Army chief Deepak Kapoor, Lt Gen. VK Singh
New Delhi, Dec. 29: The row, in the course of which army chief Deepak Kapoor has alleged that the Eastern Army commander was taking an undue interest, comes against the backdrop of other appointments and a confusion over the age of Lt Gen. V.K. Singh who heads the establishment at Fort William in Calcutta.
On October 1, Lt Gen. Prabodh Chandra Bharadwaj, a special operations officer and paratrooper who is the most decorated soldier in the army, was appointed the vice-chief. Although army commanders are theoretically equivalent to the vice-chief, in practice, Lt Gen. Singh would, for operational reasons, be reporting to an officer who is six months junior to him.
Earlier, when Bharadwaj was appointed the Northern Army commander, too, the chief of staff, Lt Gen. Katoch, went on leave because he was senior to Bharadwaj and did not want to report to a junior.
Lt Gen. Singh, having done extended tours of duty in Jammu and Kashmir and in the east, has been out of Delhi for decades now. The conventional wisdom was that if he is to be groomed to take over as army chief, he should have been appointed vice-chief.
But Gen. Kapoors recommendation got Bharadwaj the office.
Defence minister Antony had said at the time that in all matters of postings and promotions, the army chiefs recommendation would matter.
Running parallel to these developments is the confusion over the date of birth of Lt Gen. Singh. This is important because the age of an officer determines his date of retirement. Also, the chief, who retires at 62, must be a three-star officer with enough time to have a full two-year tenure at the top.
But there are discrepancies in the army records over Lt Gen. Singhs age. The adjutant generals branch that keeps the records of officers since the time they were in the National Defence Academy and the Indian Military Academy, identified Lt Gen. Singhs date of birth as May 10, 1951.
But the military secretarys branch, that oversees transfers and postings, recorded his date of birth as May 10, 1950, a full year ahead. Lt Gen. Singh had put in a plea in Army Headquarters for the discrepancy to be reconciled.
The military secretarys branch was not responsive enough to the request. Not only that, a senior officer gave an unscheduled briefing to the defence secretary on the age controversy. Unless this is resolved, Lt Gen. Singhs appointment as chief could be in jeopardy.
In its wisdom, the defence ministry has forwarded the papers to the cabinet secretary to settle it once and for all.
With Gen. Kapoor due to retire on March 31, the paperwork for the next army chiefs appointment has to begin now. It has to be initiated from – guess where – the military secretarys branch. And the military secretary is indicted on charges of corruption.
The papers are forwarded by Army Headquarters to the defence ministry which in turn sends them to the cabinet secretary. The position has to be approved by the appointments committee of the cabinet.
For a new army chief to take over in April, the announcement is normally made two months in advance — by February 2010 in this case — during which the incumbent may be attached to army headquarters. Also, the appointments committee will have to approve the successor to the Eastern Command and fill in other offices in the chain of command.
Time and again, the Indian military complains that its hardware is outdated and it needs to modernise urgently and be prepared for a war on two fronts — with Pakistan and China. But the mind space of the top brass who are to prepare for such hostilities is now possessed by a game of musical chairs.