intriguing.

RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing, or R&AW. He is the author of two books: ‘Asian Strategic and Military Perspective’ and ‘Military Factor in Pakistan’, he is also a columnist for Canary Trap.

 

Updated Date: Sep 20, 2011 11:00:47 IST