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FLASHBACK: The chequered stint of Army Chief Gen Singh

Last updated on: May 30, 2012 11:08 IST

FLASHBACK: The chequered stint of Army Chief Gen Singh

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Rediff Newsdesk

As General Vijay Kumar Singh's much-talked-about tenure as the Chief of Army Staff finally comes to end on May 31, the controversies surrounding him will surely keep his stint etched in the collective memory of the country for times to come.

Born at Bapora village in Bhiwani district of Haryana in a family of army officers, Gen Singh was educated at the Birla Public School at Pilani, Rajasthan.

Singh was commissioned in the 2nd Battalion of the Rajput Regiment on June 14, 1970 and witnessed action in the 1971 Bangladesh War. During his distinguished military career he has worked in various positions including Military Operations Directorate at the Army Headquarters, Brigadier General Staff of a Corps during 'Operation Parakram' when Indian troops were mobilised on the border in the wake of the attack on the Parliament in 2001, commanded the Ambala-based 2 Corps and Jalandhar-based 11 Corps, among others.

He has been awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal, the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, the Yudh Seva Medal (for his service in Indian Peace Keeping Force's 'Operation Pawan' in Sri Lanka against the LTTE) as he took the mantle from General Deepak Kapoor to lead the 1.3 million strong Indian Army on March 31, 2010.

However, his phenomenal record and leadership qualities could not prevent a number of controversies that marked his over two years' stint as the Army Chief. Rediff.com takes a look.

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Image: Army Chief General V K Singh inspects the guard of honour after taking over the charge, in New Delhi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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'Born' with a controversy

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May 10, 1950 or May 10, 1951? The controversy surrounding the date of birth of Gen V K Singh rocked the country for a long time and in a way brought the government at loggerheads with the army.

In a major embarrassment to the Centre, Gen V K Singh dragged the Union defence ministry to the Supreme Court on January 17, 2012 for rejecting his claim on his date of birth. In a writ petition, the general questioned the government's decision to treat his date of birth as May 10, 1950, instead of May 10, 1951 as claimed by him on the basis of his matriculation certificate and other documents.

In his petition, Gen Singh has said the matter related to his "honour and integrity" as he headed a force of 13 lakh personnel. In the petition, the army chief argued that the government had chosen to "change" his date of birth after he had spent 36 years in service and promoted throughout the career.

However, the defence ministry accepted May 10, 1950, as his DOB, which is on his UPSC entrance form.

The dispute over Gen Singh's age began in 2006, when a bureaucrat noticed two different dates in his records, when his name came up for promotion, and sought clarification from the military secretary's branch that handles promotions. The military secretary's branch had the year of birth as 1950 and that's what it shared with the defence ministry without cross-checking the date with adjutant general's branch, which is the official record-keeper for the army officers.

However, on February 10, the apex court upheld the government's decision and said Gen Singh cannot resile on his commitment accepting the date of birth as May 10, 1950, forcing him to withdraw his petition.

A few days back, in a series of interviews to television channels, the general also made no secret of his unhappiness with the Supreme Court where he lost a legal battle over his age.

In an apparent reference to a remark by Justice R M Lodha, one of the two judges on the bench that heard his case, the chief said that a very senior apex court judge had told him to "blow with the wind".

"If all of us are going to blow with the wind then we will all become muggers, we will all become corrupt," he told Times Now channel in an interview.


Image: Defence Minister A K Antony addresses a press conference at Jaisalmer during his visit to Rajasthan with Gen V K Singh
Photographs: Courtesy: Press Information Bureau

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'Leaked' letter to PM

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In March, a controversial 'leaked' letter surfaced which Gen Singh had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh regarding 'the poor state of affairs' in the Indian Army.

The letter in which the general complained over India's defence equipment being 'obsolete' and the forces 'woefully short' of weapons rocked the Parliament with certain parties demanding action against him.

"The leakage of the letter should be treated as high treason. The cynical approach to tarnish my reputation should stop. Sources of the leakage should be found and dealt with ruthlessly," General Singh had then said in a statement issued by the army headquarters.

On May 13, a probe into the leakage by the Prime Minister's Office stated that a joint secretary-rank officer in the Cabinet Secretariat was found guilty of leaking the letter and also cleared General Singh of any wrongdoing in the entire episode.


Image: General V K Singh's 'leaked' letter to PM has created uproar in the country.
Photographs: Reuters

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'He had the gumption to offer bribe to the army chief'

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In an interview to The Hindu, General VK Singh claimed that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore by an equipment lobbyist for clearing the purchase of 600 substandard vehicles.

The army chief also added that the Defence Minister A K Antony was apprised of the matter.

General Singh also said that 7,000 of those of trucks were already in use in the army had been sold over the years at exorbitant prices.

In the interview Singh said, "One of these men had the gumption to walk up to me and tell me that if I cleared the tranche, he would give me Rs 14 crore. He was offering a bribe to me, to the army chief. He told me that people had taken money before me and they will take money after me."

The reaction was immediate: on the same day, both Houses of the Parliament adjourned minutes after their proceedings had commencedand the government ordered a CBI inquiry.

Antony acknowledged being informed of the allegation, as Singh had claimed, but said that he had instructed Singh to take action and that the officer had been unwilling to do so for reasons that were unknown to him.

Tejinder Singh, a retired officer named by Gen Singh, denied any involvement and threatened legal action in response to the "media speculation".He began proceedings on March 27, when he issued a writ claiming defamation by Gen Singh and others whom he felt had abused their position of office.

Although Gen Singh did not identify anyone at the interview, it was suggested elsewhere that the person was retired Lt Gen Tejinder Singh.

The CBI, in the meanwhile, is conducting its probe against the Tatra trucks deal, the contract in question.


Image: Gen VK Singh pays homage at Amar Jawan Jyoti, in New Delhi
Photographs: Courtesy: Press Information Bureau

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The 'phone tapping' row

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Some media reports in March, 2012, alleged that the army was tapping sensitive phones in the national capital, to which Gen Singh responded that "necessary action" is being taken against officers who are behind leaking "fictitious" stories to the media.

The army chief also indicated that such stories were being leaked by people who are "hurt" by his actions against corruption in the force.

Subsequently, even the government denied these reports.


Image: Gen VK Singh, addressing senior army officers, during the Army Commanders Conference, in New Delhi
Photographs: Courtesy: Press Information Bureau
Tags: Gen Singh , army

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Show-cause notice to Lt Gen Dalbir Singh

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Just days before his retirement, Gen Singh slapped a show-cause notice on one of the senior most army officers, Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag.

Lt Gen Suhag, currently heading three Corps in Dimapur, is tipped to be one of the top contenders for army chief's post after Lt Gen Bikram Singh, and the move could hurt his case.

Suhag was charged with "abdicated responsibility" in handling an intelligence and surveillance unit in a "most unprofessional and lackadaisical manner." However, the exact nature of the operation and charges has been kept a secret.

A few days later, Gen Singh justified his stand, stating that he could not leave the army in the dumps only because he was going to retire in a few days.

In the meanwhile, former military secretary Lieutenant General Avadesh Prakash also accused General V K Singh of him of being biased and vindictive days after the latter ratified a court martial decision to dismiss him (Lt Gen Prakash) from service over the Sukna land scam.

"I would say that General V K Singh has been interested in this case right from the beginning, from the time the court of enquiry was ordered in September 2009. That's the time he had recommended my dismissal from service. It is against the basic principles of justice that he sat on the judgement," he told CNN-IBN.

 


Image: General V K Singh walks during a regional seminar organised by the Nepal army, in Kathmandu
Photographs: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters

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