3 minute readCombative Indian Army chief leaves age row open

New Delhi: The last word on Indian Army chief General Vijay Kumar Singh’s age row has not been spoken yet and the days to come may witness a nastier battle as he pegged it Thursday as an issue of personal “integrity and honor” but stressed it did not affect his work.

At his annual pre-Army Day press conference here, General Singh de-linked the age issue from his professional role even as he indicated that all options, be it resigning or going to the courts, were open.

“The issue has always been … I am emphasizing it … that of integrity and honor. This issue has always been tackled by me in organizational interest,” General Singh said in his elaborate opening remarks, though he later refused to take questions on it.

The controversy relates to his plea to the defense ministry to change his date of birth to May 10, 1951, instead of May 10, 1950, in official records. But the government has refused to accede to his requests, citing legal officers’ recommendation against it.

If the government had agreed to General Singh’s request, he would get another 10 months in office till March 2013. But this would upset the succession chain of the 1.13-million-strong army which is based on seniority.

Defense Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony had six months ago told parliament that General Singh will have to retire May 31 this year as his appointment as corps commander, army commander and army chief were based on 1950 as the year of birth.

If General Singh demits office May 31, present Eastern Army Commander Lieutenant General Bikram Singh is tipped to be the next chief.

After the government December last refused to entertain his statutory complaint on the age issue, there has been speculation that he may go to court or resign.

Asked if he would indeed resign, Singh retorted: “Please leave it to my judgement on what I want to do. It concerns me and I may decide on my action after thinking over it whenever I get the time.”

Soon, another question popped up: Is this your last Army Day press conference as army chief?

General Singh’s enigmatic reply: “I don’t know.”

But General Singh said the age row was not affecting the working of the army. “It may have impacted my family life and within the four walls of my home but not my official work. I work for the organization. I do not work for myself.”

The army chief was also unsparing of the media, saying “awkward spins” were given to the age issue. “There is no point in vitiating things the way they are. Each one of us puts our own spin (to the controversy).”

He said some vested interests were trying to play up the matter. “I know it, what the motives are. Unfortunately these things don’t remain hidden. We will not talk of this issue,” he added.

The controversy relates to two sets of documents with the army’s adjutant general branch, which handles pays and perks, and the military secretary branch that deals with postings and promotions.

While the adjutant general, the official record keeper, maintains 1951 as General Singh’s year of birth, the military secretary branch holds it as 1950 – leading to the confusion.

A combative Singh, to a query on how such age-related controversies would be prevented in the future, said processes have now been put in place for reconciling records and data between different branches of the army “so that no such anomaly crops up in the future”.

In a related development, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, when asked about the army chief’s age row, said the matter had been dealt with “fairly and justly” by the defense ministry.

Chidambaram said the country held General Singh in “high respect” and that he is “a fine soldier, who has done remarkable service to the country”.

He said an “unfortunate” controversy had erupted and expressed the hope that it is resolved.

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