NEW DELHI: Squabbling among generals over the age of Army chief General VK Singh has plunged to a new low, with a case of crude impersonation and forgery emerging in Pune. Investigators are frantically trying to trace one Rafique Shaikh, who forged papers to show that General Singh was born in 1949 as part of what is seen as a plot to shorten the tenure of the army chief.
The certificate with a forwarding letter from a Member of Parliament was sent to defence minister A K Antony and circulated among media to muddy the waters over General Singh's age.
The Kirkee Cantonment Board in Pune filed a police case alleging that Shaikh forged General Singh's "birth certificate" to show that he was born in 1949 and not in 1951 -- the year of birth shown in the Army chief's class X certificate. R C Jagtap, Chief Executive Officer of Kirkee Cantonment Board, in his police complaint has said "Mr Rafiq Shaikh with malafide intention submitted an application to obtain a certificate for his son" and used it to create the purported birth certificate of Gen Singh.
The birth certificate manufactured by Shaikh was riddled with loopholes, with a non-existent maternity home as his birth place. But it brought out the resolve of vested interests and a faction in the Army to push Singh out by May 2012.
At the root of the controversy is what General Singh has for years called a typo in his application to the Union Public Service Commission for admission to National Defence Academy. The teacher who filed the application for Singh entered 1950 as the year of his birth instead of 1951 as recorded in Class X certificate. The Supreme Court has laid down that details in the Class X certificate are to be treated as the relevant date for all official purposes. The discrepancy resulted in two dates of birth for Singh in the Army's records. While the military secretary's branch recorded 1950 as the year of birth based on the UPSC form, the adjutant general's office maintained that it was 1951.
General Singh tried to get the anomaly rectified several times. Even the ministry of defence asked the Army to reconcile the records when the chief was being appointed a corps commander. Strangely, however, the divergence was allowed to persist.
A strong section in the Army as well as the defence ministry suspects that the controversy is now being exploited by vested interests hurt by some of the recent measures as well as patrons of some officers whose career prospects are better served by uncertainty over the succession order.
Defence Minister AK Antony has now stepped into the issue, in the wake of an RTI application, a law ministry opinion saying that Gen Singh's birth year should be 1951, and several media reports. He has asked the ministry to carry out fresh verification, with orders to "go by records" and not to give any opinions. The MOD finding will have to be approved by the Cabinet Committee on Appointments, a senior MOD source said.
A legal opinion given by the ministry of law and justice too has said that General Singh's birth year should be 1951. If this is accepted, then Northern Army Commander, Lt Gen KT Parnaik, would become the next chief in March 2013.
However, if the UPSC application showing 1950 as Singh's year of birth is taken into consideration, then Lt Gen Parnaik would be eliminated from the race and Lt Gen Bikram Singh, currently heading the Eastern Command, will take the baton after Gen Singh retires in May 2012.
Feuds among the Army brass are hardly unknown. But what differentiates the current bout is the lengths travelled by those wishing Gen Singh to retire early. Retired officers have been circulating Gen Singh's alleged birth certificates and select pages from documents, triggering suspicions whether heartburn over his tough actions are in play.
The measures taken by the Army chief on the Sukna and Adarsh scams have left behind a trail of bitterness, even generating a sense of betrayal.
Meanwhile, sources said investigation over the past 24 hours by the Pune police have failed to trace Shaikh. There was no one by the name at the address given by him (house No 28, Salisbury Park, Pune).
Investigators have recovered CCTV recordings from the Kirkee Cantonment Board office, and a woman clerk in charge of birth and death certificates has recognised Shaikh, or the person who pretended to be Shaikh, sources said. Shaikh had visited the office earlier too, and located birth details of an unnamed male child, born on June 9, 1949, with registration number 210, and claimed it was his son. He demanded the birth certificate for this child.
The lady clerical staff has told investigators that she gave a blank birth certificate in good faith to Shaikh. The certificate was later used to produce that of General Singh, showing his year of birth as 1949.