Indian Army chief General VK Singh has kept the controversy around the existence of two dates of birth of his on army records alive. While he has been promoted keeping 1950 as his date of birth, Singh has maintained that it is actually 1951. His claim to this effect was rejected by the defence ministry on December 30, 2011, and now the general has moved court. Last week, he said that it was a "personal" matter and his claim has been about his "honour and integrity" and that he had tackled it in the interest of the army.
There is an apparent contradiction in saying that the dispute about his date of birth is "personal" and that, at the same time, it involves the "organisational interest" of the army. Also, it is time that everyone concerned acted in the interest of the honour not only of the army but also of its chief, whose reputation has been exemplary throughout.
Age is hardly of consequence in such matters that are determined by what is legally tenable and recorded on files. Two army chiefs (Generals JJ Singh and Deepak Kapoor), four defence secretaries (Shekhar Dutt, Vijay Singh, Pradeep Kumar and Shashikant Sharma); two law ministers (Veerappa Moily and Salman Khurshid); two defence ministers (Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony) have reviewed Singh's contention.
The Attorney General of India consid-ered it three times. As did the Appo-intments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) - with the PM, the home minister and the defence minister as members - first, while appointing Singh as Corps Commander in 2006, then as Eastern Army commander in 2008, and then as Chief of Army Staff in 2010. Finally, the defence ministry went through the entire sequence since the day Singh joined the army to the present and concluded that 1950 is the legally maintainable year of his birth, while rejecting a statutory complaint filed by him.
Also, the file that the ACC considered for Singh's appointment as Chief of Army Staff included a letter that unconditionally declared 1950 be considered his year of birth. It would be unfair to assume that all these people acted with prejudice or were incompetent to understand the issue. Nor can it be presumed that any of them would be less concerned about the honour of the institution of the army.
The only thing the government can do to protect the honour of Singh - and the army, if they are indeed inextricably linked - is to remain silent, which it is doing. The army chief would have enhanced his honour by laying the dispute to rest and announcing that he respected the judgement of the executive on the issue. By taking it to court, Singh has set the scene for a rather nasty battle with the government that will also see all the file notings and internal deliberations on the issue being argued threadbare.
Irrespective of who wins it finally, an honourable military career should not end in a petty tenure battle in a court.