The Saga of the Date of Birth will live on forever
Ever since I blogged on the chief’s date of birth, some of the commentators to my blogs have prompted me to put it in perspective. Matters have gone beyond the date of birth. A PIL (public interest litigation) filed by eminent people has been thrown out by the Supreme Court. The manner in which it has been dismissed leans heavily on evidence or the lack of it. The antiquated Indian Evidence Act of 1872 has several flaws and our judicial system is cleverly bound by it to vary the advantage. Briefly, the PIL was not entirely to seek justice for Gen VK Singh in the date of birth issue, but to challenge the appointment of the next incumbent. It claims that the date of birth change has been denied to accommodate Gen Bikram Singh to step in as chief.
Indian Express articles
An article by Shekhar Gupta, National Interest with Prejudice and another ‘A fair amount of langar talk… SGPC issued strong statement’ in the Indian Express and a response to it by one of the PIL litigators has thrown up some interesting aspects.National Interest-With Pride (this downloads a word document).
The Congo affair
The two incidents that Gen Bikram Singh has been allegedly indicted for are shocking to say the least. The first is about the sexual exploitation acts by 51 Indian members of the UN peace keeping force in Congo.
Acts of sexual exploitation of children and women has been a common occurrence with UN peacekeepers. This is a sad part where one has to guard against the guardians. Many countries have been accused of such behaviour. This fact however does not condone acts by the Indian Army. For such large numbers to be involved in it clearly shows a lack of discipline at the officer level. Further, denial and lack of oversight over its ramifications displays incompetency and general moral turpitude.
India has been providing peacekeepers for over 60 years. I can still hear the name of Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria who was awarded the highest military honour for his sacrifice and bravery on the Gaza strip. His name resounds in my ears even till this day, it was on the roll of honour in my squadron and proudly announced at every passing out parade and rehearsals to it.
Indian Army has been on and off in Congo since the 60s. It has the largest contingent of the 18K multinational force. The probability of such exploitation is known, there is a history of it in the UN Peacekeeping environment and yet the Army did nothing to prevent it. Gen Bikram Singh, being the commander or the deputy of the force cannot be held directly responsible for the incident, but it happened on his watch and therefore must share some vicarious responsibility. His role or lack of it in painting an image of India and the army needs to be publicly vindicated, especially since there is a public awareness of the squabbling in the army and citizens are putting up PILs.
(India should pull out of peacekeeping duties. China, a permanent member of the Security Council has only recently entered the peace keeping roles, despite a 2 million strong army. They have earned a good name through a clear policy of developing a friendly and efficient image. They provide engineers and doctors. I am sure there must be some gain in providing peacekeepers, but with the current situation where the UN wants the sexual exploiters brought to justice, I see only a loss of face and the chances of being a permanent member of the Security Council diminished, even if it didn’t depend on peace keeping).
Of encounters and military image
The other allegation against Gen Bikram Singh is of a claim of bringing down a ‘terrorist’, in Kashmir. Again, there is something amiss on his watch. These two incidents point towards moral deficiencies and definitely not of any soldierly brilliance. Positive actions need to be rewarded and not a passive patronage of indiscipline.
Military image is built through winning battles and upholding honour. On the basis of victories, however small, a positive image is developed for future generations to be proud and continue a glorious tradition. The Indian Army prides itself on the reserve of tradition built over several centuries, but struggles to get quality enrolment in the officer cadre. This is seen in the alleged corruption, fake encounters, sexual harassment and squabbling in the senior ranks. If this was a Shogunate, then many generals will have fallen on their swords. They do great injustice to their colleagues, their command and the nation. It is not a matter of paltan ka izzat, (honour of the battalion), but that of the whole country!
Judiciary vs former executive
The manner in which the government or Supreme Court has responded is indicative of its unwillingness to re litigate the date of birth issue, even at the cost of having an appointee who has a cloudy career run up to the chiefs post. There is no interest in knowing or cleaning up a mess.
Just consider the people who have filed the PIL.(Includes former Naval Chiefs, a deputy COAS, and several retired senior IAS and armed forces officers). There can be no reason for any of them to have a conflict of interest in whoever will be the next appointee, including General Bikram Singh, as he had no role in promoting himself over others. At the same time it is accusing General JJ Singh, the former chief of putting several other candidates at a disadvantage by not accepting Gen VK Singhs change of date of birth. (Since seniority decides who will be the next chief one can predict upto 3 or 4 future chiefs, subject to them being medically fit and recommended each year).Here comes in a communal angle, which even if unintended, by simple laws of probability can point to favouritism on the mere fact that the interested parties are from one community.
There are a myriad communities and they are not all monolith in their structure. As segments of society and following a nuclear structure, there is a nucleus and peripheral orbits in every community. Many in the outer orbits rise above the ‘community’ spirit and are in the main stream of modern India. The Armed forces do attract quite a few from this much more secular group and if someone has overstepped this to show communal favouritism, we have lost a chance to stem it or reinforce the fact that the Armed forces are free of communal influences.
By not admitting the PIL, the Supreme Court has set a precedent. It has clearly shown that the judiciary is not really independent of the executive and legislature. It has laid doubts on the credibility of several former senior government servants who filed the petition. Most of all it has failed to give General Bikram Singh a chance to vindicate himself.
A case of the dog eating its tail!