Monday, 28 April 2014

Muddying the Olive Green Waters, Again?

Muddying the Olive Green Waters, Again?

Source:  Force magazine
Age No Bar
Gen. V.K. Singh should ensure that he is remembered for things other than his age
Pravin Sawhney

I feel sorry for the mess that the army chief, General V.K. Singh has got himself into on his age controversy. If only he had not made the blunder of allowing his predecessor General Deepak Kapoor to determine his fortune, he would not have come to this vexed pass, and the army, the hallowed institution he heads, would have been spared the ridicule of media and apathy of bureaucrats in the defence ministry.

I have not met the chief on this matter, but given the numerous reports and interest in the issue, the search engine Google has a separate page titled ‘General V.K. Singh age’ with abundant hits. Whatever the outcome of the confrontation which has been joined, the chief can still make lemonade for the army from the lemon that it appears to have got.

It was an open and shut case. Between his matriculation certificate and the NDA form, the legal opinion and commonsense would accept the former. Without doubt, his date of birth is 10 May 1951. Why at the time of his promotion to the rank of Lt. General did he commit to being a year older? He says that in true military tradition while accepting General Kapoor’s ruling, he urged him to be fair. Why should anyone be fair to General Singh when he has been unfair to himself! Herein lies the problem and tongues are waging. It is being said that he accepted his superior’s diktat as he was scared of being passed over for the higher rank. Having written twice to the military secretary after becoming Lt General, why did he not insist on age clarification before becoming the Chief of Army Staff? Did he want his cake and eat it too?

He has embarked on a confrontationist path with no possible compromise. After the rejection of his contention by the defence ministry, he has put in a statuary complaint with the defence minister, A.K. Antony. The said part of his complaint appeals to the minister’s good sense, while the unsaid part informs him that General Singh’s case is legally strong.

This, the chief has garnered opinion from four retired Chief Justices of India and a former Attorney General. He even did an overreach by persuading 37 Members of Parliament to meet the Prime Minister to consider his case sympathetically; they were told that the army should remain apolitical.

In turning down his earlier application, the defence ministry had sought legal opinion from the law minister, who ruled that the general’s written commitment had sealed the matter. Why will Antony give a contrary verdict on the chief’s statuary complaint? Surely, he is not intimidated by the obvious: armed with legal opinions in his favour, the chief may approach the judiciary for justice. If indeed this happens, as the build-up of events suggests, there would be a lot of mess. Antony could do a Vishnu Bhagwat on V.K. Singh; or the army’s succession plan could suffer. Even if the chief was to get a year’s extension, how would the army gain? I am sure the chief would have thought about the lemon that the army would get in this show-down. Given the importance of personalised relationship, the defence ministry would sit over army files than move them. Reports suggest that the army’s modernisation plans for raising formations for the eastern front have been stumped; the sought for amount is being questioned by the defence ministry.

SC defers Army Chief General VK Singh age row case, slams govt


Army Chief General Vijay Kumar Singh's petition on his date of birth has been adjourned by the Supreme Court till February 10, giving the General and the Central Government more time to resolve the controversy.
With the Supreme Court admitting General Singh's petition, the Army Chief has won round one of the battle. The apex court also criticised the government's handling of the controversy while directing the Attorney General of India to take instructions from the government on the December 30, 2011 order which fixed General Singh's date of birth as May 10, 1950. The court pointed out that there was no independent evaluation of General Singh's complaint.
The apex court said that the December 30 order relied on Attorney General Vahanvati's opinion given to the government and hence was not correct.
"We are of the prima facie view that decision making process of the government in disposing off General VK Singh's statutory complaint is vitiated. It seems that going to the Armed Forces Tribunal for the General may not be efficacious," the bench of Justices RM Lodha and HL Gokhale observed while pointing out that principles of natural justice were not followed in the matter.
The courtroom witnessed heated arguments with the Attorney General and the Solicitor General Rohinton F Nariman representing the Government of India while General Singh's lawyer was Uday Lalit.
The Supreme Court started by putting basic objections to the government on the stand that on July 21, 2011, it had determined General Singh's date of birth and on that order of the government, the General filed a statutory complaint and again, another order was passed on December 30, 2011.
Observing that the July 21 order was made on the opinion of the Attorney General and the December 30 opinion was again made on the opinion of the Attorney General, the Supreme Court said that this was against the principle of natural justice because the government had again sought the opinion of the person who was committed to one particular opinion.
Thirdly, the court also expressed the opinion that if the General was to go to the Armed Forces Tribunal or the High Court, it may not be efficacious because considering the Armed Forces Tribunal, there are Army officers who happen to be the General's junior, and then again there will be a conflict of interest.
So the Supreme Court took the view that the only option left for the General was to fight it out in the highest court of the land.
Before concluding its observations, the court directed the Attorney General to take a clear stand as to what the Government of India was going to do with the December 30, 2011 order and if they are going to withdraw it.
"Because we (the court) feel that principles of natural justice were not followed and whatever happens, please come back and tell us on Friday,” the court added.
Sources close to General Singh said that he was extremely happy with the Supreme Court's observations.
In an unprecedented move General Singh had on January 16, 2012 moved the Supreme Court to resolve the controversy over his date of birth.
There are two sets of General Singh's date of birth in the Army's records leading to a controversy and putting a question mark over when he would retire and the officer succeeding him to lead the 1.13 million strong fighting force.
General Singh contends that May 10, 1951 should be treated as his actual date of birth as it was mentioned in his matriculation certificate but the Defence Ministry has rejected it as May 10, 1950 is the date entered in his Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) form for the National Defence Academy.
The Adjutant Branch, Army's official record keeper, also records May 10, 1951 as General Singh date of birth and the same is mentioned in his Army ID card, driving licence, passport and other service records. Even all his Annual Confidential Reports since 1970 show May 10, 1951 as his date of birth.
But the Military Service Branch has another set of the General's date of birth showing that he was born on May 10, 1950 and this is the date that the Ministry of Defence has been insisting on as being official.
V.K. Singh makes final bid to derail Army succession
VISHAL THAPAR New Delhi | 19th Apr 2014
The first and the loudest to complain against news of the outgoing Manmohan Singh government initiating the process to select a new Army chief was General V.K. Singh, now transitioning to full-time politics as a BJP Lok Sabha contestant.
The protest was strange, particularly coming from a former Army chief himself. The long-established Indian tradition in appointing service chiefs is about respecting seniority, irrespective of which government is in power. Supersessions are a rare exception. In fact, Gen V.K. Singh himself is a beneficiary of this tradition. He was made Army chief on 1 April 2010, despite grave reservations expressed on record by his predecessor, Gen Deepak Kapoor, whose apprehensions were borne out by V.K. Singh's tumultuous and very controversial tenure.
Now, after the calm of V.K. Singh's successor Gen Bikram Singh's tenure, which is due to end in July, the succession tumult is returning to haunt the Army.
The current Vice-Chief, Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, will be the senior-most Army officer when Bikram Singh retires, and by dint of seniority and tradition, is the front-runner for Army chief, no matter which government is selecting a chief. And unlike the recent case of the Navy, where the senior-most Vice-Admiral, Shekhar Sinha was overlooked on grounds of "moral responsibility" following a spate of accidents under his command, there's no such obstacle in Suhag's path.
General V.K. Singh's objections would, thus, appear curious, unless seen in context. In case Suhag is discredited as a UPA favourite or otherwise ruled out, the next-in-line for appointment as chief is the Southern Army Commander, Lt Gen Ashok Singh, who is related to V.K. Singh through marriage. V.K. Singh's daughter is married to Ashok Singh's son.
While in office, Gen V.K. Singh targeted both Bikram Singh and Suhag with a ferocity which stunned even the biggest cynics in the Army. V.K. Singh not just disapproved of both Bikram and Suhag, but his tenure coincided with determined campaigns to derail the careers of both these officers who were in line to succeed him.
Curiously, Ashok Singh would be the beneficiary if either Bikram or Suhag's careers were aborted.
Training his guns first at Bikram, V.K. Singh had openly slammed the succession chain, which his supporters claimed had been rigged to put Sikhs as Army chiefs (incidentally, Suhag is not a Sikh). He pointed fingers at former Army chief, Gen J.J. Singh, incidentally the first Sikh Army chief, for having patronised a communal succession chain, also insinuating that this had the blessings of the Sikh Prime Minister. This charge was strongly denied by Gen J. J. Singh, who, ironically put V.K. Singh in the succession chain by promoting him Lt Gen in 2006. The baseline for an officer to come in contention for the post of Army chief is promotion to the rank of Lt General. Thereafter, how far an officer progresses is a factor of his age relative to those of his peers. There is no deep selection after promotion to 3-star rank (Lt General). Bikram Singh was promoted Lt General during the tenure of General Deepak Kapoor, who was not known to see eye-to-eye with J. J. Singh.
It was even loudly alleged by V.K. Singh's supporters that Bikram Singh was related to the Prime Minister through his wife. This was factually incorrect.
The campaign against Bikram Singh was given a distinctly communal overtone, but Bikram Singh was to face even more vicious charges. It was alleged, first by whisper and innuendo and then through a PIL, that he faked an encounter in Kashmir. The PIL was filed in the J&K High Court by an unknown NGO, which was later probed for its sources of funding which were allegedly linked to a rogue unit in Military Intelligence.
Bikram Singh's detractors even made an issue of his Muslim daughter-in-law, by wrongly insinuating that she was a Pakistani.
Had Bikram Singh not made it as Army chief, the next-in-line to succeed V.K. Singh would have been Lt Gen K. T. Parnaik, whose retirement schedule would have put V.K. Singh kin, Lt Gen Ashok Singh as the frontrunner after him.
Bikram Singh survived the campaign against him, unprecedented in the Indian Army for its viciousness and communal colour. It was then that Lt Gen Dalbir Suhag came in the line of fire.
In March 2012, on the day the then Chinese President Hu Jintao was in New Delhi for the BRICS Summit, Gen V.K. Singh asked the CBI to probe Dalbir Suhag for alleged corruption in the procurement of parachutes during his tenure as Inspector General in the China-specific special force, the SFF. India has always denied to the Chinese the existence of this force, and ironically, the cover was blown off this secret force by V.K. Singh. This organisation was all over the headlines the day Hu Jintao was in town. The CBI threw out this complaint as frivolous.
V.K. Singh reserved his frontal assault on Dalbir Singh Suhag for the last week of his tenure. On the basis of a complaint of theft of a mobile during a low-level Military Intelligence raid on a suspected ULFA hideout led by a female captain in Jorhat in late 2011, V.K. Singh put Dalbir Singh on a promotion ban (Discipline & Vigilance ban) without first subjecting him to an inquiry. Dalbir, then commander of 3 Corps, was accused of (a) lapse of command. Despite approval by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet of his promotion to the rank of Army Commander, which would put him in the line of succession, he was rendered ineligible by this unexpected ban by V.K. Singh. This ban was revoked by General Bikram Singh soon after taking over as chief.
No prizes for guessing who the immediate beneficiary of the relegation of Dalbir Singh Suhag would have been: Lt Gen Ashok Singh.
An Army court of inquiry ultimately ended with indicting a havildar for stealing a mobile during the Jorhat raid, on the basis of which V.K. Singh wanted to unsettle the chain of succession to the post of Army chief.
Another interesting nugget on the V.K. Singh-Ashok Singh bonding was the troop movement to the outskirts of Delhi in January 2012 which "spooked" the UPA government and left it suspecting the intention of the Army chief at the height of his confrontation with the government over his age. A regiment of armoured vehicles from the Hisar-based 33 Armoured Division was moved to Delhi's periphery, causing much consternation and making the Defence Secretary summon the DG Military Operations to explain the movement. This unit was under 1 Corps, which was then commanded by Lt Gen Ashok Singh. V.K. Singh's headquarters dismissed this as a routine exercise. A bit curiously, neither the South-Western Army Commander (to which 1 Corps reports) nor the Western Army Commander (under whose command the Delhi Area falls) was aware of this movement when the matter was brought to their notice by intelligence agencies.
Gen V.K. Singh's renewed attack on Dalbir Singh comes in the final stages of the Defence Ministry processing the succession after Gen Bikram Singh. V.K. Singh has reiterated his severe reservations on Dalbir Singh, a soldier of humble origins, who is now being painted by some as a UPA general.
Why BJP will keep General VK Singh at arm’s length
Tuesday, 22 April 2014 - 12:54pm IST | Agency: DNA
Former Army Chief and now BJP candidate from Ghaziabad, General VK Singh, is no stranger to controversies. After wading through the long list of questions which were raised by both, the judiciary and media alike, Singh is back in the news, this time criticising the outgoing UPA government’s decision to appoint Admiral RK Dhowan as the new Navy Chief, and continuing the process of appointing Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag as the new Chief of Army. 
In a recent article in The Sunday Guardian titled ‘VK Singh makes final bid to derail army succession’, journalist Vishal Thapar highlighted instances that showcase Singh as a person who managed to bring vengeful politics and communal opportunism within the top ranks of the Indian Army. Thapar portrays Singh as an uncharacteristic soldier, who looked to benefit familial ties within the army and went to what seem like great lengths to make his agendas successful. These lengths include the audacious report of an army troop movement near Delhi which “spooked” the government. 
After his retirement from the army, these very traits of General Singh were seen in the political sphere as he tried to make space for himself. First, he tried to make his space in the early parts of whatever it was that was brewing between Anna Hazare and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC). In fact, General Singh even approached experts for help in order to create a proper strategy route-map for what he was hoping was going to be a new political front. However, as the Hazare-Banerjee ship sank, Gen Singh managed to make his way into the BJP instead. 
For the BJP, inducting Gen Singh was not a tough decision in view of their ticket distribution policy, which is based on a ‘whichever candidate can win’ point of view. Plus, the General’s Rajput background was ideal for the Ghaziabad seat, which was vacated by another BJP veteran who is a Rajput, and whose name is also now cropping up for the post of India’s next defence minister. Though doubts remain whether Gen Singh will actually win in Ghaziabad, a seat where the BSP is also expected to make an impact this time, the hope that his army background will attract votes has been seen as a clever move. Irrespective of his troublesome background in the ranks, electorally in a place like Ghaziabad, all such matters that made news in New Delhi would not have had a big impact at the polling booths. 
However, opinions suggesting that Gen Singh will be awarded with a plush post if Narendra Modi was to become the prime minister, such as defence as some passing remarks suggest, are far-fetched and devoid of logic. The reasons behind this are many, including the institutional practices of the BJP as a party itself.  
Gen Singh is a new entrant into the party, and this will drop his chances of being picked up for any major assignment in a new BJP-led government ahead of the party’s career politicians. Second, Narendra Modi, in his defence and foreign affairs bend, will look to have a bold and scientific policy, which is traditionally expected of a BJP-led government. Gen Singh’s hawkish personality will not be seen as an ideal fit. Third, his skewed service record and the general unease that his name creates within the bureaucracy, specifically in the Ministry of Defence and the Indian Army, will work heavily against him. Lastly, culturally speaking, major posts in a BJP government are given to well-tested candidates who also have the blessings of the RSS. 
Gen Singh is technically perfectly cut out for a life in politics. However, the fact that he first showcased these traits in a sacrosanct institution such as the Indian Army has created big stumbling blocks for him for a successful and far-reaching political career, at least in the immediate future. 
The BJP will hope for his win in Ghaziabad and that is the region where Gen Singh will be contained in as far as party work is concerned, although his expertise will come in use for the government in areas such as parliamentary committees and so on. If Narendra Modi does become the next occupant of 7 Race Course Road, he will be coming into power bearing the weight of huge expectations on his shoulders. The margin of error for Modi will be next to nil, and to protect himself, he will build his decision-making circle with faces he trusts without question. People, in the opposing political parties, the public and certain colleagues of his within the BJP, will be waiting for one misstep to seize an opportunity for themselves, and Modi will be made to work hard to avoid giving away any such opportunities.  
 Kabir Taneja, 28, is a Delhi-based journalist and scholar at The Takshashila Institution. He tweets at @KabirTaneja.

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