The battle between Army chief Gen VK Singh and the government over his age will not just affect who will succeed him as the issue goes far beyond that: the question of hierarchy and command and control between the military andcivilian leadership.
The UPA government feels the military must bow down to the wishes of the civilian government in every scenario. “The army’s command and control rests on the sacrosanct principle that every soldier must obey orders. If the Army chief takes us to court, then the rank and file of the armed forces can drag their superiors to court for every order,” a senior defence ministry official told DNA.
However, Gen Singh’s move has garnered massive support from the armed forces community and a sprinkling of politicians. Many MPs met prime minister Manmohan Singh a few months ago lobbying for Singh’s extension.
For now, Gen Singh is armed with case law that says that the date registered in the matriculation certificate is a legal document for all practical purposes including service in the armed forces. The petition also refers to the records with Adjutant General’s (AG) branch showing the date of birth as May 10, 1951 whereas the Military Secretary’s (MS) branch records put it as May 10, 1950.
Usually, the AG’s records are considered the final authority on such issues, making Gen Singh’s case a strong one on legal grounds.
Earlier Gen Singh tried to follow established protocol by filing a statutory complaint with the defence ministry, but it was rejected twice. He has questioned the government for changing his date of birth after he had spent 36 years in service.
Gen Singh also sought legal opinion of two former Chief Justices of India, JS Verma and V N Khare. Both had opined that his claim is legally sound.
The majority of the retired armed forces community has also thrown its might behind Gen Singh. “You can’t call the chief of 1.3 million army a liar. This is very unfortunate for the country. Army chief is not an individual, he is an institution,” Maj General GD Bakshi (Retd) told DNA.
“Ideally this issue should have been resolved before making him the army chief. Why didn’t the ministry take the law ministry’s opinion at that point of time? A committee of four former chief justices of India has already given its opinion in his favour. But, the government is ignoring all these facts,” Maj Gen Bakshi added.
Former vice chief of army staff Lt Gen Shantonu Choudhary feels the army chief must have given this action a lot of thought. “He was my Brigadier General Staff when I was a Corp Commander during Operation Parakaram and I have watched him very closely.
I found him to be a man of very high integrity and a man of complete conviction,” he said.