Select the best for Army Chief

Wise generals don’t fight avoidable wars. The Chief of Army Staff, General V K Singh, fought a prolonged war on a personal issue, stretched his lines beyond a limit and lost it.

As a serving chief of one of the largest armies of the world he ought not to have become a complainant before the highest court of the land – only to lose the war he had waged for several months over the date of his birth.

Was he born in 1950 or in 1951 was the question. Involved was a few months’  extension of his tenure in the top most job in the Indian Army.

The Indian Army has a high reputation to keep and it was the duty of General V K Singh to protect it. By approaching the Supreme Court he staked his own honour and that of the post he was holding.. Both have come out somewhat bruised.

Why he made a simple question of his own date of birth a matter of honour cannot be easily explained. Had the system of army promotion done injustice to him, or was it some pent up grievance he was nursing all along that had pushed him on to a wrong track which was bound to lead him to a dead-end.

Going by the obiter dicta of the two judges it was clear that Gen. V K Singh was overdrawing on his honour theme that he felt would be compromised if he was to be considered born in 1950.

The judges rejected his demand that he be considered born in 1951, but gave avuncular   advice to the chief that he is “a great soldier” and that a date of birth did not have a bearing on his honour.

Having reached the acme of his career with the Indian armed forces, the court seemed to be asking: “What more do you want, General”?

The judges did not want to go into the question that V K Singh was born  in  1951. They chose to go by May 10, 1950 as the  date of birth as shown in the application form filled in by the young aspirant himself when he sat for the NDA examination, and also by the records of the UPSC.

The Supreme Court also saw merit in the Ministry of Defence going by the undertaking given by the General himself in 2008 and 2009 that he would go by the 1950 date. This was when he was being promoted to higher ranks on the ladder that led to his being the Chief of Army Staff.

Justice H L Gokhale, said in the court: “The government gave you an opportunity. It is not fair to criticize the Defence Ministry. The matter was treated as closed. The government made you Chief of the Army. They could have easily said ‘We don’t need such a person’.”

Justice R M Lodha said: “We want to ensure as Chief of Army you continue to serve the country as you did in 38 years. This verdict should not come in your way. Wise men are those who move with the wind.”

As  good old uncles often do, this was an exercise in applying balm to a general who has lost his battle, and who  might take defeat to heart and quit his job.

Men who have a heightened sense of honour often need such a piece of advice and it is good the Supreme Court gave it to the General. The Chief himself in his long career himself might have given this kind of advice to a junior with a hurt ego.

Whether General V K Singh chooses to accept the Supreme Court’s advice remains to be seen. On the surface, his continuance at the helm seems to have become untenable. This is because he took the battle too far, leaving himself with little space to beat retreat with a grace.

It is for him to decide. In service, he would become a kind of lame duck in uniform; always looking back over on his 38 years of the battles,  won and lost, including the great DoB battle.

General V K Singh should  feel happy he made it to the top. He must, however, ponder whether it was worth all the bother. He might also consider whether it is wise to divide his Army in two camps – for and against him on his personal issue.

Or did he get carried away with the breaking news headlines in the newspapers or on the TV channels? For weeks the general’s age had become their staple.

The government has clearly won the case in the Supreme Court. But it must review the system of selecting the Chief of Army Staff. Particularly it should consider whether the seniority principle which guides the selection process gets the best of chiefs for the Army.

Often the senior-most general may not be the option. Indian Army requires the ablest of the commanders to be its chief. The accident of getting born on a particular day  should not be decisive.

The best way perhaps would be to select the best of the general out of top brass of eight top commanders.

– ZEE News, 11th Feburary, 2012

Debate on the President’s Address

Transcript of a speech made by H K Dua in the Rajya Sabha on February 23, 2011 in the debate on the President’s Address to the joint session of Parliament.

National consensus on vital issues needed

SHRI H.K.DUA (NOMIATED):   Thank you, Mr Vice-Chairman, for giving me time. I have heard the debate, during the last two days, on the President’s Address.  Members of all shades of opinions have expressed their opinions on the President’s Address and the various issues confronting the country.  In a nation of one billion people, there are bound to be differences of opinion, but I do find that despite the acrimony witnessed during the last several months in the country, despite the different views expressed in the House and outside, there is no difference of opinion among the leadership of various parties and the people that this country should emerge as a major economic, political and military power of the 21st century.  There is no difference of opinion on this central aim which has emerged after 64 years of freedom.  This is not an armchair  dream of any one political party, but this is the national aim.  Everybody, whether on the Treasury benches, or on the Opposition benches, realizes that the country has achieved the potential of becoming a major power of the 21 century.

The world is also acknowledging, possibly; the world is acknowledging this, more liberally, than we are doing ourselves, considering a sort of cynicism and cynical mood that has developed over the last few months or over the last few years.

But are we, as a nation, doing all what needs to be done to emerge as a major power of the 21st century? And if we examine this question, in detail, the answer will be, “NO.” All that is sought to be done, all that needs to be done, we are not doing.  If we have to build this country into a big military, political and economic power, befitting a nation of a billion people, then we need to do much more.

And one of the things which we need to develop is, to evolve a national consensus on some essential issues. This kind of attempt — although feeble — has been made, often during the last few years to evolve a national consensus on some issues, but these efforts have not succeeded. The time has come now, fairly in the beginning of the 21st century, to evolve a consensus over some issues on which the parties should sink their differences and evolve a consensus and approach which facilitate achieving that potential aim which we can possibly achieve.

What are those issues? Considering the time, at my disposal, I will be brief, Mr Vice-Chairman.  Issues of national security, for instance, deserve  national consensus. I do not find anybody, in this House, who will place any obstacles in evolving a national consensus on security issues, both internal and external. There are formidable challenges to national security  Terrorism is one; nobody can differ on the need to combat terrorism. In the last few months there has been no real big terror strike. But that does not mean that the threat of terrorism has disappeared from the country.

SHRI H.K. DUA (CONTD): One weapon which the terrorists have, which we can’t anticipate, is the weapon of surprise. They can strike anywhere they like, at any time they want, unless there is a danger to them on a crucial occasion. The vigilance which the President’s Address speaks about fairly in the beginning of the Address is necessary. But that should have the backing of all shades of opinion and a national consensus which is necessary.

Another is the Maoists’ threat. It is not, in a sense, a threat that cannot be tackled.  Over all, there are 160, or 180, districts affected by Maoists threat. Out of them, 60 districts have been identified as very sensitive. Even 60 is not a small number.  Essentially, the Maoists threat to the State is very serious and can’t brook a partisan approach. It has to be met with a national approach.

Not only the parties have to cooperate with each other, but  also the Central and the State Governments, irrespective of the denomination which governs there, have to cooperate to find a way to tackle this national menace.  The Maoists also strike a surprise. Dantewada was one where 76 people of the CRPF were killed one night. Now they have the temerity to kidnap a District Collector in Orissa and keep him in custody. He is a public-spirited officer, which is a very rare breed these days. He is popular among the people and that popularity itself is nagging the Maoists.  They captured him and wanted some of their  people to be released. I am glad that he has been freed and some praise should go from this House for the brave officer like him.

But the essential message which comes out clearly is that the Maoists are not relenting in their efforts to disturb peace in the country and they want to strike wherever they want. They do spring surprise, some time in Chhattisgarh, another time in Jharkhand and the third time in Orissa, and tomorrow they can do it at another place.

Sir, I will keep it brief. There is a need for national consensus also on…

THE VICE-CHAIRMAN (PROF P.J. KURIAN): Your time is going to be over. What can I do? There is so much of time constraint.

SHRI H.K. DUA: I WILL CUT IT SHORT. Mr. Vice-Chairman. I am sure, you will give me marks for patience.


SHRI H K DUA; There is a need for consensus on Kashmir. I am afraid, this has been lacking and even if some consensus was evolved a few years ago,  I find  it is disappearing. There is no political consensus on it now.  The fact is that we have been promising autonomy to Kashmir over the years. Successive Prime Ministers have promised autonomy. Mr Narasimha Rao had promised autonomy to Kashmir; Mr Vajpayee had promised autonomy to Kashmir; and the present Prime Minister Dr Manmohan singh has promised autonomy to Kashmir.  I don’t think that we should relax on that aim. How the consensus can work in Kashmir is evident from the President’s Address acknowledgement of the mission of All-Party Delegation which visited Kashmir a few months ago and came back with the impression that it was possible to evolve a solution of Kashmir. The message will go much deeper if all the parties agree on Kashmir.


SHRI H.K. DUA: I will cut it short. I will take just two minutes.

THE VICE-CHAIRMAN; I am unwillingly saying. I am also helpless.

SHRI H K DUA:  Just a couples of minutes more and I will be done with this.

On foreign Policy issue, we require a different Foreign Policy for the 21st century from the earlier one. It is no longer a bipolar world. It is a multi-polar world. I think that a consensus on foreign Policy will help the Government to deal with the rest of the world better.

But one other thing certainly needs to be done and I would like to lay emphasis on it in my concluding remarks. We need to have a consensus on how to run this Parliament; how to bring about  judicial reforms which are very badly needed and how to bring administrative reforms because they are  key to the governance of the country.

I am sorry to say this – I am a new Member comparatively – that the way  Parliament has conducted itself for some time does not enjoy the support of the people. The judiciary is also losing support of the people when  cases are not decided for twenty years, or thirty years and some times after a person is no more.

SHRI H K DUA (CONTD): At the district level, at High Courts level, prestige of the courts has suffered, and somehow, the Supreme Court lately is also hitting the headlines for wrong reasons which I don’t  have the time to elaborate. On the judicial reforms which have been promised in the President’s Address, I hope, the political parties will support.

Thank you, Mr. Vice-Chairman.

THE VICE-CHAIRMAN (PROF. P.J. KURIEN): Duaji, in fact, an erudite person like you should be given more time, but I am helpless. There are three speakers and the time allotted is 17 minutes.