Shaping the mind of the Oslo killer

BY SAEED NAQVI

Anders Behring Breivik’s monstrous act in Oslo is another leak in the sewer of Islamophobia, anti-Marxist fanaticism, and worse, which runs through the western sub stratum and breaks out into open every now and then.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy terrorized America in the 50’s with his anti communist witch hunt. But there was sufficient muscle in American liberalism of that era to throw up a journalist like Edward Murrow of CBS News who took on McCarthy and almost single handedly created conditions for the Congressional Committee chaired by the Senator, the singular forum for the witch hunt, to be wound up.

If Breivik’s atrocity were a result of some home grown, Norwegian affliction, then I am certain (I have some knowledge of Norway and have met Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in Oslo) it would have been arrested well before it went over the edge. Indeed, the local media would never have created an environment in which such minds are shaped. In this it is not a solely Norwegian event. It can happen anywhere. Breivik’s is a globalized affliction, conditioned in the hot house of global 24X7 media. Murrow could take on McCarthy frontally in the local arena, without any globalized obstruction.

Breivik is the creature of the Murdoch press which has throttled the Murrows of this world. His mind set would synchronize perfectly with Bill O’Reilly, the famous anchor of Fox News. The coverage of American military action in Afghanistan in November 2001 would have been orgasmic for Breivik. The channel’s star correspondent, Geraldo Rivera, whips out a weapon: “I would shoot him, if I could lay my eyes on Osama Bin Laden!”

In both, vocabulary and image, the agenda pushed by the Murdoch press (and, by infection, others including CNN and BBC) nursed and manufactured the Breivik mind by the sheer incantation of hyped anti Muslim-Marxist hysteria.

In the 60s, Protestant triumphalism of the Orange Marches were disrupted by Roman Catholics and Rev. Ian Paisley was taking up cudgels for Protestants and Unionists by spewing venom on the Pope. Across the Atlantic, Americans were mourning the death of their first Roman Catholic President, John F. Kennedy. It was in everybody’s interest to confine the intra-Christian quarrel to Ireland. In any event, there was no global media in existence then, except BBC Radio, a useful colonial habit. The global media made its entry as part of the triumphalism that the collapse of the Soviet Union brought in its wake.

The first major event covered by the new global media was Operation Desert Storm, Iraq, in February 1991. If Breivik was in his impressionable years then, he would have seen Saddam Hussain painted as a latter day Hitler, barbarous, invader of a neighbouring country, oppressor of his people. A young Nordic mind would celebrate Western triumph. The entire Muslim world – among a host of others – would internalize the outcome differently, as if from the opposite side of the trench.

Is there a hesitation to mention Christian or Hindu terrorists when Muslim names are mentioned as possible perpetrators within hours of the attack? The first scenario sketched by Stratfor after the Oslo outrage dwelt on Muslim terror. A trademark image of Muslim terrorism became vast congregations bowing in prayer. Bush Senior knelt in prayer all night with Rev. Billy Grahame on the eve of that messianic mission, Operation Desert Storm or George W. Bush before the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq: on TV these would have looked too much like medieval crusades. Bush Jr. restrained himself by simply mentioning “crusade” to describe his mission.

In this, too, the global media and its imitative appendage, the Indian media, have played their part. That which is known as the Bosnian war actually began with Serbian attack on Croatian positions – part of an ancient Orthodox Church and Catholic Church conflict. Bosnian Muslims were initially squeezed in the middle. But how did the global media cover the war? It consistently described the conflict as one between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. The Christian denominations were completely hidden from view. And the manner in which Europe kept aloof from the brutalities visited upon the Bosnian Muslims, day after day for full four years on live TV, Sebrenica and all, created conditions for Islamism to grow in Turkey, which has historical memories of Bosnia, and its lethal opposite number – the mind of a lonesome, psychopathic, confused young man in Oslo, making the Klu Klux Klan look like a moderate idea. It is frightening that the fascist badge he wore was designed in Varanasi?

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

After Clinton, all eyes on Pakistan’s Hina Khar

BY SAEED NAQVI

For the first time in my recollection, the Pakistan Foreign Minister visiting New Delhi will attract more notice than US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton did exactly a week earlier.

There could be several reasons for this, the most compelling being that Hina Rabbani Khar is the first woman Foreign Minister of Pakistan. At 34, she also happens to be the youngest ever. Then, the Clinton visit coincided with the 24X7 focus on Rupert Murdoch’s trial by fire, taking the spotlight away from her.

It is just as well that the Secretary of State’s visit was in a low key, investing it with realism divorced from the hype which generally imparts to Indo-US relations exaggerated expectations.

The US has, in its history, vacillated between global dominance and isolation. A phase of inwardness may be in the cards.

Everyone knows the Civil nuclear deal is in a bit of a jam and Clinton almost said as much. There was nothing new in the US supporting India as a Permanent member of the UN Security Council. What was heartening was the imagery she used for India’s Election Commission: “it is the global gold standard for running elections.”

Without in any way offending China she spelt out roles for India in theaters of Chinese proximity – Pacific and Central Asia. India “straddling the waters from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean is, with us, a steward of these waterways”. Will this region “build the regional architecture of institutions and arrangements to enforce international norms on security, trade, rule of law, human rights and accountable governance?” Chinese know how to decode “human rights”!

She then talks of interlocking triangles: US, Japan (a treaty binds them) and India, also US, China and India. Similar co-operative linkages are sought with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. What Clinton sketched at the library in Chennai is a comprehensive document of intent.

It is in this context that she spelt out a scenario for the Af-Pak region after US withdrawal. “We and the Afghans are making progress on a new strategic partnership declaration that will define our relationship after 2014.”

What the US seeks is in fact a contradiction in terms: how to stay on in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops?

This explains extensive construction at the Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif and at US bases. According to Russians, who know the terrain well, the US has 30 bases in Afghanistan of which the ones in Bagram, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Helmand, Shindand and Mazar-e-Sharif are, by the sheer volume of masonry, not temporary. There is nothing new in all of this. US diplomats in the Af-Pak have for the past five years been fairly vocal about their being in the region for the long haul. Yes, the counter insurgency phase maybe getting a new look, but the entire question of the US withdrawing from Afghanistan is, in my view, an open one.

Yes, there will be photo ops of Marines clambering onto departing aircraft or Gen. David Petraeus looking pensive in a helicopter about to take off. These would be effective visuals on US TV preparatory to the 2012 Presidential election but only if viewers had interest left in anything other the plummeting economy – at home, across the Atlantic or the Pacific where Japan has yet to find its feet after the nuclear disaster.

Some things are not likely to happen soon. The agreement that Americans seek with the Afghans on the bases they wish to maintain in the country is not a document President Hamid Karzai can ink in a hurry given the anti American sentiment. A puzzle for the Americans seems to be “Karzai’s state of mind”. Yes, the Americans are unpopular but not as much as the Pakistan army looking for “strategic” depth in Afghanistan. This is my personal observation after visiting Afghanistan. By playing both sides of the street, the Pakistan Army has lost credit both ways – with the Americans and the Afghans.

The Pakistan Foreign Minister will have met the US and Chinese Foreign Ministers in Bali before arriving in New Delhi. Who knows, Ms. Khar may begin to open up many regional possibilities if she is able to gauge the sincerity with which Dr. Manmohan Singh and his team contemplate Indo-Pak relations in a world changing at dizzying speed.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Babus fine-tune art of being selector and candidate

Can the head of a premier administrative selecting agency select himself for a plum post? To improve his own chances as a candidate, can he be allowed to turn a blind eye to applications addressed to him? Despite having many eligible candidates, can he be allowed to make the list so short that it reduces the selecting committee to a rubber stamp? Is this ethically acceptable?

Documents unearthed under Right to Information by Mumbai activist Girish Mittal, show abuse of trust and unconstitutional behaviour by A N Tiwari and Satyananda Mishra — DoPT Secretaries who selected themselves as Central Information Commissioners, putting their own names on a tiny short list before the Prime Minister’s selecting committee to minimize the chances of them being rejected.

Many accomplished candidates who wrote with trust and hope to Tiwari and Mishra, were sidelined without justification or any sort of procedure. Here are the names of a few who applied for the post of CIC:

  • Dinesh Chandra Gupta, former Union Finance Secretary
  • G C Srivastava, IAS, former Chief Secretary of Goa
  • R Ganesan & G Mohanakumar from Indian Postal Services (IPoS)
  • Jagdeep Chhokar, Professor, IIM Ahmedabad. Qualifications: LLB, MBA, Double graduate Engg.
  • Lt. Gen. Arvind Mahajan, PVSM, AVSM, VSM and Bar.

Judging at a glance the various biodatas (see document at the end of the post) received by him, it appears that these candidates were at least as deserving as A N Tiwari, if not more. One of them would probably have been Information Commissioner today if Tiwari had not reserved a seat for himself. Please note: RESERVED. Because, unlike other Commissioners appointed in that batch, Tiwari did not even write a reply to the offer letter. Nor did he promptly give up his job and join the Central Information Commission in October like the others. He  took his time, and joined two-and-a-half months after the letter of offer, without even replying to it (see document at the end of the post). He exhausted his full tenure as an IAS officer to the last day. He retired upon superannuation, before occupying the seat of Information Commissioner.

How were these candidates to know that the DoPT secretary, to whom they were forwarding their candidatures, was himself their main competitor? DoPT (Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions) is a mother ministry to those serving in the administration. It is in charge of their placements. As such, Secretary DoPT occupies a sacred position of trust. A N Tiwari and Satyananda Mishra abused that trust for personal gain.

Satyananda Mishra also used his position to subtly campaign for appointment of more Information Commissioners towards the end of June 2008. In June 2008, PMO asked whether there was a need to expand the Commission. To this, Mishra wrote a self-serving note about the urgent need to appoint six more Commissioners. In July ’08, PMO specifically requested him to propose a panel of names for appointment of four more Information Commissioners. So what did Mishra do? Despite having a wealth of suitable candidates to choose from, he proposed only five names, including his own name. Thus, he reduced his chances of being rejected to 20 per cent at the outer most. Isn’t he a clever man? In August ’08, PM’s selecting committee rewarded his cleverness by making him an Information Commissioner.

Shockingly, this betrayal of trust got an official stamp of acceptance from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Leader of Opposition L K Advani and former Home Minister Shivraj Patil. The selecting committee  — constituted under Section 12(3) of the RTI Act — accepted these malpractices unquestioningly. Consequently, DoPT Secretaries Tiwari and Mishra received formal letters of offer for CIC’s post from their own Under Secretaries.

While shortlisting eligible bridegrooms for his daughters, can a man put his own name in the list? If his family elders quietly give consent, can he become his own son-in-law? That is incest, right? Similarly, the appointments of CICs A N Tiwari and Satyanananda Mishra are abhorrent, and violate several constitutional norms and provisions.

Here is what Article 319 says for preventing self-selection in such instances:

On ceasing to hold office —

(a) the Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission shall be ineligible for further employment either under the Government of India or under the Government of a State;

(b) the Chairman of a State Public Service Commission shall be eligible for appointment as the Chairman or any other member of the Union Public Service Commission or as the Chairman of any other State Public Service Commission, but not for any other employment either under the Government of India or under the Government of a State;

(c) a member other than the Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission shall be eligible for appointment as the Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission, or as the Chairman of a State Public Service Commission, but not for any other employment either under the Government of India or under the Government of a State;

(d) a member other than the Chairman of a State Public Service Commission shall be eligible for appointment as the Chairman or any other member of the Union Public Service Commission or as the Chairman of that or any other State Public Service Commission, but not for any other employment either under the Government of India or under the Government of a State.

Why does Article 319 say all this? Because Public Service Commissions are bodies that help in selections — similar to DoPT’s role in selecting CIC/ICs.

Article 320 describes the role of Public Service Commissions:

(1) It shall be the duty of the Union and the State Public Service Commissions to conduct examinations for appointments to the services of the Union and the services of the State respectively.

(2) It shall also be the duty of the Union Public Service Commission, if requested by any two or more States so to do, to assist those States in framing and operating schemes of joint recruitment for any services for which candidates possessing special qualifications are required.

So isn’t it self-evident that, following the same constitutional principle, DoPT Secretaries must not be eligible for appointment to the post of CIC/IC?

And here is what Article 16 says about right to equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters of State employment:

(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.

(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.”

So, fellow citizens, do you and I have as much opportunity to become Information Commissioners as Messrs A N Tiwari and Satyananda Mishra? You decide.

Click here to read the RTI document…

(This article was first published on Firstpost on July 19, 2011)

RCom poster child of everything wrong with corporate India: Report

“Reliance Communications Limited. (“Reliance”, the “Company” or “RCom”) is the poster child of everything that is wrong with corporate India, and irrespective of management’s assertions about “values” and “integrity” in various annual reports, we find no credible evidence of either in its financial statements or those of its former parent, Reliance Industries Limited (“RIL”). Doubts about management’s integrity and the short shrift to shareholders arise right at inception, when the demerger from RIL was undertaken on August 31, 2005, and the Company was listed on Indian bourses on March 06, 2006.”

This is an excerpt from a new report by a Canadian Investment Research company Veritas Investment Research. The 51-page report, titled Brothers In Arms: Misappropriating A Fortune—The Full Version, was published on July 18, 2011.

One of the key issue that the report addresses is the way in which ownership of promoters increased between August 31, 2005 and March 6, 2006. The report states: “Doubts about management’s integrity and the short shrift to shareholders arise right at inception, when the demerger from RIL was undertaken on August 31, 2005, and the Company was listed on Indian bourses on March 06, 2006. In the intervening period, ownership of promoters ballooned from 38.27% to 63% in RCom, under the guise of improving shareholder value and transparency.”

The report also states:

“The much discussed Ambani split is a charade to deflect attention from a well thought out plan to split family wealth via formation of similarly named companies, emboldened through strategically timed share allotments within those companies, confusing nomenclature and repeated name changes to enrich insiders at the expense of public shareholders.”

Further it states:

“If the 821.48 million shares issued to management at the formation of RCom are used as a benchmark, we estimate that RIL shareholders suffered an egregious loss of R 25,204C (US$ 5,544.8M) based on the March 06, 2006 RCom closing price of approximately R 307 (US$ 6.75) per share.”

According to the report, RCom, on a cumulative basis from FY07-FY10 had inflated its normalized profit before tax (PBT) in the core telecommunication business by Rs 10,944 crore.

The report states that the EBITDA, EPS, and book equity reported by the company since 2006 are open to interpretation.

“We give the Company a zero rating on each of corporate governance, balance sheet strength, and accounting and disclosure. We also believe that directors at the helm of RCom and RIL have failed in their fiduciary duties, and that significant and meaningful reform is needed in Indian governance standards for the protection of minority interests and the institutional and retail shareholder base, both domestically and internationally,” the report adds.

The report further states:

“It all began innocuously enough with the passage of the following resolution, “The Company has significant plans for making investments, directly or through associate companies, in various businesses, including oil and gas, petrochemicals, refining and marketing, telecom, infocom, power, etc.”, on Friday, the 15th day of June, 2001, at 11:00 AM at Birla Matushri Sabhagar, at 19 Marine Lines, Mumbai, at RIL’s 27th Annual General Meeting of Shareholders.

Ultimately, that culminated in the de-merger of Reliance Infocomm (“RIC”), Reliance Communications Infrastructure Limited (“RCIL”) and Reliance Telecom Limited (“RTL”) under the aegis of Reliance Communications Venture Limited, which finally emerged on the BSE in its current form. Each has a unique story to tell, and speaks to the mala-fide intent of the majority owners to fleece shareholders and enrich themselves.”

The report also exposes faulty accounting standards followed by RCom. It states:

“There are various kinds of accounting practices that Veritas has witnessed over the years: conservative, creative and aggressive. To that category we now add clandestine. That the financial statements of RCom are full of potholes is simply established by the fact that to avoid paying capital gains taxes in India, the Company booked income on the sale of shares in a subsidiary, through an offshore trust. How’s that possible you ask? Read page number 10-11 of the report for a detailed explanation of this…

Click here to read the entire report…

(Info: Veritas is Canada’s largest and most followed independent equity research firm)

(Update: The Power Post had uplinked the entire report on Scribd but the file was removed at the request of Veritas for unknown reasons)

Tokenism for Muslims now counter-productive

BY SAEED NAQVI

In these unsettled times, it is always reassuring to be invited to banquets at the Hyderabad House hosted by the Prime Minister or members of his cabinet. It boosts ones sense of self, ofcourse, but it also enhances a sense of communal well being because, as one ambles up the carpeted staircase, one meets other Muslims in suits of reasonable cut. Next week, the beginning of Ramadan, will see the appearance of Shervanis and headgear peculiar to certain Sufi Shrines.

Would unsuspecting Presidents, Princes or Prime Ministers, from any one of the 54 Muslim countries, return suitably impressed with the well being of the world’s second largest Muslim community, having seen so many of them at a banquet meant only for the country’s highest echelons?

The Sachar Committee report into the socio economic condition of Indian Muslims would not make for such depressing reading had Justice Sachar taken into account Muslim attendance at VIP banquets and Iftar parties. In the interest of accuracy, a caveat must be inserted. For the Sachar report, flattering data would only emerge from banquets in honour of visiting Muslim dignitaries. If Justice Sachar were to ferret the guest list under Right to Information, he would find that a banquet for the Cypriot, Armenian, Serbian or even Israeli leaders would probably not have a solitary Muslim on the list. There would not be such self conscious deletion of the Muslim when other Western leaders visit but there would be no premium on them either.

The deep design behind the hospitality list for a visiting Muslim leader could possibly be that India is good to its Muslims and would therefore be good to the visiting leader’s country. But, snicker my non Muslim friends, this communal outreach flies in the face of the secular ideal which entails even handed treatment. Is it a nagging awareness of deviation from the equal-rights ideal, which results in dollops of tokenism doled out? Invitations to banquets and Iftar parties are the tiniest part of this tokenism. And, above all, having been in the drill of democracy for 60 years, Muslims have caught onto tokens as pacifiers. Tokenism is now counterproductive. Do an opinion poll!

Most pernicious of all is institutionalized tokenism. A special Haj terminal at the Indira Gandhi airport for instance. This sort of stuff invites the chorus “appeasement!”

Further, there are Haj subsidies and special VIP Hajis on freebies to facilitate their passage to paradise. Does the government believe that such favours ensure Muslim support during elections? Yes, a benefit once conferred upon a group is difficult to withdraw because such a withdrawal would provoke editorials in Urdu newspapers. This, a government on sixes and sevens may not like to risk on the eve of the critical 2012 UP Assembly elections. After all, 14 of the 21 seats Congress won from the state have a decisive Muslim vote share.

If such fears are to determine policy, I am afraid other tokenisms will also have an extended lease of life. A government so pulverized on the issue of Muslims is not likely to alter a totally untenable policy that the ambassador to Saudi Arabia must be a Muslim. The argument that a Muslim ambassador is an enormous asset during Haj is about as convincing as the presumed requirement for a full fledged air terminal for Hajis. If the state pulled itself out of this area of patronage, it would make immense sense for private enterprise, Muslim or non Muslim, to step in to facilitate Haj. Business by its very nature is secular. Witness Indians in Saudi Arabia: senior management of Indian origin are increasingly non Muslim because they are better educated, they do not seek five breaks in a day for namaz nor a month for Ramadan.

There is a lesson here somewhere for the short-sighted Muslim leadership which has, by converting a remarkably secular, internationally known university, Jamia Millia Islamia, into a “minority institution” has gifted a dud to the community. Graduates from this institution will be discriminated against even in Saudi Arabia. A Muslim minority institution faces resistance in the secular job market.

As for a Ministry of Minority Affairs the less said the better! It is grist to the communal mill whenever it stirs out to serve the community. I have said this before: a non Muslim with a secular image in this slot would be able to chart out an agenda for minorities which is free of the odour of tokenism, which would really enthuse the community, not bluff it.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Who’s trying to fix the Army Chief by raking up his age?

BY RSN SINGH

The SSC, Higher Secondary or 12th Standard board certificates usually serve as unimpeachable records confirming one’s date of birth (DOB). The Supreme Court, too, has ruled so in unambiguous terms.

But some vested interests inside and outside the country are desperately trying to turn this simple reality upside down in the case of the present Army Chief, Gen VK Singh. They have, for very long, been engaged in subverting the very institution of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) by engineering a controversy about the age of the present incumbent, possibly with the idea of supplanting him with a convenient and pliable officer.

All through his career, till he became Lt Gen, VK Singh’s DOB (10 May 1951), as reflected in his matriculation certificate, was taken as true and valid. However, very late in his career, when he appeared on the scene as the strongest contender for the post of army chief, someone fabricated a controversy by claiming he was a year older, and that his date of birth was 10 May 1950, based on legally untenable arguments.

It is common knowledge in army circles that but for a specific succession plan initiated some years ago by a previous incumbent, the ‘age’ controversy in respect of Gen Singh would never have surfaced. Why did these vested interests place such a premium on their succession plan? Why did they try to prevent Gen Singh from becoming COAS?

The age controversy poses some very serious questions. Why is the discomfort level with Gen Singh so high in certain quarters? Is he being targeted for being non-pliable, upright and intolerant of corruption? Is there a design to weaken the professional moorings of the Indian army by manipulating and attacking its moral and social fabric?

Here is the inside dope.

It is about succession: The controversy is not merely about the age and tenure of the present chief. More importantly, it is about a succession plan scripted a few years back (in 2006) by none other than the then army chief. The succession script naturally attracted vested interests in the form of politicians, arms merchants, businessmen and other ambitious army officers. The controversy needs to be, therefore, understood in its entirety.

It is a moral issue: The controversy raises questions about the state of health of the Indian Army, denting its very edifice. Senior officers, depending on their career calculations, are divided over the issue. The lower rank-and-file members of the army perceive the controversy in the manner they are fed by the rival camps. The overall consequence is that the image of the army and the honour and moral authority of its chief has never been attacked so viciously by insiders and vested interests for non-operational reasons.

The Pakistani press is speculating about the issue, and has been raising doubts about the health of the Indian Army and its unity. When an army chief vouches for a simple detail like his date of birth, it should be accepted as such, unless there are huge reasons to doubt that person’s truthfulness. The point is, the psychological integrity of the army has been fraying over the years. Gen Singh’s ‘age’ controversy should thus not be viewed in isolation. It is actually a manifestation of the deterioration, misuse and subversion of the office of the COAS for nearly a decade.

Who created the controversy? An impression is being sought to be conveyed by Gen Singh’s detractors that he fudged his age just to ‘enjoy’ the office of COAS for an additional year. This is a travesty of truth. The fact is his age was never an issue throughout his career. Nor was the issue ever raked up by Army HQ or even the defence ministry as he rose to the rank of Lt Gen with his date of birth showing 10 May 1951. The issue was first raised in 2006, when the army chief prepared a succession plan going downwards several levels. It is well-known that he raked up the issue to ensure the passage of one of his favourites, apparently on sectarian considerations, to the office of COAS. In this case, he had planned for succession three interventions below.

The legal and financial implications: When preparing this particular succession plan, the said army chief went by the Army List, which gives Gen Singh’s date of birth as 10 May 1950. The Army List is prepared by the military secretary (MS) branch and contains minimal details. The branch otherwise deals with postings, promotions, deputations, and retirement, and is not the legal repository or otherwise of personal and family details of an officer. Right from the time an officer enters the training academy till he retires and even after, all records are maintained by the adjutant general (AG) branch.  The AG branch clearly puts Gen Singh’s age as 10 May 1951.

It may also be pointed out that Gen Singh rose to the rank of Lt Gen after appearing before several promotion boards – all of which accepted his May 1951 date of birth. The boards which cleared his promotion from brigadier to major-general to lieutenant general were endorsed by the prime minister himself. If the contention of the military secretary branch is that Gen Singh was born in 1950, then all his promotions were illegal and have huge financial implications. In fact, the legality of his entire career comes under question.

On 14 December 2007, the defence ministry had queried the MS branch for recording Gen Singh’s date of birth as 10 May 1950, and asked for reconciliation with the previously accepted date of birth. The noting on the file was, however, found to have said: “Enquiry not to be conducted.” This indicates that vested interests were trying to settle the age issue without an enquiry.

Building up the controversy: The said army chief, in order to effect his own succession plan, activated his military secretary to handicap Gen Singh’s chances by generating the age controversy. With the same dubious intention, an explanation was sought. It is worth pointing out that even without the age controversy, Gen Singh’s claims to the post of COAS were not affected. It was the fate of Gen Singh’s successor which depended on these dates. The said army chief’s protégé would have made it to COAS only if Gen Singh’s age was pushed back by a year.

Matters got murkier when it was found that the army had given a no-objection certificate in the Sukna land scam, whereby a private party was given the right to set up an educational institution on government land. Since the army had a key corps stationed near Sukna, its NOC was vital to this project. The person who allegedly played a key role in the scam was the military secretary himself. He, along with many others, is facing trial by the judiciary. Reportedly, the same lobby has been joined by the Adarsh Society scam lobby to dislodge Gen Singh.

The arms lobby may also be at work. There are insinuations that one retired Lt Gen, who is dabbling in the arms business, has been active in the bid to supply Tatra vehicles, manufactured abroad, through an Indian public sector company, Bharat Earth Movers Ltd, at nearly double the cost of what is available off the shelf. Reportedly, the army chief has turned it down, inviting the wrath of this supplier and many others of his ilk.

Gen Singh took over as COAS when the army was bedevilled by scams, and he took it upon himself to arrest this decline in its image. This is one reason why opposition to him may be building. One senior officer, who stands to benefit the most if Singh is made to retire a year earlier, is said to be blatantly playing the sectarian card and was said to be lobbying indirectly with the law ministry. The ministry made a sudden volte face and threw its weight behind the 1950 birth date. Not to be left behind, one TV channel even claimed Gen Singh’s real birth date was in 1949 – but faced with libel action, the channel hastily backtracked.

How the birthdate confusion arose: Here’s how the date differences arose. Gen Singh entered Birla Public School with his date of birth (DOB) showing as 10 May 1951. His provisional matriculation certificate also carries the same date. The date change controversy originated with one of his teachers, BS Bhatnagar, who was keen on sending the maximum number of students to the National Defence Academy (NDA).  The forms with the wrong birth date were filled by him. Bhatnagar went on to become principal of Lawrence School, Lovedale, and has since admitted that the error was his.

Gen Singh’s DOB in his medical examination form as an air force candidate before joining the NDA also reflects the correct date in 1951. When he passed the NDA exam, the anomaly between the forms filled by Bhatnagar and his provisional matriculation certificate was noticed at the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC), but this anomaly was rectified and the right DOB shows up in his NDA graduation and Indian Military Academy entry records.

But clerical oversight ensured that even after he entered the IMA, the covering envelope (from the NDA) mentioned 1950 as his DOB. It is this covering envelope, which has no legal sanctity, that Gen Singh’s detractors are using to put his DOB into question. In every subsequent document, barring the Army List dished out by the military secretary branch, the right DOB appears.

Singh’s options: Under the circumstances, what can a chief do? The option of resigning in disgust was ruled out as it would sound like an admission of defeat or even guilt. Going to court would also have set a bad precedent. Instead, the AG branch sent the papers to four retired chief justices of India for their opinion. All of them unanimously agreed that the 1951 date was the correct one.

The question is this: who benefits from this controversy? Apart from the officers who may expect to step into his shoes, it is only the country’s enemies, since a controversy at the top can only demoralise the armed forces. Moreover, even assuming Gen Singh was a year older, what should a government do? Get rid of him, or take up the matter after he retires in a quiet and unobtrusive way?

(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a guest blogger for Canary Trap. This post was first published on Firstpost on July 13, 2011)