By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, Nov 26 : In 2012, an unseemly controversy had erupted over the age of the then Indian Army chief, General V.K. Singh, with the Supreme Court having to finally settle the matter by refusing to let him reduce this by a year so that his tenure could continue till May 2013 instead of ending in May 2012.
The issue has now re-emerged with an army officer who was charged with furnishing the relevant documents on the issue admitting — and justifying — that he had held back information as this “might have further complicated the relationship” between the then army chief, General Deepak Kapoor, and Lt. Gen. Singh, who at that time headed the Kolkata-based Eastern Command.
“The relationship between the then COAS Gen. Deepak Kapoor and Lt. Gen. V.K. Singh was not warm during my tenure here (in Kolkata on the latter’s staff). I felt it right to withhold some documents which might have further complicated the relationship between the two,” Lt. Gen. Konsam Himalay Singh, the first Manipuri to rise to three-star rank in the Indian Army, writes in his autobiography, “The Making Of A General – A Himalayan Echo” (Konark).
He justifies it thus: “Many confidential matters related to national security were also entrusted to me to handle. During my tenure, the issue of date of birth became a big issue. It also became a major national issue during 2012 in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It is not my aim here to dwell on the subject. But it is painful that many in the country still harbour a wrong impression that Gen. V.K. Singh tried to manipulate his age to extend his tenure as the COAS.
“He had all the legally admissible documents like birth certificate, hospital records where he was born, Matriculation Certificate, his own entries in more than 50 annual or interim confidential reports dating back to 1970 (the year he got commissioned as a Lieutenant). The only document with the Army Headquarters held against him was where he had possibly entered his date of dirth (sic) wrongly at the time of filling up the documents for his entry into the National Defence Academy in 1966. That this semi-legal document which he had signed over 40 years ago as a school boy had primacy over all other legal documents appears unjust,” Lt. Gen. Himalay Singh writes.
This was a contention that the Supreme Court refused to buy and which even then Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati retracted after a Division Bench on February 11, 2012 refused to entertain Gen. V.K. Singh’s petition to alter his date of birth from May 10, 1950 to May 10, 1951, thus extending his tenure by a year.
What exactly was the information withheld and did this not amount to insubordination, IANS asked Lt. Gen. Himalay Singh.
His reply: “The concept of insubordination is about whether one disobeyed a ‘Lawful Command’. There are, in every officer’s journey, many a situation where one has to judge for himself about his own actions and be prepared to face the consequences.”
IANS sought a second opinion from Lt. Gen. S.A. Husnain, a former GOC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps and a former Military Secretary at Army Headquarters and currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation.
His reply was not surprising: “I fully endorse Lt. Gen. K.H. Singh’s perception. There may be wilful insubordination which can be justified. If an inquiry had ever been held perhaps the justification would have been endorsed after a proper explanation.”
One wonders how the Supreme Court would have reacted had this withholding of information been brought to its notice and how it would react if “wilful insubordination” is “justified”.
What is being made out by the two Lieutenant Generals is that there are two sets of laws — one for those in uniform and another for the general public.
Given his admission, what Lt. Gen. Himalay Singh has written in the rest of the 223-page book pales into insignificance — and indeed, would have to be taken with a pinch of salt.
For the record, Gen V.K. Singh, in his autobiography, “Courage and Conviction”, has written that Gen J.J. Singh, the army chief from January 31, 2005 to September 30, 2007, had initiated a “look down policy” to clear the way for an officer of his choice to become an army chief.
“It is now an established fact that Gen. J.J. Singh had, within months of taking charge, initiated the ‘look down policy’ that would give a clear idea as to what the line of succession would, or could be,” he has written.
Gen. V.K Singh also claimed that his immediate predecessor, Gen. Deepak Kapoor, had asked him to accept May 10, 1950 as his date of birth to get the file cleared from the Defence Ministry.
Gen. V.K. Singh had joined the BJP in 2014 and was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Ghaziabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh, defeating Raj Babbar of the Congress by a record 5,67,260 votes and was re-elected in 2019. He served as a Minister of State for External Affairs in the previous NDA government and is the current Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways in the present government.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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