""" I served in the Army for forty years, the first few years underBritish rule. We were taught never to discuss politics or financial matters in the officers’ mess. No lady’s name other than a celebrity like Queen Victoria could be mentioned. After the Cromwell interlude, when the Parliament was sent packing, the British Army kept itself scruplously apolitical. In India this was all the more necessary when the freedom movement started and Indians started being inducted into the officer cadre. We were taught that the Army was a class apart. We were different from boxwalas (word of contempt for businessmen) and should not discuss money matters. Orders had to be carried out in the spirit of the Charge of the Light Brigade, immortalised by Tennyson. Service before self was to be our motto. Our first Indian Chief ensured that those high traditions were upheld despite the upheaval and turmoil of Partition, when the Army had to be vivisected and young officers with little experience, had to suddenly replace senior British officers.
Two instances affecting the officers of my generation underscore their sense of loyalty and discipline. The first pertained to our emoluments and the second to the reckoning of the seniority of a certain category of officers. In the civil, our counterparts in the ICS and IP were allowed to retain their higher emoluments that they were drawing in the British regime. Their successors, recruited post Independence in the IAS and IPS, were given reduced scales of pay. In the case of the Army, the scales of pay of officers recruited before Independence were also drastically reduced to the new scales formulated for post Independence entrants. To highlight what this meant, I may quote specific figures. I was a Major on the staff drawing Rs 1,065 per month. Overnight my salary was reduced to Rs 700 per month. Sardar Patel wrote on 22 March 1947 that this was very unfair to army officers. Finance maintained that whereas in the case of civilian officers, the numbers involved were very small, they were very large in the Army. The Government could not bear the heavy financial burden. The second issue pertained to officers commissioned below the age of 21. During the Second World War, the minimum age of recruitment had been reduced to 18. It was arbitrarily decided that officers commissioned below 21, will have to forfeit nine months seniority for seniority and pension. The reason given was that during the war, the period of cadet training for officers had been reduced by nine months. This was unconvincing. All officers, irrespective of age, had done the same duration of cadet training during the war. If any of us had gone to court on these two issues, these unfair orders would have been struck down. No one took recourse to legal action because that was against the culture of the Army. We accepted these Government decisions with a stiff upper lip.
During the unfortunate raging controversy on the date of birth of the Army Chief, much misinformed criticism was made about the seniority principle for the promotion of Army Commanders to Army Chief. Some said that this only promoted nepotism and ignored merit at the apex level. They were obviously not aware of the background and history behind it and also the fact that merit hardly gets sidelined in promotion at this level. Lord Curzon was one of the most capable Viceroys of India and Field Marshal Lord Kitchener one of the most distinguished C-in-Cs of the Indian Army. The two Titans clashed over the functioning of the higher Defence set up in India. Kitchener argued that just as there was only one and not two Home Members or Finance Members, there should be one army officer and not two in the Viceroy’s Executive Council. Apart from the C-in-C, there was also a relatively much junior army officer in the rank of Major General, the Military Member, in the Council. What is more, all papers going from the C-in-C to the Viceroy had to be rooted through the Military Member, who would comment upon them. Curzon maintained that civil was supreme and he must have advice from two military sources before taking a decision, otherwise he would get reduced to a rubber stamp. The British Government upheld the views of Kitchener and Curzon resigned. It was now realised that the C-in-C would become too powerful. To prevent this, it was decided that on all important policy matters, the C-in-C would forward recommendations to the Government after consulting the Army Commanders. If any Army Commander had a contrary view, that will also be conveyed to the Government with the comments of the Chief. To ensure the independence of Army Commanders, it was laid down that the C-in- C would not write annual reports on Army Commanders, nor recommend who should succeed him. The Government was required to select the senior Army Commander for appointment as Chief, unless there was some specific reason for not doing so, like health or misconduct. This practice obtained till Independence and got confirmed in the process of appointing the first Indian officer as Chief of the Army. Cariappa was the senior Army Commander and was due to take over as Chief. Sardar Patel was inclined to have Rajendra Sinhji, one place junior to him, appointed as Chief. He was the brother of the Jam Saheb of Navanagar, who as Chancellor of Chamber of Princes, had worked closely with the Sardar in integrating the Princely States. The Hyderabad operation undertaken at the instance of Sardar Patel, had been so successfully executed under the overall command of Rajendra Sinhji. When the latter heard of this he sought an interview with Jawaharlal Nehru and told him that he would resign if he was appointed the Chief. Cariappa was senior to him and his supersession will not only send a wrong message but may also lead to political interference in the selection of Army Chief, which was not in the interest of maintaining the apolitical stance of the Army. Nehru saw the point and Cariappa was appointed the Chief. As for the argument that by adhering to the seniority principle, merit gets ignored, this should be viewed in the light of the overall promotion system in the Army The Army has a highly pyramidical rank structure. There are six levels of selection for promotion from Major to Army Commander. At each level due consideration is given to merit. On the average, 30 per cent officers get selected on the basis of merit and seniority and 70 per cent get dropped. At the end of such a strict selection process beforing Army Commander, relative merit need not be made a determining factor. The seniority principle at this stage helps in ensuring that the Army remains apolitical, as it does in the case of the Chief Justice in the Supreme Court to ensures the independence of judiciary.
There have been two exceptions to the seniority rule in appointing Army Chief. One was more a case of manipulation and the other an outright supersession. Lt Gen P S Bhagat, a Victoria Cross winner and a brilliant General was overlooked. Manekshaw had to be given a short extension due to the 1971 war. That ate into the tenure of his successor, General Bewoor. At the last minute when everyone was expecting Bhagat to take over, Bewoor was given a short extension to compensate him for his loss. This eased out Bhagat because of his age. There was much disappointment in the Army. Bhagat accepted this decision with a stiff upper lip. The second instance was in 1983. I was the senior Army Commander and had been brought as Vice Chief to Delhi, a liitle before the then Chief, General Krishna Rao, was due to retire. He told me that I should understudy him as I would soon be taking over. Suddenly Indira Gandhi decided to supersede me. I immediately put in my papers. A MP raised this issue in the Parliament saying that I had been passed over because of my views in dealing with Bhindranwala and my father’s close relationship with Jayaprakash Naryayan (JP). I had not complied with the request of Punjab Govt to sending tanks and troops to Mehta Chowk Gurudwara, where Bhindranwala was in residence with some forty riflemen. Subsequently Chief Minister Darbara Singh had approached Indira Gandhi and she had issued orders that the Army should be asked to carry out that operation forthwith the same night. I represented that I be given more time to execute the order and suggested this task be carried out by Punjab Police. The Prime Minister agreed to change her order. This happened more than a year before Operation Blues Star which took place after I had quit the Army. As for my connection with JP, my father and he had studied together in College at Patna and were good friends. During drought in Bihar, JP had set up a NGO for carrying out relief and my father worked in an honorary capacity with him. On JP’s death, he had taken over as the President of that NGO. Six leading Opposition MPs including former Prime Minister Chaudhry Charan Singh and former Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram had issued a joint statement criticisng my supersession. All this led to much controversy in the Press and the issue was also raised in the Parliament. Earler, for the first and only time three Suprem Court Judges had been superseded while appointing Chief Justice of the apex court. The three Judges resigned. The Opposition alleged that the Government wanted a committed judiciary and a committed army. The then Defence Minister desired that I meet the Press. Some journalists accompanied by the Chief PRO of the Ministry came to me. I gave a short statement, “I do not question the decision of the Government. I accept it. I have decided to fade away from the Army. General Vaidya chosen to be the Chief is a friend of mine and a competent General. I am sure the Indian Army will flourish under his able leadership.”
*** Against the background of the culture and traditions of the Indian Army, I shall discuss the broad contours of the age controversy of the Army Chief, on the basis of what I have gleaned from media reports. There is irrefutable documentary evidence for 1951 being the year of birth of General V K Singh. Military Hospital Pune where he was born, attests this and so does his father Lt Col Singh’s service record. His school leaving certificate also endorses this. However, by error he filled 1950 as his year of birth in his application form for joining the NDA. He was asked to produce his school leaving certificate which, for reasons beyond his control, took some time. Whereas his record of service with Adjutant General’s (AG) Branch has the correct year, it appears that through clerical error, the wrong year of birth remained in NDA and later IMA records. Thus, the erroneous year got into his record with the Militray Secretary’s (MS) Branch. Year after year the annual Army List issued by the MS Branch had been showing 1950 as V K Singh’s year of birth. It is strange that he appears not to have made any effort to get this error corrected for over thirty years. In 2006 when he took up this issue and wrote to MS Branch, his request was turned down on the ground that Defence Service Regulations did not allow any change in an officer’s date of birth after three years service. Age is not a factor in selecting officers for promotion in the Army because with every promotion an officer’s retirement gets extended by two years. Promotions are made on the basis of seniority and merit of officers. Although age may not be a factor for promotion to Army Chief, it determines the length of tenure of the Chief, who retires at the age of 62 or tenure of three years, whichever is earlier. The retirement age for Army Commanders is 60 and as they are to be promoted Chief on the basis of seniority, a change in date of birth of a senior officer at such a late stage may affect the selection of an Army Commander to Chief. In 2006 as a Major General V K Singh was approaching the apex level any change in his date of birth would have a bearing on others. This could be an additional reason for MS Branch not to change his date of birth at that late stage. Resultantly, the correct date of birth remained in AG’s Branch Records, which is the recognized authority for maintaining officer’s records, while MS Branch responsible for postings and promotions, continued to have the erroneous date. At this stage something very bizarre happened. Higher authorities for obvious mala fide intention demanded a written commitment from V K Singh that he accepted the erroneous date for his year of birth before he could be considered for further promotion. The justification trotted out for this was that otherwise the succession plan for Army Chief would be disturbed. Army Headquarters should not be making a succession plan. As already brought out, an outgoing Chief is not required to recommend as to who should succeed him. How then should anyone in the Army legitimately work on a succession plan for Army Chief? Nor would it be appropriate for Ministry of Defence to work on a succession plan. It will tantamount to crossing a bridge before reaching it. This can lead to nepotism and politicising the Army. The Ministry should exercise its right to select a successor to a Chief at the appropriate time. All this got further compounded by V K Singh on three different occasions, giving written undertakings that he accepted his erroneous date of birth. In his justification it may be said that he succumbed to the lure of promotion, a common human weakness, but this did not show strength of character.
On taking over as Chief, V K Singh took up the issue of his date of birth as a matter affecting his honour and integrity, neither of which was being questioned by anyone. The matter could have been resolved by a discussion across the table with the Defence Minister, particularly when at a later stage he clarified that he was not seeking to get the error rectified for the sake of getting his tenure extended. The Defence Minister should have done what the Supreme Court did later. Anyway, VK Singh took the unprecedented step of first submitting a statutory complaint and then filing a case in the Supreme Court. No Chief in any democracy had ever taken such a step and that too for a personal reason and not a national issue or an issue affecting the Army as a whole. No doubt as a citizen in a democracy he had the legal right to take these steps but this was not in keeping with the dignity of his high office and the valued traditions of the Army. It could have an adverse effect by Army personnel getting encouraged to tak their personal issues to court. A mature and respected political leader like the Defence Minister, appears to have got misguided by his bureaucrats. The latter showed not only myopic vision in dealing with this sensitive issue concerning the Chief, but also lamentable arrogance of power. Undated letter signed by a low level bureaucrat in the Ministry issuing orders to the AG, a staff officer of the Chief concerning the Chief, showed not only arrogance but also ignorance. No wonder the Supreme Court had to direct the Ministry to withdraw its two letters which did little credit to it. While the controversy was raging for months and was also being covered in the international Press, the Government at the highest level remained a mute spectator. Mercifully the Supreme Court delivering Solomon justice put a lid on the controversy. The issue became a case of no winner, losers all.
We need to take stock of certain developments that took place in the wake of the Chief’s age controversy. It was shocking that twenty Rajput MPs met the Prime Minister to plead for the Chief, on the basis of his caste. Grenadiere Ex-Service Association of Haryana meant for looking after personnel of the Grenadiers Regiment, filed a PIL in Supreme Court for a Chief who is from the Rajput Regiment. This was rightly rejected by the apex court. A retired Major General filed a case against V K Singh for making adverse remarks in his annual confidential report as a result of which, he claimed that he was denied promotion. He alleged that this was done because while serving in MS Branch, he had not agreed to change the Chief’s date of birth. There was a sharp divide among serving and retired army officers, one opposing what the Chief had done and the latter vehemently supporting him. I feel that the latter had pent up feelings because for the last many decades, the civil bureaucracy in the Ministry had been so unfair and unjust to the Army. There has been increasing marginalisation of the military over decision making in military matters, constant downgrading of the protocol status of military officers in relation to civil servants, denying one rank one pension and a host of other such instances. Field Marshal Manekshaw was given his arrears of pay of 1.2 crores only after 32 long years, a few weeks before his death. A Field Marshal is not accorded a protocol status at par with a Cabinet Secretary and a number of Principal Secretaries, leave alone a rightful place much higher than them. The funeral of Manekshaw, the architect of India’s unprecedented decisive victory in the past thousand years or more, was organized in a most unbecoming manner. Leave alone the Prime Minister, no Cabinet Minister attended it. The funeral of the first British Field Marshal, the Duke of Wellington, was attended by several Heads of States and Governments. The age controversy became a good occasion for many army officers to give vent to their suppressed anger against the Ministry. The Government must take note of all this and take suitable corrective measures to address legitimate grievances. As a first step in that direction, our higher defence organization must be rationalised and brought in line with other democracies of the world. The sooner this is done the better. And within the Army, every effort should be made to preserve the ethics and ethos of the Indian Army.""""
(SOURCE-Facebook © 2012)