Sunday, 22 January 2012


Herman Wouk remarked in Caine Mutiny, "Wasted years are as painful in the beginning, as in the old age; only, in the end it becomes more obvious." Likewise, when General VK Singh joined the Indian Army some four decades back, he would have never thought that the question of his becoming younger or older by a year would become the subject of an urgent debate in a nation forever starved of debates on such insignificant but sensational issues. I am reminded of the time when Maharashtra was facing unprecedented suicides of farmers in Vidharbha. Its Home Minister, one RR Patil, was concerned about bar girls corrupting the lives of men in and out of Mumbai. Similarly, for those (mainly from the retired armed forces community) who are now putting up defence of the Chief of the Army Staff and commenting on the continued deterioration of civil-military relations, I have only one question to ask: Is this the right method of trying to teach a lesson to the gargantuan bureaucracy? Are we at our strongest when we try to make a purely personal matter into one of civil-military relations? We didn't sort out civil-military relations when the government withdrew President's pleasure in the case of Admiral Vishnu Bhagawat who was trying to fight an unequal battle with the bureaucracy that had become all too powerful; is this then the right jumping board to plunge into these matters? Is the belated realisation of the correctness of his date of birth of such significance to the health of our armed forces that we feel this is the litmus test of their importance?

No? Then, lets look into the other facets of the case. I am not taking sides or commenting on the merits of the case. All I am saying is that we haven't exactly covered ourselves in glory that we, in India, have such poor record keeping that an Army officer rises to the level of the Chief and just before his retirement he wants to sort out whether he is one year younger or older; an issue that he has not been able to sort out for four decades but kept on becoming more and more senior "under coercion". The only parallel I can draw is this curious case in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, a few years back (the case was reported in Time magazine). In this district, in order to grab the property of their older relations, the unscrupulous elements would show the older relations dead, get a death-certificate made and then usurp the property. The old men, still alive, would go from one government office to another showing the proof of their being alive, that is, they, themselves in flesh and blood. However, the offices would reject their demands on the ground that without a birth-certificate, they had only the death-certificate to rely on. These unfortunate oldies then formed a 'Society of the Living Dead' to fight for their cause.

Shocking? Well the reverse is equally true. There are any number of dead in India who are still receiving pension and hence each one of the pensioners is required to render a Life Certificate every year. A person was found in a jail for nearly thirty years since the records regarding his being jailed went missing.

Is this what life in India means: a life from one certificate to the other? The media - in the name of transparency everywhere including in defence matters - loves to unearth such details as would scandalise the maximum people so that its TRPs would keep on the upward path. It has, therefore, taken upon itself to 'not to consider Defence Forces as holy cows'. As a result, the more demeaning facts about this erstwhile holy cow it can bring out, the more it feels it has done its whistle-blower job. Hence, for example, without even understanding the nature of maritme domain awareness, it labels the Indian Navy as inefficient when a derelict ship like MV Pavit gets grounded on the Juhu beach. It is only when someone professional explains them the facts that the media understands the poverty of its own thoughts. However, like we saw in the case of Radiia Tapes, the media is unlikely to admit that it has elements within its bastion that are as corrupt - if not more - than the corruption that they take pains to expose. The media, thererfore, is playing to the gallery bringing out facts, unearhted on a daily basis, on the age of the Army Chief.

Hence, we don't expect or hear it from the media that, in India, it is not just Birth and Death certificates that are suspect (General VK Singh's birth as well matriculation certificates are not products of defence record keeping; but, of bureaucratic record keeping of the country). In this bureaucratic record-keeping, perpetually, at the villages and cities level, we have never-ending court-cases arising out of land ownership. We haven't been able to sort out the land revenue records. Our data of SC/ST/OBC etc, at best, is suspect. The planning commission data on poverty, electricity distribution, deaths in disasters, famine-hit areas; in short, you name it, everything is suspect. The other day, we read it in the papers that even the data about our industrial growth and eventually GDP is suspect.

Who gains by such suspect certification and data? Any guesses? The General, by his one act of commission or omission may just be interfering with the carefully laid-out succession plan of the Indian Army; but, it is mind boggling how such certification and data is used in India to siphon off funds, to derive power and influence, and to manipulate the stock-exchanges and economy.

We recently have UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) battling with reams of data but with hardly any means available to check the veracity of such personal data. It is only computerising the entire process, but, one's Unique ID and data associated with it, are still based on suspect certification and data at village and city levels; and is as suspect as any other data produced by our bureaucratic structures.

As far as the General age is concerned, in my characteristic impudence, I am reminded of my school-days joke about this young boy being asked by the bus conductor to tell his age (children between 5 to 9 years were permitted to travel on half-ticket). He, quite truthfully, replied, "I am eight now and ten when I get off the bus". Regrettably, the players involved do not have the school-boy's truthfulness: the General, the armed forces' community, the bureaucracy, and the media.


  1. Very well written. The pathetic status of record keeping is shocking. Media's role is to be condemned.

  2. People who don't know the whole truth should learn to keep their mouth shut.

    1. Agreed. However, I would have expected you to tell the "truth" in case you felt differently. Or, perhaps, you feel that everyone must keep quiet when "seniors" are talking. The focus of the article was the larger issues of record keeping in our country and media's role in sensationalising a "personal" (as stated by the COAS himself) issue. Awaiting your revelation of the "truth".

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