This selfish sipah salar must go

Published: January 21, 2012
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The writer is a director with Hill Road Media and a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar 
aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

The writer is a director with Hill Road Media and a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

Backed by feudal and martial Punjabis, the general presses his case in court.

He pressures the government into extending his term. He clings to office, denying promotion to his brother officers. He puts the army in confrontation with the government and he does so for personal honour. We’re not talking of Pakistan here, incidentally.

India’s army chief General VK Singh wants the Supreme Court to change his official year of birth from 1950 to 1951. This will help him stay as chief for another year. 1950 is the year he himself filled on his service commission form. 1951 is on his school-leaving certificate. He has been promoted on the basis of the earlier date, which he says he filled by mistake when he joined the army. On learning of the problem before he was made general, the defence ministry pressed him three times to accept 1950 as the official date or face action. Three times Gen Singh said he would accept the government’s decision. This was discovered in 2006 and Gen Singh then wrote: “Whatever decision is taken in the organisational interest is acceptable to me.”

On receiving this assurance from the soldier, presumably a man of his word, the government promoted him to full general. Once he got what he wanted, he turned nasty.

The organisational interests have now aligned with the army chief’s personal interests. Gen Singh claims that this is a battle for honour and integrity and not tenure. And yet in court he demands that the government change the date and “grant all consequential reliefs thereto”. What might these reliefs be? The extension of his term.

Granting this will mean that other generals will lose out on the chance to become army chief. The army’s succession pattern will be disturbed.

The former chief minister of Punjab Captain (retd) Amrinder Singh, inheritor of the abolished kingdom of Patiala, has come out in support of Gen Singh. A Congress politician, he is angling for the votes of retired and serving faujis from Punjab, which goes to the polls in the next few weeks. He believes India’s soldiers are all in favour of Gen Singh. The army chief’s supporters make the claim that in this tawdry matter of Gen Singh’s extension, the morale of the army will be affected. Really? Are our jawans so fragile? Will Singh’s serving another ten months restore their fighting spirit? And if their morale is actually being affected, should their boss not put the army’s interests before his own honour? Instead he has sneaked off to court.

Gen Singh is not known for his restraint or his thoughtfulness. This is to be expected from soldiers, but he’s our most senior warrior and should know better than shoot his mouth off.

After Marines killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Gen Singh was asked by journalists if India could carry out such a military operation. “I would like to say that only this that if such a chance comes, then all three arms (of the military) are competent to do this,” he said.

What was the need to say this? It is difficult to understand.

On Anna Hazare’s circus Gen Singh said this was “the power of democracy”. No, it wasn’t. Rousing a mob against parliament is not democratic, it is a challenge to rule of law.

How does such a man become India’s army chief? It is of course because of India’s seniority rule. This is how the bureaucracy is also promoted. While it may have its merits, chief among them being stability, it does mean that often someone less than competent will ascend to the top job.

This isn’t about his date of birth, and Gen Singh knows that. If the government thought he had been lying about it, he would have been court-martialled. For him to say that he is being accused of fudging it is a lie.

It certainly isn’t about his honour and integrity. He will retire as army chief and the perks that go with it. What more honour does a soldier expect from his nation?

If it really was about his personal honour, he should have stepped down and then gone to court instead of recklessly putting his institution through this trauma.

He can still do that.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Vicram Singh
    Jan 21, 2012 - 11:31PM

    Let the truth about his date of birth prevail.

    Recommend

  • Arindom
    Jan 21, 2012 - 11:40PM

    Agree with you on the selfish General. But not your reckless comment on Anna…..

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  • Topak Khan
    Jan 21, 2012 - 11:40PM

    Oo for a sec I thought ET has started digging its own grave :)

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  • Mirza
    Jan 22, 2012 - 12:25AM

    It is a great thing to see that Indian courts and media can debate even the most personal things like DOB of the army chief. Nice to see a paid govt servant treated like one and not the master. Thanks for the Op Ed.

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  • Shah
    Jan 22, 2012 - 12:39AM

    Not always an admirer of your crap shoot, I must say you are right on the money about every thing you said in this piece,including Anna. Good job.

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  • G. Din
    Jan 22, 2012 - 12:43AM

    “On Anna Hazare’s circus Gen Singh said this was “the power of democracy”. No, it wasn’t. Rousing a mob against parliament is not democratic, it is a challenge to rule of law.”
    So Gandhi, your fellow Gujrati, also was not being democratic when he “roused” the people of India, is that it? He also challenged “rule of law”, didn’t he? If a mob comes from every corner of the country, it is DEMOCRACY in its purest elemental form, my friend. Parliament is only a handmaiden of the ultimate sovereign, the people of India That is how fascist communist governments were toppled, by “mobs” in the streets. That is how Arab Spring burst upon the scene. Go, get an education before shooting your mouth off!Recommend

  • Umer
    Jan 22, 2012 - 12:45AM

    Hugely disappointed that it’s not what I thought it was as at our side of the border selfishness knows no bounds.

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  • Finding Memo
    Jan 22, 2012 - 3:43AM

    Well not every army chief is as awesome as General Kiyani

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  • Arifq
    Jan 22, 2012 - 4:46AM

    Matter of national honor, state security and morale of the troops. Now where have I heard this before? Hmmm

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  • Amjad Cheema
    Jan 22, 2012 - 5:49AM

    Yes Akhtar Patel u r absolutely right.
    Rousing a mob against parliament is also fascism. I agee with your comments about ANNA also.

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  • C. Nandkishore
    Jan 22, 2012 - 5:59AM

    Yes. Completely agree with the Author. An army chief is a decision maker.Recommend

  • S
    Jan 22, 2012 - 6:12AM

    @G. Din:

    Really, Mahatma Gandhi and Anna Hazare? For your enlightenment, Gandhi agitated against
    an authoratarian foreign government imposed by overlords from London. Hazare’s mob rises against a democratically elected government chosen by the people of India by their own free will. Are you really so dumb that you don’t see the difference? You have a problem with the government, fight the next election.

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  • Umer
    Jan 22, 2012 - 6:41AM

    @Finding Memo:

    Well not every army chief is as
    awesome as General Kiyani

    I don’t recall Indian GHQ being attacked ever, if you know what I mean.

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  • observer
    Jan 22, 2012 - 8:41AM

    Poor Gen Singh. In some other country the PM would have done ‘minnat’ to accept an extension of term. Year of birth not withstanding.

    I firmly believe that Gen Singh is on the right track. He has been flagging this issue all through his military career. And come to think of it only one date can be true. If what the babus hold, is true, let the consequences follow, if not, let the right thing be done.

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  • S. George
    Jan 22, 2012 - 9:10AM

    “India’s army chief General VK Singh wants the Supreme Court to change his official year of birth from 1950 to 1951. This will help him stay as chief for another year.”
    – Mr. Sing already made clear that he will not continue even if he gets extension for one more year. For him it is a matter of honour. He wants to prove that he is not a liar. whats wrong in it? he is using his right as an indian citizen.

    “On Anna Hazare’s circus Gen Singh said this was “the power of democracy”. No, it wasn’t. Rousing a mob against parliament is not democratic, it is a challenge to rule of law.”
    – If an Army general thought so, what is wrong in it? You must appreciate him. About anna hazare Movement – do you need people sit at home when country gets looted (corruption of lakhs of crores of rupee). So what kind of agitation was it? Was it not democratic? Was it not NON VIOLENT? What was the out come of this agitation? At least the central govt. thought of implementing a Lok pal (though it was weak) which they didn’t attempted do in 65 years.

    “After Marines killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Gen Singh was asked by journalists if India could carry out such a military operation. “I would like to say that only this that if such a chance comes, then all three arms (of the military) are competent to do this,” he said.” –
    – So in such circumstances what answer can we expected from any army general. Does he need to runaway from question? And if India has such capabilities why should we hide as long as it will not affect our national security?

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  • Umar
    Jan 22, 2012 - 9:13AM

    Atleast he is going to court relating to his retirement issue. Our general staged a coup and suspended the constitution and elected assembly, when he did not agree with his removal and replacement. Indian general is a saint in comparison.

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  • Nanggdharangg Pakistani
    Jan 22, 2012 - 9:38AM

    An excellent eye-opener for our own “sipah-salaars” ! Well done sir !

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  • Hindi hain hum
    Jan 22, 2012 - 9:57AM

    Aakar, is there an issue on which you don’t support the Gandhi family and the Congress? You left out key details: General VK Singh’s birth certificate issued by the Government of India lists 1951 as his birthdate. He made one error when he was 15 years old when he filled out the NDA form. Every other document lists 1951 as his birthdate. Different databases and records of the army have different dates. VK Singh has been petitioning the Ministry of Defence for over 20 years to change the DOB on his records, which bureaucrats have refused to do.

    Your article is factually incorrect. General VK Singh was made a general in 2009. In 2006 when the MOD asked him to accept the 1950 date he was still a Major Gen and he refused. Congress party wants him to retire because VK Singh has been outspoken in revealing cost-overruns due to delays and other problems prevalent in defence ministry under the Congress government. He also ordered the court-martial of Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash who was close to defence minister, AK Anthony, for the Sukna land scam. While India has been battered by corruption like the 2G scam, Commonwealth games scam, Adarsh society scam, Mining scam under the Congress government, your spin on Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption protests is indicative of your bias.

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  • Jan 22, 2012 - 11:44AM

    It is an honour to democracy that an all powerful army chief has to approach the court to seek justice against the civil government. No hue and cry either from the people or the government. That is the beauty of Indian democracy. Compare this with Pakistani situation.

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  • Iyer
    Jan 22, 2012 - 12:59PM

    Mr Patel has either no knowledge of the COAS General V. K Singh or about the working of the army.His articcle lacks totaly truth and objectivity.

    Gen Singh is a highly decorated office of the Indian Army. He is known in army circle as very honest and no non sence person. Sometimes being honest, one has to pay a price.During his tenure As Eastern Army Commander, Gen Singh instituted a court of enquiry over the land scam, in which heads of many top brass of the army rolled.. Some of them were closer to then COAS. This in turn caused enemity among the army higher echelons, and they were waiting for an occassion to nail him in some issue or the other.

    Singhh only wants to clear this matter in discrepency on DOB, so that he could retire gracefully and respectfully, to which he is entitiled to. Many top coloumnist in India have sent accolades for Singh, and have slamed the government for not being fair to him.

    SAMPLE THIS WHAT KARAN THAPAR, ONE OF INDIA’S TOP JOURNALIST HAS TO SAY.

    QOUTE

    “And you’ll be astonished to discover it was offered by none other than General VK Singh himself.
    In separate meetings with the defence secretary, the defence minister and, finally, the finance minister, the Army Chief was asked how this issue should be sorted out and what he suggested is what most sane voices today believe is the best solution. The chief suggested the government issue a statement accepting that, on the basis of the certificates he has provided, 1951 is his date of birth. But, crucially, the general added that the same statement should say he was appointed on the assumption that his date of birth was 1950 and, therefore, his tenure was fixed to run till May 2012 and that retirement date will remain in force regardless of the amendment of his date of birth.
    Why on earth did the government not agree? What would they have lost by accepting Gen Singh’s solution? Since he was prepared to step aside in 2012, as the government wants, what was the obstacle in amending his date of birth to reflect what he considers the true date?”
    UNQOUTE

    IT CLEARLY PROVES THAT SINGH DOES NOT WANT EXTENSION, BUT THE GOVERNMENT TO AGGREE TO HIS CLAIM AND NOTHING ELASE”.

    Lt/Col { Retd} IyerRecommend

  • Faizan Afzal
    Jan 22, 2012 - 1:35PM

    Haha we have more Indian readers than Pakistani; it is quite ironic.
    For God’s sake stop glorifying India.
    I love Pakistan
    I love Pakistan Army
    I love ISI.Recommend

  • Straight_Talk
    Jan 22, 2012 - 2:12PM

    General V K Singh has done the right thing in approaching the Supreme Court. If his perception of truth makes him feel being ill treated, he has the legitimate right to seek justice in the court of law. Seeking justice may require one to do unprecedented things. Bottomline is if he deserves to stay as per his date of birth, he must stay and the government should answer why the date was not corrected before giving him promotion. If, however, the General was indeed born in 1950, he must surely go in what would be a very silly way to leave.

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  • GA
    Jan 22, 2012 - 3:38PM

    @G. Din:
    Elementary my dear Din, Gandhi was fighting not against his government; Hazare is. I guess you are a Paki; so democracy is tough for you to understand.

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  • Loyal to Pakistan
    Jan 22, 2012 - 4:13PM

    Who cares about that in Pakistan.

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  • G. Din
    Jan 22, 2012 - 6:50PM

    @S:
    “Really, Mahatma Gandhi and Anna Hazare? For your enlightenment, Gandhi agitated against an authoratarian foreign government imposed by overlords from London. “
    So, if the overlords are “desi”, they are immune to authoritarianism and everything that goes with it like corruption including of the moral kind? And ipso facto, no one should raise one’s voice because they are our “own”, is that it? Gandhi threatened a fast unto death if Pakistan’s share of dues were not paid promptly. Why did he do it against the biggest “desi” overlord of them all, his very own lieutenant, Nehru? And pray, since when is rousing the public in a democracy become treasonous? Isn’t that the only way we keep honing up an imperfect tool such as a Democracy? Shake yourself up and do some of your own thinking.
    @GA:
    “I guess you are a Paki; so democracy is tough for you to understand. “
    Your “guess” is as wrong as you have been thoroughly brain-washed. Everyone understands Democracy, even Libyans and Egyptians and Tunisians, not to speak Pakistanis. You and Indians like you do not have a monopoly on it. Democracy is not a set of immutable rules which all may understand and practice similarly. For your own enlightenment look at the difference: Hosni Mubarak listened to “mobs” in Tahrir Square; Gaddafi didn’t. One of them has already been interned into his grave. Guess who met a violent end? Probably you will again guess wrong!

    Recommend

  • harkol
    Jan 22, 2012 - 7:25PM

    Akar Patel: Anna raising voice against the casual attitude of Law makers is no different from what is happening in US regarding SOPA/PIPA. If Google/wikipedia can black out services (equivalent of strikes) to force congressmen to change their stance, how can a person trying his own method of morally forcing our MPs be wrong?

    There is this ivory tower sense in India that democracy is about parliament. It isn’t. It is eqally about rule of law and liberty. If a person attracts a large ‘mob’ (as you say) it doesn’t need to stop the parliament from doing what it wishes. But, if MPs aren’t swayed by the expression of mobs, they better be prepared for them campaigning against them and loosing their votes.

    You are also wrong about VK Singh. He isn’t only fighting for his honor. He is also fighting for the honor of the Army. Just because Army is under civilians they shouldn’t do absurd things like insisting on a wrong DOB to be accepted by him!!

    The right thing for him to do is to force his DOB issue in court, but resign from his post. Alternative could be for Govt. to admit his DOB issue was a mistake, but ask him to resign in interest of the army, forcing him to do so (it is unthinkable he’d want to be terminated by govt.).

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  • let there be peace
    Jan 22, 2012 - 7:43PM

    @GA:
    @S:
    I thought democracy, mobocracy and kleptocracy are different things.

    BTW in India constitution and the basic tenets of constitution i.e. [justice, equality and liberty][1](including freedom of speech/protest) is supreme.
    Above all, by common sense people are supreme. Parliament is called supreme not because they are some Kings who are Avatars of Vishnu born to rule, but because they are supposed to represent the people.
    .
    It does not matter if Anna Hazare and his team are saints or not, it does not matter if their view is 100% correct or not; but as citizens of India, constitution of India guarantees them certain basic rights. You would have hailed Hitler and Nazis because they were elected and did whatever they did by (mis)using constitutional methods.

    Standing in election is not the only way to participate in democracy.

    Of course if you are member of some Nazi style propaganda cell (both congress and Sangh parivar probably have it) there is no point arguing with you.

    [1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_IndiaRecommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Jan 22, 2012 - 10:40PM

    @S: to @G.Din ” … **Are you really so dumb that you don’t see the difference?** … ”

    If I were you, I would not pose such superlative laden questions to G.Din. G.Din’s insights into matters make ET worth visiting.

    You are being a beast of burden here – do you not know that the very same politicians who are subverting Democracy are asking you and others to respect Democratic Processes and Institutions.Recommend

  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Jan 23, 2012 - 7:40PM

    @Amjad Cheema:

    Rousing a mob against parliament is
    also fascism. I agee with your
    comments about ANNA also.

    fascism : a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.

    So, tell me if it’s Anna who is a fascist or it was the ruling party. Then again, you being Pakistani, I can understand your ignorance of democracy.

    @Hindi hain hum:
    @S. George:

    Your responses are excellent examples of comments section contributing more to the quality of discussion and information than the actual ET article itself.

    Recommend

  • Cynical
    Jan 23, 2012 - 9:09PM

    @Yuri Kondratyuk

    Your rejoinder @Amjaad Cheema suffers from oversimplification.
    ‘Facism’ is not a political system, rather it’s a belief system extolling traits such as totalitarian,absolutist,unitary etc.Anna Hazare has all of these in quite a good measure.His solutions to present day problems are archaic and utopian.

    His apparent popularity owes a lot to the middle-class infatuation with all kinds of quick-fix and 24X7 TV camera.

    Recommend

  • George L V
    Jan 30, 2012 - 12:28AM

    It is clear that the writer is completely ignorant about the functioning and ways of the Armed Forces particularly Indian Army. The general populace of India, by and large has no clue about the organizational culture of the Indian Army. They already have vague and misleading notions about the ‘Army way’.
    Be fair and honest: get a comprehensive and clear understanding of the Indian Army. Then and only then, even think of writing an article about the head of the Army. Otherwise it is a case of the blind leading the blind. Recommend

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