Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022

The Shikhandi Salvo

So what do we make of the latest reports of the ministry of defence ordering the Adjutant General to change the date of birth of Gen V.K. Singh to 10 May 1950 (from 1951), through an undated letter signed by a Deputy Secretary level officer?

It was pathetic to watch our white washed cricket team in Australia sending very young members to face the media, but did the Ministry of Defence ( MoD) have to follow suit?

Media is abuzz with MoD ordering the Adjutant General to change the date of birth of Gen V.K. Singh to 10 May, 1950 (from 1951), through an undated letter signed by a Deputy Secretary level officer— K.L. Nandwani. It is not known how long Nandwani has been in MoD but he obviously has absolutely no idea of what are the charter and authority of various branches of Army Headquarters. Had he educated himself, he would have known that Adjutant General’s Branch is the sole authority for service records and he should have directed this note to Military Secretary Branch to reconcile the age of Gen V.K. Singh with the Adjutant General.

Nandwani should also know what the laws of India concerning date of birth are and that a flourish of a deputy secretary’s pen cannot wipe off 42 years of records of age of Gen V.K. Singh in his Service Records including of NDA and IMA, casualty of birth published by 14 Rajput (his Father’s unit), grant of commission to him by the President of India, service identity card issued on commissioning, all promotion boards including elevation to Army Chief based on 10 May 1951, all decorations awarded to the officer by President of India based on 10 May 1951, and the like.

Does Nandwani hallucinate he actually has such dictatorial powers— similar to the fellow who hallucinated in 2006 that Indian Army is his personal fiefdom and decided who should be Army Chief in 2012. Surely Nandwani should know that even the Defence Minister or the Defence Secretary cannot write to the Personal Branch of the ministry / government to reduce or increase the age of Nandvani just because they like or do not like the colour of his eyes. Changes in date of birth in Service Records cannot be changed in this manner. This is not child’s play.

Isn’t this the last Shikhandi salvo fired before the case goes to Supreme Court on 3rd February— to somehow get an undertaking from the Adjutant General (saam, daam, danD, bhed) that date of birth of Gen V.K. Singh is 10 May 1950, so that the Army Chief’s petition falls flat? For some time, media has been covering the issue of MoD having ordered the Military Secretary to hold an inquiry in conjunction with the Adjutant General into the issue of date of birth of Gen V.K. Singh and that inquiry was never held. The response from MoD has been a stoic silence. Now Nandwani writes that the MS informed MoD in 2008 that:

"A detailed examination in consultation with AG’s branch with regard to verification of date of birth in respect of IC-24173W Lt Gen V.K. Singh, AIVSM, YSM has been carried out and that date of birth in respect of the officer continues to be maintained as 10 May 1950”.

Well Mr Nandvani, why did MoD not ask for the so called “detailed investigation” report or more importantly not cross check with the Adjutant General knowing full well that Adjutant General is the authority in this matter? How come MoD takes what a MS says as gospel truth but shows scant respect to the Service Record of an Army Chief that has never changed in the last 42 years?

Your final missive of “strict compliance without further loss of time and a compliance report be sent to this Ministry be sent at the earliest” implies what? Are you expecting to sack the Adjutant General for ‘non compliance’ hoping the Army Chief will resign in disgust? Perhaps you have no idea what ‘sub judice’ implies. Ashok Kapur, a veteran colleague of yours quotes Winston Churchill and talks of a “trade union of Generals”. That may have happened in Britain but what about the ‘trade union of bureaucrats in India’ with zero accountability?

The complicity of bureaucrats of MoD in this entire dirty episode is unmistakable— for it is the bureaucratic advice that the polity goes by even when stepping out of line. The public should know that dismissal orders in respect of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat commenced with “The President is pleased to ………………” but isn’t it because of the bureaucratic advice that before issue of such orders, the case was not even referred to the President of India? In fact, the then President of India at a later date said that had the case come to him, he would have asked for a review.

The military has no compunctions about civilian supremacy but don’t confuse civilian supremacy with bureaucratic supremacy. The latter has been the bane of India and it is in this context that civil-military relations need to be righted.