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.