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Sunday, 22 January 2012

From Today's Papers - 22 Jan 2012
A first: Woman to lead IAF contingent
Tribune News Service
This year’s Republic Day parade will be historic in two ways: For the first time, a woman pilot will lead the Indian Air Force contingent down Rajpath and secondly, it will be after decades that a US-made military plane will participate in the majestic overhead fly-past that is the spectators’ delight.

Flight Lieutenant Sneha Shekhawat, who flies non-combat planes like the Avro, will lead the IAF marching contingent comprising four officers and 144 airmen. Flt Lt Shekhawat hails from Sikar in Rajasthan and is presently posted at the Hindon airbase on the outskirts of Delhi. For women officers in the forces, this will be historic moment.

Last February, Major Mitali Madhumita of the Army become the first woman officer to get decorated with a gallantry medal for her act of bravery during her posting in Kabul in 2010. The other significant part of the IAF participation will be the C-130-J super Hercules. It will be after decades that a US manufactured plane will fly in the parade.
13 cops killed in Maoist ambush

Garhwa (Jharkhand), Jan 21
Thirteen policemen, including the officer-in-charge of Bhandaria police station, were killed and two injured today when Maoists triggered a landmine blast near the jungles of Bariganwa in Garhwa district.

"The Maoists triggered the blast, killing 12 policemen and the officer-in-charge of Bhandaria police station RB Choudhary around 11 am," SP Michael S Raj said.

"Only after a post-mortem, will we be able to tell whether they were hit by bullets (too)," he said, when asked if Maoists had fired upon policemen after blowing up their anti-landmine vehicle, about 75 km from Garhwa.

Eyewitnesses said the vehicle was tossed high into the air after the blast. When some injured policemen were trying to come out of the vehicle, Maoists fire at them from point blank range, sources said. They looted weapons from the dead cops and torched the vehicle.

Bhandaria BDO Basudev Prasad had a narrow escape as the blast took place minutes after his vehicle passed the spot. — PTI

Major Attacks


June 27: Maoist blow up police vehicle and ambush BSF men killing five securitymen in two separate attacks in Chhattisgarh

Aug 19: At least 11 cops killed in Chhattisgarh

Aug 20: 3 special force men die in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district


Feb 15: At least 25 policemen die after Maoists overrun a security camp in West Bengal

April 4: 10 cops killed when their vehicle runs over a landmine in Orissa

April 6: Maoist rebels kill 75 policemen in a jungle ambush
5 arrested for B’desh coup plot
Accused belong to banned Islamist outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir; hunt on for army officer

Dhaka, January 21
Bangladesh’s elite anti-terror force has arrested five members of the banned Islamist outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir in connection for a failed coup attempt, as it launched a massive manhunt to nab key suspect Major Syed Ziaul Haque.

Rapid Action Battalion has arrested five activists of Hizb ut-Tahrir which was suspected to have links with the plot through Major Haque, an army spokesman said today.

The spokesman said a massive manhunt was underway to arrest the fugitive Major and law enforcing agency raided his in-laws home in southwestern Patuakhali district yesterday as part of the campaign. One security personnel was injured during the arrests yesterday.

The Bangladesh army on Thursday said it has foiled a plot to topple the government and arrested two former officers besides launching a manhunt for a fugitive in-service Major while some 16 others are being kept under vigil. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today accused opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party of having involvement in the coup plot.

Speaking at a party meeting, she said the abortive coup had a visible link with BNP chief and her arch-rival Khaleda Zia’s earlier comments pledging to out the government by 2012. “There will be no more usurping power in Bangladesh,” she said.

No comments from BNP was immediately available on Hasina’s remark but a senior party leader and former law minister Moudud Ahmed rejected the allegation saying BNP never wanted to go to power through undemocratic means.

Law Minister Shafique Ahmed told PTI that detail coup plan was unfolding gradually and suspects were likely to be tried in court marshal under Army Act.

Brigadier-General Mohammad Masud Razzak told a crowded press conference at Dhaka Cantonment on Thursday that 14-16 officers were under vigil as a probe was underway while the detained two former officers “bluntly admitted their role in the plot”. — PTI
Naresh Chandra

Iconic Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai a day after the 26/11 terror attack in 2008
Iconic Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai a day after the 26/11 terror attack in 2008

The role of Intelligence agencies has transformed tremendously and their functions have become manifold. In response to the changing security scenario from days of mere surveillance and information-gathering through spies, double agents and police informers, the scene has changed completely with the introduction of new technologies, electronic gadgets and cameras and methods which are not only available to State agencies but also to well-funded terrorist and militant organisations and insurgents.

Besides the traditional work involving gathering of information, making assessment and producing actionable reports for those in-charge of taking remedial measures, the agencies have now to manage new areas in a fast-changing scenario.

For instance, highly specialised and trained personnel are needed to read and decode signals, interpret long distance photo-imageries, do forensic analysis of all explosives and other materials, undertake analytics, do horizon-spotting for anticipating emerging problems and connecting the dots coming out of diverse sources of data collection.

The principal challenge in meeting these requirements would be to hire specialised personnel in requisite numbers and train them to the professional level required in the organisation. A comprehensive programme of manpower planning and personnel development is going to be the single-most important issue to be tackled.

It is not necessary to provide for all specialisation and skilled manpower within the agencies and government departments. There are experts and analysts available outside the government in the universities, think-tanks, the scientific community, specialists in business and commerce and journalism.

I think the time has come for those in the government to reach out more and more to these national assets, which are outside the government fold. This can be done not only through cooperative arrangements with necessary safeguards, but also through interchange of specialist personnel between government agencies and non-government institutions.

In times of conflict, many nations have adopted such an approach to great advantage. In the US, interchange between government think-tanks and other non-government institutions is very common. In India, we are yet to utilise the substantial potential that exists in this respect.


A revolution in communication and the tremendous expansion of the internet has created a new situation. The utility of monitoring telephonic conversation or intercepting messages on wireless is hardly sufficient any more. Besides the print media and TV, the social media has now a reach which runs into millions with extremely fast communication capable of creating a surge of public opinion and movement faster than any government agency can monitor, let alone control.

We have seen highly centralised governments taken by surprise on movements springing on to the streets in unexpectedly large numbers united with a common intent. This is a new destabilising phenomenon, but the impact of such events is fortunately less in democracies where the media is free and open.

CYber Security

Cyber security threats are very real and pose a serious danger to our security systems. It transcends geographical and domain boundaries and is not subject to control through physical security. The prevalent threats, besides threat and fraud, include espionage, sabotage, psychological war and propaganda.

For adequate cyber security considerable expertise needs to be developed in the areas of cryptography, network security and information security. In fact, establishing and following a cyber security doctrine is the first step to building an effective defence system. Such a doctrine has to be developed for the entire cyber space covering each organisation involved with providing or using internet services. Recent experience has shown that threats and actual attacks are becoming more and more unpredictable. This requires preventive measures and contingency plans to deal effectively with the crisis in quick time.

These new developments call for structures and methods enabling much faster response. The earlier divisions and distinctions in the sphere of security and intelligence are no longer valid. The line between internal and external threats has got blurred. Cross-border terrorism has links in our own country and several internal insurgencies and home-grown terrorism has external ramifications, like sanctuaries, training camps, etc., available in neighouring countries.

Earlier the premier intelligence agencies concentrated mainly on strategic intelligence, leaving technical intelligence mostly to security forces and police organisations. Now there is need for greater emphasis on collecting both strategic and technical intelligence. There is increasing requirement for timely and specific intelligence on which rapid response can be planned and executed.

There is also greater need for effective systems and mechanisms for sharing all worthwhile actionable intelligence without delay and for coordination in the follow-up action or response. This requires a holistic view of the entire network through which information flows to the departments and agencies of the Central and State Governments.

In all spheres it has been found that important bits of information lie unnoticed and unattended while it would have made a crucial difference in the hands of the concerned authority. This aspect needs to be studied by the major departments and agencies to improve the system of collection, storage and retrieval of information across different turfs in a seamless manner. In the case of sensitive information, officials in the hierarchy can be accorded a level of clearance to enable use with the necessary safeguards.

India is steadily building capabilities to take care of its security concerns largely on its own, but some concerns have international dimensions. In this, diplomacy and strategic partnerships would play an important role, but Intelligence cooperation with major powers and countries is also required, particularly in combating international terrorism. We have to always oppose any move to compartmentalise terrorism by considering foreign terrorists as your terrorists and some as ours, depending on their target country. However, we may have to make allowances for each other’s constraints, priorities and areas of divergence of interests.

Suggestions in this regard range from reforms across the board involving setting up of new structures, systems and procedures to the more moderate ones of refinement and modifications of the existing structures and systems, making provision for more radical changes in an evolutionary way.

Diverse views need to be examined and studied carefully. The bottom line is that the measures suggested have to be effective and acceptable in the existing and emerging realities. There is the conventional view that systems and procedures evolve over decades along with periodical reviews and modifications from time to time. The other view is that the present structures and systems are not capable at all to deal with new challenges and threats and there should be a major overhaul.


The Intelligence apparatus in India conforms to the generally accepted pattern prevalent in democratic countries. Most totalitarian governments and dictatorships follow an integrated system as is the case in communist countries, China, Russia, Pakistan, Myanmar, etc.

In democracies like USA, UK, France, Japan, etc., the security service and the secret service have come to be separated. This occurred in India in September, 1968. Separation of normal police, the security service and the secret service provide necessary safeguards in protecting citizens’ rights and upholding due process of law.

For instance, the Intelligence establishment is not empowered to arrest and detain persons except through and with the help of civil police. The citizen is thus assured that the secret security apparatus cannot touch him directly, but only through normal police where legal and judicial remedies are available. Further, the secret service does not have a role within the country and operates in a manner which is consistent with the overall national security objectives and interests of the country.

First, we need persons of strong nerves who can take care of themselves in unpredictable circumstances and who can work coolly under pressure, and also having the judgement to guard against various risks and retaining the benefit of deniability. They are expected to do whatever it takes to achieve their objective and yet discharge their duties without breaking the law of their own country, although the rules of engagement differ when they have to operate abroad in unfriendly and hostile territory. We have also to choose people from different backgrounds and walks of life with special skills and aptitudes.


Therefore, all recruitment to the organisation may not be best done through the normal selection procedures and bodies or into one or two organised services. We have to study procedures in other countries and adopt some features to suit the conditions in our own country. In the training of recruits, more attention has to be paid to their minds and mental orientation and the overall approach and attitude towards service in the organisation they are joining. Needless to say, much more attention has to be given to the practical side of training in addition to theory. At the same time, besides the need for area specialisation and acquisition of some special skills, there will be obvious need for diversifying their cover and having different criteria for placement, promotions and remuneration.

In the interest of their work, Intelligence agencies have to be provided much greater degree of flexibility and freedom in using public funds and resources. It is not possible to apply the same rules of transparency and audit that are imposed on other departments of the government. On the question of accountability, I find that the views I had expressed several years ago remain largely valid still.

If public servants undertake activity with public funds, then a measure of transparency and accountability are questions which cannot be ignored. Being part of the Executive there is no fundamental immunity available to intelligence agencies from parliamentary scrutiny or judicial review. To an extent, this also goes for audit of expenditure incurred by the Intelligence agencies. It would be clear to the meanest intelligence, however, that there is no way the intelligence agencies can be expected to function in the open for a substantial part of their operations.

Social Audit

If public funds are to be utilised for the purposes described above as functions which Intelligence agencies must necessarily perform in the national interest, then a balance has to be struck between two sets of conflicting considerations. It is no use imposing the standard framework of accountability in a manner which brings essential secret and security services to a halt, causing funds and energy to be expended to no effect. We must remember what we are dealing with and what the other side is throwing at us. So in a democracy run by rule of law, who is ultimately responsible for striking a balance on this issue, and for making a right choice? In Parliamentary form of government this can be only done by the Prime Minister as chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Security with ultimate accountability to Parliament.

There is also the contradiction involved in the spirit that characterises the RTI Act on the one hand and the Officials Secret Act on the other. The generally accepted principle in securing right balance is to weigh the pros and cons of putting information in the public domain, keeping in mind that the same would be also available to the interested diplomatic agents of foreign missions based in India. While Intelligence agencies are exempted from application of the RTI Act, audit and accountability has to be ensured rather carefully to avoid damage to security interests.

At the same time, it is important for Intelligence agencies to devote attention to their image, public relations as well as communication with the media. Failure to do so has on occasion resulted in embarrassment and avoidable burden upon those taking important strategic and tactical decisions. This is an area requiring greater interaction and special handling by trained professionals.

( Excerpts from the 6th R.N. Kao Memorial Lecture delivered in New Delhi by the Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board on January 20, 2012)
Age matters only in the Indian Army
General Peter Jan Schoomaker retired from active service in December 2000. His last posting was as the chief of the prestigious US Special Operations Command. Almost two-and-a-halfyears after he retired, Gen Schoomaker was recalled to head the US Army in August 2003.

Sounds strange? In the Indian military it is almost unthinkable to appoint a retired general as the chief of army. In India, this would upset the laid-down order of succession, and scuttle the hopes of many officers down the line.

So what about merit? In this whole controversy sparked by Gen V K Singh's age, that issue is not being debated at all. The fact is that Indian military chiefs are no longer selected on the basis of merit. The only thing that counts is their age. As merit takes a backseat, the fight in the Ministry of Defence is all about ensuring that favourites are suitably placed in the line of promotion on the basis of their date of birth.

Now, however, many within the ranks are beginning to question the obsession with age. "It is absurd. When you are 15 or 16 you apply for NDA. Should the fact of being younger than others decide whether one should be military chief or not? It is laughable," says a serving army general. "Let's say two of us join NDA together, and we get promotions at the same time. All through the service I may have excelled in my work, but if I were a day younger, it is you who gets to become the chief," he says.

A senior Air Force officer points out that Colin Powell, one of the most outstanding American military chiefs of all time, was 28th or so in seniority when he was appointed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "What should matter is the tenure of service and merit," he says.

In the years following Independence, when Jawaharlal Nehru was prime minister, the government did go by merit while selecting service chiefs. An officer recalled that Arjan Singh was appointed Air Force chief at 45. "It was a tenure fixed for five years," he says. So there was no 'fixed' line of succession at that time.

That has changed. The reason date of birth has become the main factor is that top officers are growing timid, refusing to take risks. "Once you become a brigadier or major general, you have a fair idea who would be chief or not. From then on the hopefuls start playing safe ," says an officer.

Both the Navy and Air Force have adopted selection policies which create a small group of 'aristocrats' among the officer cadre early in service, from whom the chiefs generally come. These officers invariably have done select tenures, such as being on the personal staff of senior commanders. In the Navy, an officer points out, many of these 'aristocrats' does not serve enough time at sea or other tough postings. "As a result, our preferred officers do not have enough exposure to the battlefield. They are all fundamentally being groomed, and biding time, to take on senior appointments. And a few of them do become chiefs," says a Navy officer.

The net result of such skewed policies is that the day on which one is born has become the most crucial factor in deciding who commands one of the world's biggest armies.

Not surprisingly, many are closely watching how this court battle over Gen VK Singh 's age ends. Will he retire on May 31, 2012, and let A, B and C become chief over the next six-seven years. Or will he retire on March 31, 2013, and allow X, Y and Z to succeed him? Either way, the military doesn't seem to benefit from this kind of thinking. In this unfolding drama, merit is likely to be the only casualty.
Teacher backs army chief’s claim
An error committed 40 years ago by a young boy while filing an application form to join the National Defence Academy (NDA) has snow-balled into a controversy that is unprecedented in independent India, pitching an army chief against a civilian government. As Gen VK Singh waits for his petition on the age-ruckus to come up in the apex court, his English teacher, BS Bhatnagar has an interesting tale to tell.

Forty years later and seated on a sofa in his Gurgaon flat, Bhatnagar, now 77, recalls helping the boys fill in their NDA application forms, and clearing their schoolboy doubts about what to fill in which column. These were, after all, 14-year-olds who hadn’t previously filled many — if even the one — official document.

Gen Singh, before joining NDA, was completing his higher secondary (10th standard) from the Birla Public School, Pilani, a boarding school, where Bhatnagar was one of the two English teachers. Singh was at Pilani when he filled his Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) application form, under the guidance of Bhatnagar.

Bhatnagar was, and still is, an admirer of the Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter ace Douglas Bader who lost both legs in the Battle of Britain. “Churchill praised the RAF and pointed out that ‘never had so many owed so much, to so few,’” remembers Bhatnagar. This was a story he would tell his students, as he carted UPSC application forms to Pilani. “This was 1965 and we were still hurting from the 1962 debacle at the hands of the Chinese. So I wanted as many of my boys to be in the services as possible.”
Naturally, Bhatnagar was partial to the Air Force. And so, during prep (boarding school term for ‘study hour’) he would tell aspiring Douglas Baders about the prestige of becoming fighter pilots.

“I was very young then. I had joined Pilani in 1960 and V.K’s batch was 1965... I was very keen that our boys join the services.” As a result, VK Singh’s first option from the three services was the Air Force.

Bhatnagar remembers the confusion that the young Gen Singh faced about his exact year of birth. “He knew his date clearly as May 10 but could not recall the exact year. After all he was born at a time when birth certificates and years were not easily available. In fact, many of my boys were confused so I would help the boys by filling in the details in pencil and they would over-write them in ink. V.K was confused about his year of birth, so we entered 1950,” he told DNA.

“The confusion was cleared when the casualties record (father’s service record) was obtained from the battalion and accordingly, his school leaving certificate stated his date of birth as 1951,” says Bhatnagar. The “casualties record” is a key document in the Indian Army since it records every major personal and professional detail of an officer’s career. Major Jagat Singh, father of the current army chief, was with the 14th battalion of the Rajput Regiment which clearly records the year of birth as 1951. This was more than adequate at that time to clear any confusion and set the record straight.

Incidentally, Bhatnagar quietly smiles as he lets you in on another secret. A few years later, Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh, the man the UPA government is determined to appoint as the next army chief, was also his student. Gen Singh was already in NDA and Bhatnagar had moved on to Punjab Public School, Nabha, where Lt. Gen Bikram Singh was a student preparing for NDA.

As far as “V K” is concerned, he was “determined to crack (the) NDA (entrance exam). When it was bed time (“lights out”, as far as boarding lingo goes), ‘VK’ would continue studying in his cubicle with a dimmed light.” Bhatnagar remembers Gen Singh clearly.

They’ve been in touch ever since. When Singh took over as the GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, Bhatnagar wrote him a letter of congratulations to which Gen Singh promptly replied. “He was quiet… but not reserved.” Bhatnagar says he was “good” in English, yes. A bright student, which was later confirmed. “He was always upright, honest, truthful and known for his perseverance.”
Biggest fraud on Indian army?
Gen V.K. Singh never has asked for a change in his DOB. This issue was fabricated and pursued from the year 2006 by two Army Chiefs and their cronies, i.e., three Military Secretaries, when they realised that a three-year tenure as COAS for Gen. V.K. Singh would derail the chances of one particular individual.

In fabricating this falsehood, these gentlemen used an incorrect entry in a document called Army List. This document has no legal sanctity whatsoever with regard to the details of an officer. There are scores of serving officers whose names or their IC numbers or their DOB is wrongly mentioned. This author is aware of a serving Brigadier, wherein the Army List carries his father’s name in place of his. He has never felt the need to correct this glaring mistake because the document has no legal significance.
Firstly, there was no need for Gen. V.K. Singh to apply for a ‘change’ in his DoB.
As the legal custodian of all personnel particulars (including DOB), the Adjutant General’s Branch has never had any issue over his DoB (May 10, 1951). Does the Army HQ or the MoD now have the gumption to declare that in matters of personnel detail of an officer, the Army List will prevail over all other documents. In that eventuality, the Military Tribunal and the Supreme Court will be inundated with cases.
Then why has this fraud been perpetrated on Gen. V.K. Singh? Why is an erroneous entry in the UPSC application form being flogged as an argument to intimidate him into accepting 10 May 1950 as his DoB, when it is not? An application form is only an application form. The entries therein have to be verified from other sources and documents, which was done in Gen. Singh’s case upon his commissioning.
Then there is the argument that Gen. Singh ‘accepted’ 1950 as his year of birth in 2006 and 2008, and therefore it could not be changed now.
An individual’s ‘acceptance’ of a particular DoB, not supported by relevant documents, cannot even get one a driving licence or a passport, let alone make him an Army Chief. Such acceptance was made under duress.
IAF ferries over 1,100 stranded people
With hundreds stranded in Jammu and Kashmir due to inclement weather, the Indian Air Force on Saturday ferried 1,100 people, including 250 Army personnel, between the State's twin capitals.

“Over 1,100 people, 250 of them Army jawans, were transported between Jammu and Srinagar, which has remained cut off since January seven due to heavy snowfall,” Defence spokesman S.N. Acharya said.

IL-76, AN-32 planes used

Air Officer Commanding, Jammu IAF Station, Air Commodore Nitin Sathe, who supervised the operation, told journalists that IL-76 and AN-32 planes were pressed into service to lift the stranded people.

The stranded passengers included women and children, he said.

The Jammu and Kashmir government had requisitioned IAF choppers to ferry the passengers stranded due to closure of the Jammu and Srinagar National Highway.
Gen vs govt, lawyers vs cops: Is this India or Pak?
Do not say anything to the military, because that will be treason; don’t say anything to the judiciary because that will be contempt; don’t say anything to the clergy because they will bomb your office or accuse you of blasphemy; but yes, you can say anything you want against the politicians, as that would be your DEMOCRATIC RIGHT, and anyway, who really cares, politicians represent the people, and no-one gives a damn about the people…’

— bbm message from a cynic on Pakistan. The capitalization is his, not mine.

Trouble is, he could have been writing about ‘hamara bharat,’ and he wouldn’t have been far wrong. That Islamabad and Delhi — and putsch-ridden Dhaka — should be roiled by similar controversies niggles away at one’s fierce pride at being an Indian, at being a part of a 64 year old history of democratic traditions, however messy, however unequal to the task of delivering justice for all - but always, in my mind, barring the blemish of the Emergency, a notch above the others on the sub-continent. My country, uber alles.

Let’s start with the upright general — war hero, decorated soldier, incorruptible, salt of the earth. For 35 years and through six promotions, General V.K. Singh and the military authorities accepted his date of birth as May 10, 1951. But, there’s an UPSC form submitted to the National Defence Academy in 1965, where the date of birth is filled in as May 10, 1950. In the army chief’s own handwriting. His last three promotions are based on the 1950 birth date. And, there’s been nary a murmur from the good general. Until now.

Question one — Why would a man who prides himself on his reputation, compromise back then, and backtrack now, just as he sees the prize slipping away,? Question two — if the date was fudged because he had to get into Khadakavasla or whatever, then come out and say so. Most Indians, I am told, manufacture their date of birth to get admission into the right kindergarten, school, college.

And question three — if this is about the bureaucrat-politician manipulating dates of birth – and thereby, promotions — to bring in their favourite, then let’s put the government on the mat, out the spiders in the web and end the whisper campaign that is dramatically affecting morale in the lower rungs of our soldiery. One beribboned officer, quite the contrarian, even said ‘the general has done this because he is a general, if a havaldar did it, he would be cashiered immediately, no questions asked.’

Either way, it must end. And quickly. Nobody wants a Pakistan in India! As for Salman Rushdie and this shameful episode at the Jaipur litfest, has no-one told the befuddled contrarians who presume to tell us what to think that the man who single-handedly brought Indian authors to the attention of the literary Brahmins of the west — before the Ayatollahs issued the fatwa against him soon after Rajiv Gandhi banned Satanic Verses in 1988 - has visited India many times over post ‘88. He was the chick magnet at Jaipur’s Diggy palace in 2007. Why wasn’t it an issue then? Why is it an issue now?

If it is the elections in UP, then shame on all of us!! Lynch mobs are never far away. I remember a group that gathered menacingly around me when I was putting the Rushdie story on the page, insisting it should not even be reported. They hadn’t read the book. It wasn’t available!

Pakistan may be caught between mosque and military, but are we now a mirror image of that deeply conflicted country? We are treading treacherous waters here, if we choose to give in and not stand one’s ground, if we compromise over what one believes in, if we submit to the mobocracy every time it rattles your cage, every time it threatens violence when it believes its narrow, archaic tenets are in peril, holds out unnamed shoe throwers, ink attackers, assassins, and we crumble…

One Salman Rushdie — and for that matter, one book among the 20 that the man has to his name — is not going to change the tide of centuries of history and belief. Just as one Maqbool Fida Husain didn’t — despite the many gods and goddesses in the pantheon that he painted in his own manic style. Gallery owners worldwide have been threatened, seen their properties vandalized, received hate mail. But Husain’s works have outlived and outlasted the peregrinations of the loony fringe.

As for naked goddesses, the power and beauty of a particularly full bodied, gloriously bare-chested deity perched atop a hilltop in Kerala and worshipped by thousands including moi, is a fact of life. A no-no in Ahmedabad isn’t necessarily a no-no in Malappuram. Or in Bengaluru. Shared aversion by the respective BJP governments on appointing a strong, independent Lokayukta, notwithstanding…

The spectacle of a city held to ransom last Tuesday by a bunch of angry lawyers who took their protests to the streets rather than the holiest of holies — the courtroom — was bad enough. Whatever the provocation, that isn’t the law?

As for the city’s police, who did nothing in the face of that gridlock, waiting for their senior officers to let them know whether they should put the errant, lawbreakers away, what do they have to say in their defence? And what does this say about our city? That as in Gujarat, after the Godhra torching where the police looked the other way when mobs rampaged through the Gujarat capital, killing and raping innocents, here too the police — guilty of beating up the lawyer and his two friends or not — watched from the sidelines for eight hours as the lawyers went on a rampage. Rather than take action?

Our political fraternity have told us that their reluctance to throw the might of the police against our black robed advocates stemmed from their fear that a Janata Dal (S) plot was afoot to spark a statewide confrontation that would have ultimately consumed a BJP government that was already weakened and in crisis, barely able to keep a lid on an internal rebellion.

In other words, it was a political decision. Must we, the citizens of Bengaluru, then accept that this is the way it is going to be from here on? That anyone who takes to the streets will be allowed to own it. That we will slip, slide our way until we turn the latest bbm on my phone on its side. Instead of the quirky — ‘In India, the government decides the age of the Army Chief; in Pakistan, the Army Chief decides the age of the government! — we, fit in the last category.

Now that’s an India that negates everything that we stand for. An India, that we cannot allow our nation to become. An India, where the voice of the people must be heard, but not at the cost of one over the other.
The army chief is claiming to defend his honour, but he has not chosen the honourable route
Premvir Das / Jan 22, 2012, 00:48 IST

After this, nothing is unbelievable. The chief of India's army files a writ petition against the government he serves — after a week of press statements in which he assures the media, and through it the country, that an issue is being made out of nothing, a mountain out of a molehill. At the reception in his home on Army Day, January 15, he gives no impression that anything extraordinary is afoot. A day later, he goes to the highest court of justice through a petition which must have taken several days, indeed, weeks, to plan.

The first commandment taught at the Indian Military Academy is that the safety, honour and welfare of one’s country comes first, those of the men under command (read the Indian army) comes next; and our own personal safety and welfare comes last, always and every time. Yet, this has given way to a scenario in which the last has become the first. Both the country and the Indian Army have become laughing stocks. In every living room and in every public place, the episode is being bandied about — and not in laudatory terms, either. All sorts of stories are being whispered, of dark conspiracies afoot to put this person or that into the chair that the chief presently occupies. It is also being said that this is just another episode in the perennial civil-military relationship — in which the former is always seeking to downgrade the latter.
Looked at dispassionately, this is much ado about nothing. General V K Singh applied for the National Defence Academy, while giving his year of birth as May 1950. He says that this was erroneously filled in the application form by his schoolteacher. Notwithstanding this claim, the act of one filling in — or getting filled in — a date and year of birth in the application form is irrelevant. To this has to be attached a high school certificate; only thereafter is the candidate cleared for appearing in the examination — conducted by the Union Public Service Commission, not just any rag-tag organisation. Viewed from this perspective, the very acceptance of his candidature at that time is open to question.

Thereafter, in the period specified for this very purpose, no attempt was made to change the “erroneous” date and year of birth as required by Army regulations. Later, when higher ranks came within reach, requests for change began to be made — and were, correctly, turned down as the period in which they could be made had elapsed. On this single ground, much less any others, Army Headquarters, itself, will not entertain a similar request from any serving officer.

When, at last, the time came for him to be promoted to Corps Commander, Army Commander and finally, Chief of Army Staff, Gen Singh had no hesitation in accepting 1950 as his year of birth. Now he wants his date of birth to be changed and when that is not done, there are cries that it is a conspiracy or that the pride of the Armed Forces — izzat — is being compromised, or that poor civil-military relations are the cause.

In this entire episode, now inexorably drawing to its tragic end, one thing is completely forgotten: that what we should be concerned with is the pride and honour of the Army, and indeed, the Armed Forces — not that of the army chief. It matters little whether the Adjutant General or the Military Secretary are the correct repositories of dates of birth; they are there to deal with issues of importance to younger officers, certainly not to those relating to a person holding the office of the Chief of the Army Staff.

The general made a representation, something few in his position would have done, and it was turned down. Amazingly, for an officer in his position, he did not take note of the fact that while he could address his submission to the Defence Minister, the entire processing would be done by the Defence Secretary, his junior in protocol, and even by civil servants lower down. In effect, he placed the position of the army chief, and thereby of the army which he represents, as a supplicant for a cause which had no bearing on the service to which he belonged, but pertained only to himself personally.

The legitimacy of his plaint is not the issue, but the manner in which it served to place the individual’s interest above that of the haloed institution that he heads and symbolises, certainly is. Every serving officer has the right to petition through redressal of grievance mechanisms; but the Army/Navy/Air Force Acts, when enacted, never visualised that the chief of a service would, or could even dream of, taking recourse to that provision. The chief acts as the arbiter on such petitions, does not seek their cover himself. The army chief's petitions must be assessed against this larger and more exacting context, and not against what the AG or the MS hold in their records. This is nothing to do with civil-military relations.

With the government having rejected the grievance, there was only one honourable course available to the incumbent army chief: he had to resign. In 1998, there was an almost similar case when the government had rejected the advice of the navy chief — but that, at least, was on a professional issue, and not on anything affecting his personal interest. He did not resign.

There have been many instances when people in this position elsewhere in the militaries of the world have differed with the political leadership, almost always on matters of professional importance, and when their view has not been accepted, resigned. This is the correct way of doing things.

But the army chief, while claiming to defend his honour has, alas, not chosen the honourable route. If the writ is fought in court, it will be nothing short of trauma for India’s armed forces. One can be sure that the government will be able to produce damning evidence which will belittle the Chief’s reputation. Surely, this is not what Gen Singh had sought for himself when he entered his office in South Block two years ago.

Even now, it is not too late. He should leave with such grace as is remaining and get his personal honour vindicated, if that is needed. Every day that he remains in office he loses in stature. Should that option not be exercised, sadly and frankly, the option of the President’s pleasure being withdrawn, for the second time in the history of our armed forces, could become a reality. And all for age — what a tragedy.
A General’s Date
The documentary proof of the date of birth of Chief of Army Staff Vijay Kumar Singh is a trail of paperwork that began over 40 years ago, when an “inadvertent error” was made while applying for the National Defence Academy. He claims that he was then just a 14-year-old school boy.

His petition in the Supreme Court is the General’s word on how his concept of dignity and honour got lost in a tangle of forms, personal assurances and lastly, subjugation to “organisational interests” that defined his journey to the top of an institution he now accuses of “administrative inefficiency”. Today, the General admits to the court that he is mauled by the controversy over his age, and only wants to retire and live with dignity and honour.

“It is of utmost importance that clarity be achieved on my date of birth before my tenure reaches an end. This issue is raked up by the Union of India highly belatedly and at a time when the length of my service is nearing its end. If my date of birth is indeed 10.5.1950 (as the government says), I am due to retire in June 2012 and if it 10.5.1951, I will retire in May 2013,” he says. What he wants from the top court is only a “final decision to be taken on his claim for reconciliation of the records with regard to his correct date of birth” and consequential benefits.

He says this while making it “abundantly clear” that regardless of the result of this petition or controversy, he expects the government to “undoubtedly” exercise its right to determine the tenure of his office as the Chief of Army Staff.

The petition poses two questions for the court to answer: was it the “genuine mistake” of his much younger self in 1965 that brought him to the Supreme Court to mark an unprecedented chapter in the country’s history? Or did the army and government fail his good faith to “automatically update and remove the discrepancy over his date of birth”?

Factual matrix

The General begins his petition by taking the blame on himself after a clerk “inadvertently” filled his date of birth as 10.5.1950 in his NDA application form. At that time, he did not even have the class 10 certificate from the Rajasthan Secondary Education Board to prove his date of birth.

His father, Major Jagat Singh, was however quick to get his birth certified as 10.5.1951 from the Commanding Officer of the 14 Rajput Regiment, just in time for his son to attend the written tests. This is the first of many records Singh depends on in the Supreme Court.

Though medical test reports and verifications conducted by the DIG of Police, CID and IB show his birth year as 1951, Singh points to how the government relies on a form containing a “clerical error” to declare his birth year as 1950.

It is rather strange that the Ministry of Defence dealing with such a sensitive issue accepted a Form filled up by a clerk, i.e. SP 44 (automatically filled by office staff from the UPSC form at the interview stage of the selection), and ignored all verification done by senior revenue and police officials (after the final selection), which cull out my date of birth as May 10, 1951,” Singh says.

The petition records how his father, at the time of his joining NDA in 1966, had written to the UPSC, annexing a provisional matriculation certificate to clarify his date of birth as May 5, 1951. “Had this clarification not been accepted, clearance to join NDA would not have been given,” Singh reasons.

In 1969, Singh found himself again caught in the age loop when the Indian Military Academy dossier showed his year of birth as 1950 on the basis of the wrongly filled UPSC application form. IMA, the petition says, corrected the date after his school forwarded a copy of his school leaving certificate.

In 1971, almost a year after he was commissioned as officer in the infantry’s 2nd Battalion of the Rajput Regiment, he submitted his matriculation certificate to the Adjutant General (AG) Branch, which he says is the official record keeper of the army.

But it was only 14 years later that Singh chanced upon the existence of contradictory records of his year of birth in the army. In 1985, through a colleague, he learnt that his birth year was recorded as 1950 in the Army List, a confidential document published in 1974-75. This record was in direct conflict with the AG Branch record and would later turn out as prime evidence, along with the UPSC application form, for the Military Secretary’s (MS) Branch and Ministry of Defence to conclude that his official birth year was 1950.

“I am certain that there was no communication on the issue of discrepancy in relation to my date of birth between the AG Branch and the MS Branch,” Singh notes.

In 2006, after 36 years of having being commissioned into the army and despite efforts to reconcile the “discrepancy”, Singh, to his “utter dismay and surprise”, got a letter from the MS Branch pointing out the dissonance in his age.

At this point, Singh asks the court to reflect on why the MS Branch was silent for all these years: “There exists a detailed procedure for verification of all data given in the confidential reports and for 35 years, it was being scrutinised scrupulously every year by the MS Branch. Had there been an incorrect date, it would have been notified to the unit concerned of the officer as well as the officer himself.”

In reply to this question, the MS Branch simply writes that its records were based on the 1965 UPSC application form and counters that Singh should have changed his date of birth to 1951 within two years from the date of his commissioning as required under a 1954 Defence Ministry Memorandum.

To this, Singh argues that he technically became a commissioned officer in 1971 after he produced his matriculation certificate, and till then his candidature was only termed “provisional” by the AG Branch. Besides, he went on to clarify, he had “never asked for a change of his date of birth but had only requested that the records of the MS and AG branches be harmonised”.

With Singh at the time poised to assume the rank of Lt General with a clear shot to be Army Chief, the Ministry of Defence stepped into the fray for an explanation from the MS Branch on the dual dates of his birth. The MS Branch replied that its records were based on the UPSC form and the Army List. Singh shoots back, saying that the Army List with the MS Branch was a confidential document with hardly any access.

In January 2008, Singh suddenly decided to accept the army’s line. This “acceptance” is later termed by the army as an “admission” from Singh that he was indeed born in 1950 and not the following year as he had claimed all along.

But Singh counters that his concession was made in a “hurry” and under the influence of his immediate superior and then army chief General Deepak Kapoor who assured him that he would resolve the issue.

“The alleged admission was not a free admission; rather, it was made in a hurry and not with total independence of mind but under an apprehension of some proceeding being initiated against me, being a disciplined member of the Forces,” he defends.

In December 2008, with no word from the then army chief, Singh wrote to the MS Branch for a fresh verification of his date of birth. The branch refers to his “admission” in January and informs him that it does not “verify” dates of birth.

Following this, the defence ministry in 2011 rejects his pleas for an amendment of his date of birth based on Attorney General GE Vahanvati’s opinion that any such amendment is not “legally tenable”.

There are three questions to which Singh wants an answer in the Supreme Court:

Why is such importance being given to the inadvertent mistake of a 14-year-old boy while ignoring the date of birth recorded in public records?

Why was the February 25, 2011 order by the AG Branch—the “final authority” over dates of birth in the army—reconciling the difference of date of birth with the MS Branch not treated as final?

Why was he, the senior most officer in the army, “treated in a manner which reflects total lack of procedure and principles of natural justice and that too on an opinion obtained from the Attorney General?”

Supporting documents

Documents in the petition where the army concedes Singh’s birth year is 1951

On January 30, 2008, the MS Branch, in a letter to Defence Ministry, “accepted” that the documents in the AG Branch reflect Singh’s date of birth as May 10, 1951. It admits that it had no information of these records.

In a reply to an RTI by Kamal Taori on February 23, 2011, the Army HQ informs that date of birth of Singh as per the AG Branch records and the high school certificate is May 10, 1951.

On July 1, 2011, MS Branch issues a memorandum stating that past records of the Selection Board show that Master Data Sheets drawn at the time of consideration for Singh’s promotion to various ranks show his date of birth to be May 10, 1951.

On March 30, 2011, Controller of Defence Accounts records show Singh’s date of birth as May 10, 1951.

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