Individual Vs Institution

Blogitorial COAS Military Values


One pitfall of achieving high office is that you cease to be an individual. Like it or not, you become an institution. Every move you make, every action of yours is weighed and viewed accordingly. To quote Spiderman comics – “with great power comes great responsibility”.  History is not known to treat very kindly those who choose to exercise the power while failing to discharge the responsibility to the hilt. Unquestionably, that responsibility includes maintaining the sanctity and dignity of the office according the power.

Undoubtedly, the correct date of birth of the Chief of Army Staff is the one being quoted by him in his Statutory Complaint. But let us look at other facts – as reported by the press.

Firstly – the Chief’s year of birth as recorded in his NDA form is 1950, and as per his matriculation certificate is 1951. As per the rule position, any discrepancy must be corrected within 2 years of it coming to notice. In this case, from the time the matriculation certificate would have been received. Apparently the complaint also appends a letter from UPSC that his date of birth needed to be reconciled. If this reconciliation was done within the stipulated timeframe, all that needs to be produced is the correspondence to that effect to settle the argument. In the absence of this correspondence, one is led to believe that timely reconciliation did not take place. Any subsequent request for reconciliation is not tenable under the rules. If the rules are unfair, they need to be changed. But while they are in force, they need to be respected and implemented. Incidentally, if an identical Non-Statutory Complaint from any officer lands on the Chief’s desk, he would have no option but to decide in accordance with the rules. Why does he expect to be treated differently then? Is it because of the power (that came with the responsibility, remember)?

Secondly, an undertaking was given by the Chief, at the time of his appointment as Army Commander, that he agreed to 1950 as his year of birth. He has appended correspondence to his complaint indicating that the then Chief had threatened action against him unless he gave that undertaking. Why wasn’t a Statutory Complaint put up at that point of time? Was it expediency? In lesser mortals such situational expediency would be termed as opportunism.

Thirdly, why did a group of MPs find it fit to approach the Prime Minister with a memorandum supporting the Chief’s cause? Mercifully, the Prime Minister advised them to allow the Army to remain an apolitical organization, and refused to accept it.

Unfortunately, all these happenings point towards a tendency of the individual occupying the office taking precedence over the institution of the office.

The unprecedented Statutory Complaint by the Chief is being termed by a section of the media as open defiance. Well, at one level it is a refreshing change for the Army Chief to take a principled stand vis a vis the government. The sad part is that the stand is for an individual issue rather than an organizational one. Not that there is a dearth of issues where taking cudgels would have far reaching benefits to the entire organization. The systematic down gradation of Armed Forces in the warrant of precedence, the pay disparities vis a vis other Group A services, the delays in procurement of equipment, the shortage of married accommodation, to name a few.

But what if the government decides to take umbrage to the defiance, even if they are driven in a legal corner? What if they are compelled to agree to the later year of birth, but are loath to disturb the order of succession? What if the extension in service comes without extension in office? What if the government posts the Chief as ‘Additional Officer’ and elevates the next in line to office? Wouldn’t fruits of victory be ashes in the mouth?

The institution just might have the last word against the individual.

5 thoughts on “Individual Vs Institution

  1. There are two different dates of birth for Army Chief General VK Singh in official records, one with the Adjutant General’s branch in Army Headquarters that lists May 10, 1951 and the other at the Military Secretary’s branch that shows the date as May 10, 1950.

    As the Defence Ministry takes its time to examine what date it should agree on and with that the future of who the next Chief of Indian Army will be, correspondences between top brass of the Army on this one issue show a bitter battle, that has pitted generals against generals since 2008.

    The names are all too familiar, former Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor, his Military Secretary, now retired and the man facing charges in the Sukhna scam, Lt General Avadesh Prakash and the current Chief General VK Singh.
    Consider this:

    (A) 1 July 2008: Letter from General VK Singh to General Deepak Kapoor, Chief of Army Staff “Since my last discussion on the subject in your office, I have mulled over the entire handling of the issue in great detail. I must also confess that I have been greatly hurt by the aspersions cast on my integrity and military reputation.At the same time I must also emphasise that I have the greatest regard and faith in you, not only as Chief but also as an elder role model. Thus I had no qualms in giving in writing whatever I was asked for, despite my reservations.”

    This one letter is now being seen as a commitment by General VK Singh to stand by his date of birth as 1950. Many believe the case had been shut with this one commitment. But a closer scrutiny of the same letter and future correspondences point to the contrary, that the case was far from over, in fact had the makings of a messy tangle.

    General VK Singh, in the same letter dated July 1, 2008 goes on to say, “I would want to know what are the constraints mentioned by the MS branch which compel them to maintain 10 May 1950 despite the SSC certificate and despite me mentioning 10 May 1951 in all my CRs (confidential reports). How is that CRs which are assiduously checked never rang any bell on this issue in MS Branch till I was to move on promotion as Lt Gen, Is it not an oddity sir ?”

    He further questions, “how the MS banch carries out the verification of age since on the basis of the SCC certificate the AGs branch maintained records that showed 1951 as the year of birth.”

    General VK Singh (then Lieutenant General) also points out that the entire issue be looked at dispassionately and if there were vested and parochial interests, which have clouded the issue, then they must be negated.

    (B) The tone and tenor become stronger in a letter dated February 2009 from VK Singh to Lieutenant General Avadhesh Prakash, then Military Secretary once again reiterating that the SSC/10th board certificate, in effect is the authority for all purposes in matters related to age.

    That the UPSC (in which the Date of Birth is noted as 1950) does not verify Date of Birth, it only scrutinises the application form for correctness and forwards it.

    (C) It’s still not the end of the issue and three months later in an even more strongly worded , dated May 6, 2009, once again to the Military Secretary Lieutenant General Avadesh Prakash, General VK Singh writes:

    “Your letter clearly points out that your branch has no system for verification of date of birth. It is also clear that your predecessor has deliberately not given out the correct fact to the Chief that the MS branch does not carry out any Verification of the Date of the Birth.”

    “Let me also point out that the acceptance has been given in good faith because the Chief asked me to do so and not because of what your Branch was saying. Hence this argument cannot be used to hide facts and not provide details asked for.”

    So even as the force and the Defence Ministry grapples with another controversy regarding its top officer, it is important to note that these flurry of letters were running parallel to investigations in the Sukhna land scam, where then Eastern Army Commander, Lieutenant General VK Singh had ordered a Court of Inquiry that was to later reach the top, to the Military Secretary Lieutenant General Avadesh Prakash and the Chief, General Deepak Kapoor.

    -via IBNLive and Hindustan Times

  2. @Nish – all points agreed to. My only contention is that at that position you need to take into account the impact your actions have on the office and the organization, and the impact your actions have on their image.
    As regards the one letter being seen as commitment – well shouldn’t it be seen as such? Do you mean to say that a Lt Gen, about to become the Chief of the Army Staff, gave something in writing to his boss which he did not mean to follow? As I said in the post, this expediency in lesser mortals would be called opportunism. THAT was the time to take a moral stand – or he should now hold his peace forever.

  3. It is well known that a Lt Gen is required to have minimum two years residual service to be appointed as Army Cdr.The present chief was appointed army cdr wef 01 Mar 2008. Taking his date of birth as 10 May 1950, his retirement date as a Lt Gen would have been 31 May 2010.Thus,he was meeting the residual service criterion of two years as on 01 Mar 2008 (When he was a Corps Cdr,Lt Gen).Thus,there would have not been any reqmt of an undertaking from him with regards to criterion for appt as army cdr.The duality of his dt of birth had figured in newspapers in 2008 also.It did not get magnified then.It is not totally correct to blame everything on the chief given the fact that he had taken action for rectifying the discrepancy earlier too.An undertaking given by him committing to accept any decision in org interest cannot be used as a weapon against him especially when the outcome of the decision is not in consonance with a universal fact that Matric certificate is accepted as most valid proof of DOB in India.The issue of succession cannot be a valid reason for deciding the correct dt of birth. In Oct1995,the succession got totally changed when Gen BC Joshi died in harness and Gen S Roy Chaudhary,the senior most army cdr was appointed the chief.Three Army Cdrs one of whom would have been elevated to COAS retired in the tenure of Gen SRC.The appointment of the COAS has been made on seniority basis except two occasions when senior most army cdr were overlooked.It is not mandatory for the govt to appoint the chief only on seniority alone.It is not to suggest so to be done.But in the present case,the DOB should be accepted as 10 May 1951 being technically correct and chief be persuaded /agree to retire still on 31 May 2012.If that does not work out, the successor,the present eastern army cdr be given extension by few months to be appointed the next COAS.The apprehension of legal problem likely to arise due to acceptance of 10 May 1951( That is reported to be the basis for rejecting the request of the chief by the MOD) does not appear to be correct because no army cdr can claim a right to be appointed as COAS purely only on seniority alone by legal angle.A stitch in time saves nine.early action could have avoided this conroversary.Joe.

  4. my take on this entire row is that firstly army as an institution is larger than any indl even if it is the COAS. the controversy was justifed and acceptable if it had not been addsd in the past as per the rules on the subject. however as aggro brought out, as per rules it shud have been reported within two yrs , considering it an error of omition of a youngtster it cud have been reported after 5-10 or even 15 yrs but it being reported first time as a maj gen reeks of opportunism.After the issue has become so publicized the COAS accepting the MoD verdict with a comment that “i dont wish to contest the issue in the larger interest of the org’s reputation which is at stake” would have been most apt.
    however the lure of power at that level must be overriding all other issues which we always felt were the cornerstones of our institution.

  5. this chief did not know how to fill a form in class x,xi or xii, when he appeared for nda?
    and it took him a life time to correct this mistake, and that too at an opportune moment?
    why he did not file a stat on the verge of becoming army cdr?
    he was lying when he appeared for nda, or he was lying when he became army cdr, or he is lying now.
    which one you choose..?

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