The controversy cropped up over the actual date of birth of the current Army Chief Gen. V K Singh has put him and the government in an embarrassing situation. The age row seems to have baffled the government as the Prime Minister categorically denied to comment in this connection stating that the issue is very sensitive. With Defence Minister A K Antony toeing the PM’s line opined that the matter would be sorted out by the Supreme Court, the hope of averting legal slugfest between the government and the Army chief has dashed. General Singh while approaching the Supreme Court to seek justice over his age dispute exposed a sheer lack of trust between the government and the General, but it also reminds the dispute between Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat and the government during the NDA regime resulting in dismissal of the former. The dispute between the Army Chief and the government also erupted in the past that came to public domain, but this is the first instance where the Army Chief has moved the Supreme Court seeking its intervention in this regard. The age row is not a normal issue, but it is difficult to know why has this situation surfaced?

While the Congress and other parties have admitted that General V K Singh’s case is very serious, the Opposition is not relenting from turning the heat on the government. The entire episode has driven home a message that the government has landed in the soup because of its slackness. In fact, the dispute over date of birth of Gen V K Singh was not such a big issue which deserved a great deal of ado, though it has become albatross for the government. General Singh claims that his actual date of birth is May 10, 1951 and his high school certificate and other related documents also vouch for it. But according to the official documents available with the Army, his date of birth is May 10, 1950. Actually, it so happened that his application form for joining Indian Army was filled by his teacher who mistakenly mentioned May 10, 1951 as his date of birth. However, the mistake should have been corrected in the beginning as the information regarding armed personnel is deemed to be very important, unluckily it was not done. In the Army, even one day seniority matters a lot. Surprisingly, the mistake was not corrected even when General V K Singh got his first promotion after joining the Army. He was promoted across the ranks on the ground of his date of birth 10 May, 1950. Even after he was elevated to the Army chief, the mistake was not heeded upon.

During the selection for the Army chief, the career record of the concerned Army officer gets scanned thoroughly. The panel which appoints the Army chief is headed by the Prime Minister. The controversy over General Singh’s date of birth had appeared before the panel but neither the government nor the Army was in a position to answer Why General Singh’s age dispute could not be sorted out in time? The issue became complex following General V K Singh’s claims that he had tried to get the mistake corrected however, he was forced to consider 1950 as his date of birth. It is really difficult to quash his claims, though simultaneously it is pertinent how can the voice of such a top army officer be silenced? It is even much bigger question, how did he accept his promotion without sorting out age issue? He must have given his nod for his date of birth May 10, 1950 during his elevation to the Army chief, why did not he get it changed then ? If his actual year of birth is 1951 and he was elevated as the army chief considering his year of birth as 1950, it shows that he was benefitted at the time when he had actually not attained the required seniority in the department. If his year of birth was not accepted as 1950, though it is incorrect according to V K Singh, it is understood that he might not have been appointed as the chief of Indian army. He was free to mount pressure on the correction of his official record, but the fact remains that by accepting the promotion on the basis of 1950 as his date of birth, he distorted the claims of his other colleagues vying for the top post. Even now, if his date of birth is considered as 1951 in place of 1950, it will again have an impact on the claims of other officers for the post of General. In this context, it becomes very important to answer the question if General V K Singh was promised correction for his date of birth at the time of his appointment as the Army chief? If so, then why not the correction was made?

However, General V K Singh refutes the allegations that by making correction of his date of birth he is desirous to continue as Army chief for another one year, eventually it is very difficult to accept his claims that he is fighting for his self-esteem rather than his personal gains. After all he has held the top post in the Army and there is no controversy pertaining to his service rendered to the nation and the department, then how can a controversy over his date of birth be an issue of self-esteem for him? If he had not raised the issue, no controversy would have appeared and he would have retired from his office in a well-dignified manner. He should not feel sad for not being allowed to have correction for his date of birth as he has already enjoyed all benefits on the basis of his wrong date of birth of 1950. These benefits would not have come to him, had his date of birth been considered as 1951.

Now even the government has agreed to let the Apex Court decide over the issue and rejecting a PIL in this matter, the Supreme Court has already indicated that General V K Singh’s petition would be taken into consideration pertaining to age issue. It is advised to wait till the Court comes with a decision in this regard. The government could not fend off the perplexing question, why such small issue snowballed into a big controversy. Now the issue is not only confined to age row of the Army chief, rather it has emerged as an issue of lack of trust between the government and the Army chief. Whatever be the Apex Court’s verdict in this matter and the government’s decision over General V K Singh’s fate, it is quite apparent that the issue is not going to die down so easily. 

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on January 22, 2012 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)