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Army chief age row: Government must show sagacity, grace

By An Old Soldier
January 06, 2012 20:28 IST
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One can only hope that the Government of India will show the sagacity and grace, befitting the government of a great nation, by acting to correct (NOT change) the army chief's date of birth, thus setting right an anomaly, says An Old Soldier.

The Moving Finger writes and having writ,
Moves on, nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash away a Word of it.'
--51st Rubai of Omar Khayyam of Naishpur,
, rendered into English quatrains by Edward FitzGerald)

There has been a copious outflow of opinions, analyses and unsolicited advice in the media and on the Internet in past few months by experts, well-meaning comrades-in arms, ill-intentioned non-friendlies and general busy-bodies, on the rather unusual situation of the Indian Army chief having to go to the government, through the medium of a 'statutory complaint' to get his date of birth corrected, before he completes his tenure in May.

All this leaves an old soldier quite bemused and somewhat bewildered -- such things did not happen over 60 years ago, or even near 30 years ago, when one said farewell to arms!

Sage and mature people, supposedly running the affairs of a nation, settle such things by taking mature actions and do not create such a 'theatre of the absurd'!

One can gather from the media that the General has very soldierly and honourable reasons to get the age correction made before he retires. One can also perceive that the Establishment leans upon various policy and rule-based reasons to support their decision not to do so, at this stage.

To pass a valid value judgment on the merits of these differing contentions, one would have to have authentic knowledge of the nature and sequence of the happenings stretching over many years past -- all the passions, motivations, manoeuvrings and manipulations which may have brought things to this sad pass today.

An old-timer finds all this quite distasteful but all the same, times change and must change, and so must the prevailing mores and criteria of conduct and behaviour. Certainly, in these late years, the behaviour of the Establishment (the responsible political leadership, aided and abetted by the ever-willing bureaucracy), vis a vis our nation's armed forces does at times remind one of the foolish man, trying to chop-down the very branch of the tree, he is perched on.

National interests, nay the very existence of our nation in these perilous times demand institutional wisdom, sagacity and a spirit of sacrifice, which seem singularly lacking in this imbroglio.

(There is a widespread conviction amongst the soldier community that the bureaucracy, especially its Orwellian named 'Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare' is out to teach a lesson to the military, after the Sixth Pay Commission contretemps).

As for the Indian Army, 'Service, before Self' is, has been and will always remain, its staunch credo, philosophy and the very raison d'etre, irrespective of what the rest of the polity or society does. So, the institution of the Chief of the Army Staff (and thus the whole service) should not have been made to get involved in a matter, which is purely personal (eg, correction of an individual's age), as this has had, and will have wide and lasting repercussions, not of a beneficial nature for anyone.

A question of timing really -- before assuming, or after relinquishing the high office of the Chief, and the quest for justice would not have had any repercussions for the service as such.

But having said that, it is here that the wisdom of that feisty old philosopher Omar Khayyam makes sense -- the moving finger cannot be lured back to undo, what unfortunately has already been written down!

Time only will tell what the finale of this self-inflicted unpleasantness is going to be, and it would be presumptuous and ill-mannered for an outsider to spout unsolicited advice.

One can only express a pious hope that very soon and at the very first opportunity, the Government of India will show the sagacity and the grace, befitting the government of a great nation, by acting suo moto to correct (NOT change) the chief's date of birth, thus setting right an anomaly, which an honourable soldier strongly feels impinges on his 'izzat.'

And the gallant Chief, having already made it clear that he has no desire either to gain a few months of additional tenure or to upset the hierarchy of COAS succession in any way, would surely want to do what all good soldiers do, with their heads held high -- 'Never say die', but just fade away!

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