January 10, 2012

Congo, Pakistan, and the Indian Army Chief imbroglio

Sandhya Jain
09 Jan 2012

The scandalous conduct of some Indian members of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Congo, under the command of the then Major General Bikram Singh, may translate into major embarrassment for India at various international forums if the government abides by a covert ‘line of succession’ hinted by the Attorney General in his rather vacuous ‘opinion’ on the matter.

Islamabad (with helpful nudges from Beijing and other capitals reworking their ‘interests’ in the Asia-Pacific region) can be expected to exploit all propaganda about human rights violations in India – particularly in Jammu and Kashmir – to the hilt.

New Delhi should, in the circumstances, consider if the J&K Government’s decision to demand and continue to push for withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from the State has been externally inspired by forces hoping to take advantage of Indian discomfort in the human rights arena.

Pertinent in connection with the ‘line of succession’ school of thought is the fact that the next in the line of succession, Lt Gen Bikram Singh, has a Pakistani daughter-in-law. While the lady may now be a naturalized Indian citizen (like Congress president Sonia Gandhi), the fact remains that Lt Gen Bikram Singh has had Pakistani relatives at critical phases of his service, and will continue to have Pakistani relatives at the peak of his career and beyond. This is not to cast any aspersions on the highly respected soldier, but it would be an understatement to say that the issue is causing grave concern in many quarters.

The Centre would in fact do well to review its whimsical policy on the matter of officers of the diplomatic and military services having foreign wives/spouses. In an era when the intelligence agencies of major nations are actively pursuing their strategic goals, the presence of foreign spouses entrenched in establishments where they have official duties is most undesirable.

As for Congo, it is a blot on the Indian Army’s glorious tradition of valour and gallantry in foreign lands, especially in UN Peacekeeping Missions. In 2007-08, the UN complained of the 6 Sikh Battalion fathering children with “distinctive Indian features,” which were reportedly confirmed by DNA tests conducted by UN in Durla, Congo. The allegations of misconduct cover 12 officers and 39 jawans, who reportedly paid minor girls in North Kivu for sex. The Congolese government further alleged that some Indian peacekeepers, instead of helping to protect civilians from violent militias, fraternized with rebel Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda.

The matter now rests with an army court of inquiry (CoI) in Meerut, which will share its findings with the UN as per rules. Army sources say a separate inquiry is going on against the unit’s commanding officer for failure to maintain discipline.

Chronicle of a Date of Birth

Currently, a new bench of the Supreme Court is examining a PIL filed by the Grenadiers Association, Rohtak Chapter [Writ Petition no. 513/2011] on the issue of whether or not the Union Government is empowered to change a person’s date of birth by tampering with the established record.

The controversy pertaining of Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh’s date of birth is totally contrived and rests on the Military Secretariat’s failure to maintain its records correctly. This is the branch responsible for promotions, and seems to be the hotbed of internal politics.

Union Defence Minister A.K. Anthony – arguably the greatest Non Performing Asset of the ruling coalition – totally failed to perform his duty when he rejected the statutory complaint sent to him by Gen V.K. Singh asking for his date of birth to be reconciled. In fact, with his callous and cavalier manner of handling the entire issue, Mr. Anthony has become a party to the public humiliation of the Commander in Chief.

That the issue is a no-brainer can be seen from the established record:-

[1] Gen V.K. Singh was born on May 10, 1951 in the Military Hospital, Pune – and the hospital record on the event must be treated as immaculate.

[2] His birth was entered in the service record of his father (of 14 Rajput) – again this evidence cannot be argued with.

[3] This same date is reflected in his school leaving certificate and about 19 other documents such as Police Verification of age, which have been furnished by Gen. Singh.

So how did the controversy arise?

As a 14-year-old school boy, V.K. Singh’s teacher filled his application form for the UPSC exams for entry into the National Defence Academy, and erroneously entered his date of birth as May 10, 1950 [which does not amount to a legal document by any yardstick]. The young minor signed the form without noticing the error.

It may be noted that contrary to the stories being planted left and right by at least two anti-Singh factions, the General was eligible for the NDA in the event of either date of birth being true.

Prior to the Services Selection Board interview, his school leaving certificate, letter from his father’s unit indicating DoB and police verification of age were all sent to the UPSC board and he was ‘provisionally’ admitted to join the NDA pending receipt of the board examination certificate. The NDA and IMA records all reflect his date of birth uniformly as May 10, 1951.

All career records with the Adjutant General’s office, the official record keeper of the Army, also bear this date – in fact there is NO official record with a different date. The mistake is by the Military Secretary’s office which failed to update its records throughout the career of Gen Singh and now expects him to pay the price.
The controversy has brought to light the fact that a lobby in the Army had worked out a ‘line of succession’ long back, and Gen. V.K. Singh has long been a victim of this group. The barrage of media reportage – all hostile to Gen Singh – reveals that when Singh was a Major General waiting to be promoted to Lt. Gen., the discrepancy in his birth year in documents held by the Adjutant General’s office and Military Secretary’s office was noticed by army headquarters. An entrenched lobby got active and forced Gen Singh to sign an undertaking that he would abide by 1950 as his year of birth and not petition for it to be changed to 1951!

This is clearly mala fide in law and intent, and Gen Singh obviously signed under duress to get his legitimate due. Whosoever was the Defence Secretary each time Gen Singh signed an agreement to abide by a false date of birth must be called publicly to account for his conduct, and apologize for this act of malfeasance.

In his opinion to the Government of India, the Attorney General suggested that Gen Singh be forced to accept the 1950 date so as not to disturb the ‘line of succession’. This again is macabre and mala fide; if this is the level of the senior most law officer in the country, we clearly need a new Attorney General. And if Mr. Anthony cannot do justice in a case where the legal record is so crystal clear, maybe we also need a new Defence Minister.

Indeed, this is the crux of the PIL now pending before the Supreme Court – can a Government diktat alter a person’s Date of Birth? Hitherto, the Supreme Court has upheld the matriculation certificate as adequate proof of age [Gen. Singh has much more, as shown above].

This is also the view of at least three former Supreme Court judges. Former Air Chief Fali Homi Major’s assertion that Gen Singh should not move the apex court for justice while in office is officious and unwarranted and harms the famed neutrality of the armed forces. Since the two men also belong to different services (army, air force), this suggests a quest for a political sinecure; Fali Homi Major would have done well to maintain silence.

Ultimately, all blame for the unseemly controversy lies with A.K. Anthony. He has denied justice to a soldier, divided the ranks, and failed to perform his duty. Informed sources suggest the Minister is being guided by bureaucrats and some former Army officers who were targeted by Gen Singh in corruption cases.

‘Honest’ Anthony has neither law nor morality on his side. He would do well to jettison his advisors, step up to the plate, and make amends in the name of justice and fair play. Army Day on January 15 would be an appropriate time.

Else, the Prime Minister should intervene and resolve the issue without further delay, so we can celebrate the Republic in peace.

The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com

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