06 January 2012

What's the Real Age of Our Army Chief?

The tussle at the top of the army continues as Army Chief VK Singh’s age debate has found no conclusion yet. While the bureaucrats call it a ‘technical’ matter, the issue has become a matter of political interest. Many questions have been raised on the correctness of the army chief taking the issue to the Prime Minister and if the age controversy has affected the morale of the army?

There seems to be a battle between the military and the joint army of bureaucrats & politicians. “The army as an institution has its image hurt over an age issue. The government’s action is wrong,” said Lt General Raj Kadyan in a debate on CNN-IBN. Retired Major General Satbir Singh was of the opinion that defense forces are not being treated properly and many in the debate panel said politicians do not like a tough and honest General at the top.

On the other hand, the Defense Ministry is already on the lookout for the next Army chief in a bid to avoid any confusion in case General Singh quits or the court rejects his plea before his official tenure comes to an end. It is noted that in normal circumstances, the name of the new chief is announced two months before the incumbent retires.

As the army men continue to blame the bureaucracy, TSR Subramanian, the former cabinet secretary was quoted saying to CNN IBN that “it is a technical issue and that the government, politics and bureaucracy should not be brought into it.” He also said that VK Singh may fight in court but there are chances that he may not win and if he wins then the army may lose.

According to the government, General Singh will retire in April this year, but the officer is fighting a legal battle to have his birth date moved back one year, thereby giving him another year in service. But it is seen that two sets of official documents, both of which are equally reliable, make separate claims. The army’s official record keeper, Adjutant General’s Branch, mentions the date of birth as May 10, 1951, while the military secretary’s branch says it is 1950. The ex-servicemen's NGO in support of Singh have filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court in order to give a backing to Singh’s claims and have asked his birth date to be fixed as May 1951.

Singh played the entire episode down, saying that he had no axe to grind with the government. Speaking to the 'The Indian Express', the General said "There is no rift, no confrontation. I have always felt that the government has appointed you and you will work for the organization.”

Further questions were raised on the subject. The debate brought into light if this was a battle of ego and prestige or if this was a rift at top level of the Indian army? Surya Gangadharan, the Editor, International Affairs at CNBC said during the talk show that a culture similar to the corporate boardroom battle is slowly creeping into the Indian Army.