A lot of ink has flown since my last open letter to you of 1st July 2011. Some of it on papers passing through desks of MoD, some on the Public Interest Litigation submitted to Supreme Court, and a lot of it on national dailies and tabloids. The air waves are also agog with speculation and discussions on what your next action is going to be. Amidst all this, I take the liberty of writing to you again, renewing my appeal to do what is best for the organization.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that your date of birth is as stated by you and not as recorded in the documents under question. But that does not change the existing regulations on the matter – that any discrepancy in such a case needs to be corrected within two years. As head of the organization, you are the custodian of the existing rules, and cannot be seen to be going against them. You can initiate action to change the rules which are unfair, but unfortunately any such changes would not apply in retrospective to the case in question.
As per the reports in media, your fight is to restore your honour, and not to get an extension in tenure. I think it is a little ironic that the fight itself is doing exactly the opposite. Your honour or word was never in question, but by creating this needless controversy, you have thrown it open to debate on prime time television. By allowing the debate to continue, you are not helping matters in any way. In fact, of late there have been leaks and attributed statements that are most unseemly. The fact that some political leaders have made public statements joining cause leads one to believe that their support is being canvassed – something that can’t augur very well for the established fabric of the organization. The fact that the Supreme Court has been petitioned in a Public Interest Litigation on the matter by a regional group of veterans also points to your tacit approval of such a petition. The message that your actions are sending out is that any serving soldier who feels short changed by the existing rules can undertake similar moves for redressal. In an organization where thousands of officers are superseded every year, think of the floodgates of litigation it can open. Even if none of such cases come to fruition, just think of the chaos and upheaval they will cause.
Another interesting facet is the fact that the case relating to your date of birth is being made out to be a civil-military relations issue. It is true that the state of civil-military relations leave a lot be to desired, with the military generally being at the losing end. But linking what is purely the personal grievance of one individual with a significant organizational issue, notwithstanding the fact that the particular individual heads the organization, is tantamount to trivializing the larger issue itself.
There have even been ridiculous statements on television by some commentators that in case you go to court and lose the case, it would be bad for the morale of the forces. While it might be bad for the miniscule part of the forces which are the directly affected party, I don’t think rest of the people are going to lose much sleep over whether you are vindicated or not. Yes, what will be bad for the morale and image of the force is seeing their Chief go to court against his immediate superiors on a matter of personal interest – and also bad for the discipline, for it will suggest to them that it is alright to do so if they also feel aggrieved by a rule or decision that does not suit them.
Coming back to the issue of honour. Isn’t it true that before being appointed as an Army Commander, you had given a written undertaking to accept 1950 as your year of birth? My understanding of the honour code expected of an officer may be limited, but as per that limited understanding an officer must stand by his word – not give it when expedient, and then renege out of it. I refuse to believe that the undertaking was given by you under duress – the only pressure that could have been brought to bear upon you at that point would be not promoting you. And under such circumstances, the honourable thing to do would have been to take the steps that you have taken now – even at the risk of losing out on that promotion. Having accepted the promotion on the basis of that undertaking, even under duress, you lost the moral high ground.
Unfortunately the general perception now is that it is no longer a matter of honour as you are making it out to be. It is more about getting the best out of the situation – whether it is an extension in tenure and a succession plan of your choosing, or a‘negotiated settlement’ with the government wherein you are assured of a suitable resettlement plan. I wonder who your advisors at this critical juncture are – and about the quality of advice you are receiving. I wonder if they have advised you of a possibility where the government accedes to your contention and gives you an extension in service, but not in appointment? It is so easy for them to temporarily create the vacancy of an additional officer in the rank of a general, and appoint a new chief on the designated day.
That would be a sad day not only for you, but for the entire organization. I do hope that in your sagacity, you will prove that all the rumours flying around are nothing but speculation, and not precipitate any action that demean you or the organization in any manner.
A retired soldier