As the head of an organization like the Indian Army, you represent many things to many people.
To the serving officers and soldiers, you are a role model. To them, you stand for excellence of the highest order. You withstood the vagaries of operations and peacetime soldiering successfully, with elan, to reach the pinnacle of the steep pyramid. In doing so, you outshone a few thousand officers who were commissioned around the same time as you. As their Chief and leader, they hang on to your every word. They do that because of the tremendous respect that your office enjoys. They also do that because your decisions virtually control the destiny of this million strong army. Your actions and words impact them professionally and personally. Since they were always taught to lead by example, they also, by corollary, follow by example. Therefore they look at you to show them the way to achieve their ambitions and follow your path to rise to the top.
To the common citizen of our country, you are the face of Indian Army – an organization they respect to a point of reverence. You interact with the media, are reported upon extensively and appear more frequently on television than any other person serving in the organization.
To the TRP hungry, eyeballs seeking media, you are a soft target. Someone who, given an opportunity, is fair game to take pot shots at. And the opportunity seems to have been handed to them on a platter now.
The ongoing and unending controversy about your date of birth is the biggest story that is appearing in the media over the last few months. Things have come to such a pass that the issue has moved beyond being an oversight years ago affecting you as an individual to a struggle of succession within the higher echelons of the Army. All kinds of theories, speculations and rumours are doing rounds within and outside the organization.
Being someone who has been emotionally connected with the organization since birth, adorned the uniform for 24 years, and now is unaffected but still drawn to it by a sense of belonging, I feel extremely sad. I feel sad because the high office of the Chief of the Army Staff has become open to comment by every stringer with a point of view. I empathize with my former comrades at arms who would be feeling a sense of embarrassment by the spectacle of their Chief being drawn into such a media circus. I can sense their growing cynicism from seeing the open flouting of the values and morals that bind them together, by people at stratospheric level within the organization.
My limited understanding of the issue leads me to believe that this controversy can be laid to rest simply by you unequivocally accepting the ‘official’ date of birth. It is the date of birth that I believe you gave a written undertaking to accept before being considered for promotion. That, possibly, could have been the juncture at which you could have taken a principled stand. With the appointment hanging at stake, you could have asserted your true date of birth. Fighting this battle with stakes as high as that, on a matter of principle, would have truly been commendable. Unfortunately, at this juncture the same battle appears more like an attempt to stay on in office for a few more months than a principled stand.
Today it is not an individual issue at all. It is an issue of the office of the Chief of Army Staff. It is an issue of the image of the Army. It is an issue of the subsequent line of succession. Aren’t you concerned about the example being set to the entire organization? By prolonging the issue through extra procedural moves such as referring it to former Chief Justices, isn’t the Adjutant General’s branch under your command sending a very wrong message to every officer who doesn’t make the promotion board and may feel aggrieved? By polarizing the entire organization into followers of different camps headed by possible beneficiaries of the outcome of this ‘battle’, aren’t you seriously undermining the very fabric of the army? Isn’t a similar thing happening when regional bodies of veterans are canvassing for or against one of the dates of birth being accepted? What if similar regional voices start rising for the other protagonists in this game? What will that do to the nationalistic, secular characteristic of the Army?
Sir, with so much at stake, wouldn’t it be prudent to settle the matter once and for all in a manner that is becoming and in the highest traditions of this wonderful organization?
A former soldier.