Respected Prime Minister,
Most people, including myself, believe that old soldiers should just fade away. Ever since retiring from the Indian Army as the Western Army Commander and subsequently having served as the governor of Manipur and Nagaland, I firmly held that we have had our innings and matters were best left to those who followed us. However, after giving it considerable thought, I take the liberty in all due respect of writing this 'open letter' to my Prime Minister for like hundreds and thousands of my brother officers— both retired and serving— I am deeply concerned about what today is talked about as the 'Age Controversy.'
In my book, leadership, be it in matters military or otherwise, is based on three simple principles— righteousness, decisiveness and fairness. All three of these seem to have been vitiated in this particular case. There is no doubt that all records, both in the MS and AGs branch, until 2006 clearly reflected 1951 as the Chief's date of birth. Based on an erroneous entry in the Army List, after the officer had already been cleared for the rank of Lieutenant General, first the MS branch records and then the AG's records were tampered with. To my mind and understanding, this is the simple crux of the issue and I fail to understand what sort of message has been given to the rank and file of the Indian Army by your government’s inability to resolve it.
To hide behind the legal system— the retraction of the government’s rejection of the Statutory Complaint frankly left the Chief’s lawyers with no choice but to withdraw their petition— and for the media and your government to project this as a defeat for General V.K. Singh is indulging in theatrical politics. Like many of my brother officers, after the media blitz that reported on the Supreme Court’s deliberations, I too felt that the Chief should immediately resign in protest. However, once the Order of the Honourable Court came out five days later— without any TV channel or newspaper reporting it— the shoe seems to be on the other foot. By not resigning and continuing with his job despite what was widely projected as a ‘public humiliation’, V.K. Singh has shown a degree of personal courage that makes me proud of the man and by extension, the Indian Army. Had he resigned, it would have been a petulant act. We must not forget that there is a lot more to the office of the COAS than just the age issue.
Today, Mr Prime Minister, many would like to bury this issue and may accuse me of flogging a dead horse. However, it is my duty as an elder who has served my country to the best of my ability, to point out to you that once the smoke settles, you will be asked why you let this happen. In a system that is reeling from endless corruption charges, where many have learnt to bend with the wind, one man stood up for what he considered wrong. The ‘system’ may have closed in around him and, in the short term, defeated him by denying him justice. But you, Mr Prime Minister, are today being seen as the person who is not only shielding the perpetrators of this original crime, but also protecting the beneficiary of this blatant manipulation.
I have had the honour of interacting with you when you were the finance minister of our country. I have always found you to be a man who could quickly grasp the larger picture and resolutely follow your convictions. Since Independence, the civil-military equation in this country has evolved in its own unique way, perhaps creating certain imbalances which need to be looked at for like the ‘age issue’, these too cannot be wished away. In a fractured and fragmented country that came together in 1947 as the Union of India, I can say with great pride that the Indian Army managed to retain its secular and non-communal outlook. This has to be protected at all costs! In your watch, if all the lions were to get up and go, the wind will say, I told you so!
Lt General VK Nayar, PVSM, SM (retd)