Defence Ministry: Concert of Errors
by Nancy Kaul on 02 Feb 2012 19 Comments

A distinguished historian once said, great civilisations do not die, but they can commit suicide. India, a nation and a civilisation, seems bent on taking this perilous path to ruin. Nothing else can explain the morbid determination with which the ruling Congress-led dispensation has set out to humiliate and destroy the Indian Army, the most vital institution for the country’s defence and security in an increasingly turbulent age.


Pig-headed acts of omission and commission by a few individuals concerned only with their petty egos and illicit calculations of gain or prestige are playing with the honour of the Army Chief, the nation’s preeminent soldier and an officer of sterling quality.


The entirely contrived controversy over the date of birth of Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh is little more than a clerical error that a previous Army Chief decided to exploit to create a ‘line of succession’ of his choice – though he had no legal or moral right to create such a chain of succession. The issue should have been sorted out by his successor, but he was upset over the current incumbent’s non-compromising attitude towards corruption in the ranks!


That is why the issue finally landed in the corridors of the Ministry of Defence, which promptly proceeded to make a hash of it. Babus without accountability or conscience stirred the pot, but Defence Minister A.K. Anthony – who did nothing and passed the buck around to colleagues Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram and Salman Khurshid among others – took the cake when he told the media that the issue was the creation of the Indian Army itself!


What for is he a Minister if he cannot untangle a non-binding error in a form, and reconcile the same with a wealth of legal documentation?


Certainly Mr. Anthony must take full responsibility for the sudden receipt of an undated letter by Army Headquarters on 23 Jan 2012, from the Ministry of Defence.


The letter is blatantly illegal, bad in law and intent, and is doubtless ab initio void. It is a hasty and clumsy attempt to ‘fix’ the legal record in favour of the Government, now that the General’s petition is being heard by the Supreme Court on Friday, 3 February 2012.


Had the Union Law Ministry, or even the unimpressive Attorney General been consulted, they would have warned about the perils of sub-judice. But whom the gods destroy, the first drive mad…


Thus, a bemused nation witnessed the spectacle of a deputy secretary in the Ministry of Defence, K.L. Nandwani, directing the Adjutant General (AG), the official record-keeper of the Indian Army, to ‘change’ its records and ensure that Gen Singh’s year of birth is recorded as 10 May 1950 [and not 10 May 1951 as recorded by a plethora of official documentation].


Does this mean that the Adjutant General should make the desired changes in each and every document that records 10 May 1951 as Gen V.K. Singh’s date of birth, viz. – the Pune military hospital where he was born; his father’s military service record; school leaving certificate; NDA and IMA certificates; career records; decorations and awards from the Government of India … Is it a joke?


But it seems the madmen at the MoD were serious, as the letter directs Army Headquarters to maintain ‘strict compliance’ with this order and send ‘a compliance report to the Ministry at the earliest’. So far, as the media has reported, compliance has been negative. And that is how it should be.


Given the outrageousness of this order, some points deserve to be mentioned:


-        The concerned bureaucrat was too junior an officer to dare to send such a missive to an officer of the status of Adjutant General

-        Clearly the letter was an attempt to browbeat the AG’s office at the instance of Defence Minister A.K. Anthony

-        Even the Defence Secretary would not have taken the decision to have the letter issued without clearance from the Minister for fear of being exposed via an RTI query and hauled up in the courts

-        The Prime Minister has conducted himself once again as the blind king Dhritrashtra, who brought no glory to the House of Pandu and ultimately caused the demise of each of his hundred sons


Any intervention by the Prime Minister or Defence Minister in the issue should have been on the side of justice and fair play. Thus, after examining the records maintained by the Adjutant General’s Branch, they should have directed the Military Secretary’s Branch to reconcile the age of Gen V.K. Singh with the Adjutant General Branch.


For the truth is that there has never been an official discrepancy in Gen. Singh’s records. In an autobiographical essay written as a young cadet in his first term in the National Defence Academy (NDA), he stated, “I was born on 10th May, 1951, in Poona…” This was 1966.


Simply stated, Gen. Singh was not seeking a change in his date of birth. What he wanted, when it became known that the Military Secretary Branch had maintained incorrect records, was reconciliation of dates and acceptance of 1951 as the correct year. And once he realised that vested interests wanted to maintain an incorrect date for improper reasons, it became a matter of personal honour to fight to establish the record once and for all in favour of 1951.


One is curious to know how the MoD expects to defeat the formidable record – there is a letter from the commanding officer of the 14th battalion of Rajput Regiment, dated 3 Aug 1965, stating Vijay Singh’s date of birth, “maintained in (his) office is 10 May, 1951.” This is part of the service record of Major Jagat Singh, the General’s father. There is the Rajasthan state government’s Secondary School Board certificate which again records Gen Singh’s date of birth as May 10, 1951.


When the UPA denies Gen Singh’s claims, it denies the veracity of documents furnished by his Army officer father; Commanding Officer of his father’s unit; Rajasthan Board of Education; all other educational records; and the Army’s official record keeper, the Adjutant General’s (AG) Branch. By law, what the AG’s Branch says about the personal and professional record of an army officer is supposed to be the last word.


If such a contention is upheld by the courts, it will create havoc will legal records across the country, in all spheres of life. Indeed, this is why the Ministry of Law & Justice opined on 14 Feb 2011 that Gen. Singh’s “high school certificate has greater evidentiary value.” That this did not clinch matters shows that the rot has gone very deep in the UPA.


An interesting but sharply divergent case that has come to light in recent times pertains to that of two brothers, both bureaucrats, who went on to head two paramilitary organizations almost at the same time. Raman Srivastava, IPS, Kerala cadre, 1973 batch, held several high profile posts including DGP Kerala, Special Secretary internal security Ministry of Home Affairs, and became Director General BSF on 1 Aug 2009.


His younger brother Vikram Srivastava, IPS, Uttar Pradesh cadre, 1973 batch, became chief of ITBP and then CRPF. He is presently serving as chief of BPR&D.


According to official records, the two brothers are born barely five months apart, from the same biological parents. As per records, Raman Srivastava was born on 24 Oct 1951, and Vikram Srivastava was born on 18 March 1952. These birth date records were maintained throughout the service of both brothers; Raman Srivastava retired on 31 Oct 2011 as DG BSF; Vikram Srivastava is set to retire on 31 March 2012.


Attorney General Ghulam Vahanvati’s plea that the “line of succession” should not be disturbed is bogus because any succession must be decided as a consequence of retirement, and not a retirement date fixed to accommodate a successor.


Yet this is what the date of birth controversy has boiled down to. Government appears to be looking for pliable officers who can be pressured to do the bidding of the powers that be without question. This bodes ill for the nation.


The present Chief of Army Staff has on several occasions asserted his independent views and possibly made the Government uncomfortable.


The nation will watch the unfolding drama in the Supreme Court with bated breath.


The author is convener, Daughters of Vitasta 

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