Thursday, April 28, 2011

Crises of Leadership

A lot has been written about the controversy surrounding Gen VK Singh's date of birth so there is really no need to get into all that once again. Except perhaps to recount the latest revelation that an MP has written to the Defence Minister citing the General's year of birth to be 1949 and not 1951 as he is claiming or 1950 as is mentioned in some records. And the MP has obtained a birth certififcate from the Kirkee Cantonment as a proof of his assertions.

It is unfortunate for the Army's senior most officer to be embroiled in such a controversy at a stage of his career. It is also unfortunate for the Army as a service to see it's chief being involved in a unsavoury controversy.

The Ministry of Defence is trying to solve this 'age-old' mystery but given its incompetence in resolving it before the Chief came to hold this office, not much speed should be expected from it this time around.

However, General VK Singh has to accept the blame partly for precipitating this crises. It was widely believed that the entire thing had been solved to his satisfaction. And then came the RTI application and the Army's super cleverness in referring it to the Law Ministry. Reminds me of the couplet by Majaz:

"Meri himmat dekhna, meri tabiyat dekhna

jo sulajh jaati hai guthi, phir se uljhata hun main"

If Gen VK Singh had acceeded to the solution found when his predecessor was holding the office then he should step up and say that I am satisfied with the solution found and that I accept it.

If he was unhappy with the solution propounded at the time, he should have made sure it was solved to his satisfaction before he assumed office of the COAS. Now, at this stage, when he is half way through his tenure, to let this crises take over the centre stage when there are more pressing issues at hand, is simply not done.

All he had to do was to have stepped forward and issued a statement saying that he is happy with what the organisation decided for him. But his very silence means that he is not happy and that he feels that he has been wronged. That may well be true, but he should have thought of all this before assuming the highest office of his service. Personal organisational grievances at the level of COAS do not augur well for the image of the service for which he is the custodian.

And if worst comes to worst, what if it is proven that his real year of birth was 1949 and that he was never eligible to become the COAS? Imagine the catastrophe it will be for the service? What disgrace? And what punishment can one inflict upon a COAS who may have indulged in such a thing, even if it was way back in his career?

For all the spin being put out by the official spin doctors of the Army, the Additional Directorate General of Public Information (ADGPI), the Army Chief's image has taken a battering, and so has , by default, the image of the Army.

Had this happened with a junior ranked officer, even if his rank was that of Lt Gen, a court of inquiry would have taken place and a result had withing a span of few days. However, nothing of the sort can be done with the COAS because of his rank. And, ultimately, the call has to be taken by the MoD.

It is very important not to sully the image of the COAS but if there is enough evidence at hand that the office of the COAS has been sullied by an individual, then expemplary action must be taken.

Only Gen VK Singh knows the truth. And if there is not a single shred of evidence against him then he should simply state the facts to the Defence Minister and insist, nay demand, on a quick resolution in interest of the service. But if there is even an iota of truth in the allegations against him, he should quit. This is the least he could do to save the image of the service.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Lt Gen SA Hasnain recently took over as the GOC of 15 Corps and even before he could fly the Corps flag on the bonnet of his vehicle, the print media got a bee in its bonnet.
Apparently the print media was very taken in by the fact that he was the first Muslim General to get command of the Corps in two decades. It is a fact, yes. But apparently this has set off a series of journalistic orgasms which do not look like abating anytime soon. It has spread to a pink papers and now to full page coverage, and it may eventually reach a climax with some magazine devoting several pages to the phenomenon.
All these publications who harp on the Corps Commanders religious identity as their news peg do not waste any time to get on to his professional accomplishments as soon as they throw the first fact on the face of their readers. But unfortunately, all pails in face of the Muslim-Kashmir-General combination vomitted at the very outset. And this is doubly unfortunate for the General who is a outstanding soldier whose military career has not flourished just because he commanded a Brigade or a Division in the valley.

Is all this propaganda (yes, it is propaganda) going to help in the Army's role in the valley? The lovers of the first-Muslim-General-propoganda-campaign feel yes. On ground, it will be difficult to quantify. Lt Gen Hasnain is going about doing his job in a dispassionate manner, like he did in his previous assignments in the troubled region. He is not holding on to his religious identity just because he is the GOC of 15 Corps, just as one would expect a soldier of the Indian Army to do.

So is it just the sentiments of some journalists and pseudo-journalists or is there a larger game plan behind it? I would hesitate to call it a game plan but then there definitely seems to be a purpose behind it, mis-interpreted.

The fact that the Army is tacitly supporting such religion-based coverage is obvious because they have not objected to it. The sad institution called ADGPI would have been snapping at the heels of journalists had they felt that this was something which the Army really does not care having written about. But the fact that no letters to the Editor have appeared in the newspapers makes it apparent that they are OK with it. And in certain instances, it even appears that they might have given a encouraging nod for such coverage. Lt Gen Hasnain has done a good job in the past without all this stuff being written about him and by all indications he will do well in his present assignment too, even if the print media decides to clap their hands in merriment because he is a Muslim.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A General Conspiracy?

Amidst all the news reports about the Chief of Army Staff, Gen VK Singh's date of birth, the Chief himself has maintained a stoic silence. Very apt too, because it would be beneath him to join publically in what may eventually turn out to be a ugly affair.
While murmurs of a conspiracy can be heard in the corrdidors of power, there are more important questions to ask. If, like the reports suggest, the COAS had in 2009 agreed to accept the decision of the then Chief, why is the age issue being raised now? Would it be proper for the government to address the issue afresh at this stage, thus affecting the entire line of succession of Chiefs, so to speak? And, lastly, but more importantly, who is the issue being raised through the backdoor via a RTI query?
To begin with, Hindustan Times has brought out a letter written by Gen VK Singh in 2009 to the then COAS pointing out that the matter ends as far as he is concerned. But then the wording of the letter is very clever. It clearly brings out that the matter has ended at the directions of the COAS. It also goes to to say that the MS has clarified that the matter is dealt with AG. Now, it is in public domain that as per AGs records the General was born in 1951 and not 1950.
It would not be out of place to suggest that the letter written by Gen VK Singh in 2009, in his capacity as Eastern Army Commander, was in reply to one written to him by the COAS, Gen Deepak Kapoor. The tone certainly suggests that. But the Hindustan Times has not obliged us by getting that letter, if it exists.
This now brings us to the issue of the government re-opening the issue of Gen VK Singh's age at this late stage when he has finished half his tenure. However, it is not clear why the General did not get this anomaly corrected in the early part of his career? We certainly know that he tried to do so for the first time in 2006 and all that which followed, but what about when he was a subaltern or a Lt Col, Col, Brig, Maj Gen? Indeed if he had raised the issue at any of these stages of his career, the matter would have been sorted out by now. This does not take away his right to raise the issue in 2006 but it does give raise to a lot of questions. Also, why was the matter not settled once and for all when he was to be appointed as the COAS? The government should have taken legal opinion and ended all speculation instead of waiting for a RTI query to pop up when the General has already served more than a year into his tenure.
This brings us to the very suspicious looking RTI query. From what we can gleam from our sources, the query emanates from Kolkata and is written by a civilian gentleman. A very innocent query seeking to know the date of birth of some Generals. But for the curious route the answer to the query takes, all would have been well. The Army could have responded decisively by saying that the Gen VK Singh's date of birth if X or Y depending upon the record they hold. In which case, as the letter written by Gen VK Singh indicates, it is the AG who would be the repository of the correct age i.e. 1951. But the Army instead refers the letter to the Law Ministry. Which then says that the 1951 date should be taken into account as it was in his matriculation certificate. Maybe the Army PIO was treading carefully. Maybe he was trying to stir a hornet's nest. Maybe something is afoot.
The other affected party in the case, Lt Gen Bikram Singh, the present Eastern Army Commander, really does not have much to say at this stage. He is next in line to the COAS but this would be confirmed only when the ACC confirms it. Till then he has to sit tight and expect the best.
I have a feeling that Gen VK Singh is going to get this issue sorted out once and for all despite whatever undertaking he may have given to the previous COAS (at his directions). It may not look good on paper but this exercise will have to be done and, if Hindustan Times, is to be believed the government has started doing just that.
This sort of a thing has happened in IAS/IPS many a times. Perhaps it was just a matter of time before it happened with the Army.