by Somnath Mukherjee
The press, both print and electronic has been abuzz with the date of birth issue over the last couple of weeks. Politicians, never to be expected to let go of opportunities to get into the limelight, have jumped in. On the issue specifically, it is really much ado about little. Disputes over date of birth are par for the course in government services, and happen by the dozens every year at many levels. “Political interference” too is hardly new or unique to this situation – from Nehru’s handling of Gen Thimayya to Indira Gandhi’s supercession of Lt Gens Sinha and Bhagat to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s open interference on blatant caste terms for certain Army commanders – its a reality which hardly needed a caper over the incumbent Chief’s date of birth to unravel. In the present case, all it requires is a bit of common sense on both sides (the good General and the MoD) for the issue to be resolved amicably.
The larger question however is different. Which is of the state of higher management of defence in the country. Nearly 15 years after Kargil, ad hocism mark most decision-making on policy. The K Subramanyam committee recommendations have achieved the status of most “committee” reports in India, ie, be food for termites in a departmental almirah.
Starting from a lack of institution building at the apex level (when was the last meeting of the NSAB?) to continuing interservice quarrels over equipment (latest being the fracas between IAF and IA over ownership of tactical attack choppers), India’s higher level defence management doesnt seem to have changed much since the ’70s!
An integrated service headquarters with MoD is nowhere in the horizon, CDS has not gone beyond intra-service bickerings, and each service arm continues to buy equipment rather than plan for meeting objectives. Importantly, barring some notable exceptions, India continues to try being a military power primarily on imported equipment, the first for any country in recent or distant memory.
In the Indian concepts of “timelessness”, dates are forgotten only too easily. One has only to look at the Kargil lessons to realise this. In that context, the Chief’s date of birth is but a matter of minor detail!