New Delhi: Army Chief General V K Singh, who lost his battle with the Defence Ministry on the age row, feels the Supreme Court has "not effectively" closed the issue but ruled out his resignation.
"It would be dishonest to say that that I was not under pressure to resign. Even my closest advisors were affected by the media interpretation and, yes, I was extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court had not effectively closed the issue.
"... as chief of army staff, I have a responsibility towards the army and its men and have to attend to the unfinished tasks that I had set out for myself. I cannot quit until I complete what I have started. Organisational interests are supreme," he told "Outlook" magazine in an interview.
General Singh said many commentators were looking at this matter as a classic case of strained civil-military relations, and drew parallels with the unfinished resignation of General K S Thimmayya, to predict his resignation.
"But I see the age as something that I and the army have to address, and we will do it once we are given a legal order," he said in reply to a question about the wide speculation that he would resign since the Supreme Court did not uphold his case.
General Singh said the apex court order has created more confusion, without addressing the main issue. It talks of a statutory complaint being divided into two parts--the process of decision-making on the one hand and maintainability on the other.
"The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has argued that since the decision has been taken by them to peg my Year of Birth as 1950, I must accept this regardless. This goes against the principles of natural justice," General Singh said.
Asked about the impression that he had lost the battle and that the Supreme Court had ruled against him, he said it was a strange situation.
While the apex court was dealing with the case there was a parallel minute-by-minute interpretation of the proceedings in the media. Breaking news on TV and newspaper headlines the next day delivered their own verdict which declared that 'the General has lost the battle'.
But, he said, when the order came out on February 15, the media did not report it and everyone missed its import. "It is an innocuous order that leaves recognition of the DoB to the competent authority based on records. The media was reporting obiter dicta in a highly exaggerated manner," he said.
To a question about his decision to withdraw the petition in the court gave an impression that he was satisfied with what the court had to say, General Singh said after his statutory complaint was rejected the Defence Ministry on December 30 last, he had moved the court.
On February 3, the court questioned the decision-making process which led to it being turned down and opined that it went against the principles of natural justice.
On February 10, the Attorney General withdrew the Defence Ministry's order against the statutory complaint and tacitly admitted that the actual DoB was 1951 and that the ministry was opposing it only "on a matter of principle".
General Singh said after that there was nothing else to be said in court especially since the judges had also indicated that the court did not want to get into the actual date of birth.
"Now, unless the Defence Ministry's decision-making process is spelt out so as to explain the rationale behind still pegging my YoB as 1950, how can I challenge it. I therefore withdrew my petition and have decided to wait for the MoD to give its reasons afresh," he said.
He said it is important to put in place systems that ensure that such cases were never repeated in future.
Asked about the views of his daughter who wrote in an article pointing at the hand of former chief General J J Singh in the DoB controversy, General Singh gave no direct answer except to say that the problem got aggravated when the Defence Ministry chose to "endorse this line without going into why this was being done".
Q: Are you saying that the 2006 decision (taken by J J Singh) was illegal?
A: It has its ramifications. Even I say that I don't contest it, it cannot be implemented because the SC order does not say anything about the legality of two different dates of birth.
To a question he was looked upon as someone standing up to the establishment, giving as good as he got, General Singh said, "being Chief of the Indian Army does not insulate me from public opinion and I am aware that many feel that I was wrong in taking the fight to the MoD".
He said the tendency after reaching senior ranks is to avoid rocking the boat. "But if I, as the chief, did not stand up for what is correct, what sort of a message would I be sending to the rank and file," he said.
Similarly, he said, that despite the overwhelming opinion he should resign, it was necessary for him to stay the course.
"The SC has sidestepped the issue. But it certainly does not clear the way for any illegal order to be given to the Army. Had I resigned, it would have been a self-goal and in the long run, against the interest of the organisation," General Singh said.