Govt likely to ask Army chief to go on leave

Govt likely to ask Army chief to go on leave

V K Singh. AFPA day after Army chief Gen V K Singh dragged the government to court over his age row, an embarrassed Union Government on Tuesday filed a caveat in the Supreme Court and Defence Minister A K Antony had a closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Official sources remained tightlipped over what transpired in the meeting, but speculation was rife that the government was weighing various options to cope with the controversy, including asking the country’s top soldier to proceed on long leave.

Apparently seized of the matter, the government also summoned Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, who was on an official visit to Malaysia, to the capital for confabulations.

The General’s recourse to legal means to settle his dispute with the Defence Ministry over his date of birth, has raised questions about Gen Singh’s position in the decision-making process on military matters. Will he be called for crucial meetings as he had dragged the government to the court? Will he continue to take orders from the government?

To these questions, Defence Ministry spokesperson Sitangshu Kar said: “There are many such questions like that. The government will take a considered view and the media will be told about it.”

Even as it approached the Supreme Court with the petition that it be heard before any order is passed, the government appeared to be waiting with bated breath on how the court proceeds on Gen Singh’s petition that may come up for hearing on Friday.

Though sacking Gen Singh for an act of defiance of a government order is an option, the Centre is also exploring other avenues for reconciliation, including promise of a post after retirement.

The chief troubleshooter for the UPA government, Pranab Mukherjee is in the loop not only because he has been asked by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to find a solution to the controversy, but also because it was during his tenure as defence minister that Gen Singh was promoted as the GOC of the Ambala-based 2 Corps.

At that time, when the age issue came up, Gen Singh reportedly agreed to abide by continuing with 1950 as his year of birth for the rest of his career.

A few days before the Defence Ministry formally rejected Singh’s statutory complaint, Antony personally conveyed to Gen Singh that his complaint would be rejected based on legal opinions from the attorney general. Gen Singh, however, did not disclose his intentions then and when asked by journalists on January 12 on the eve of Army Day, he stated that he did not think about the option of moving to the court.

But within days, he did exactly the opposite to become the first army chief in independent India to challenge the government in court while still in service.

The reason for not approaching the Armed Forces Tribunal reportedly cited by Gen Singh in the petition was that his junior officers and contemporaries were on the AFT bench.

Also the petition was filed before January 20 when a PIL on the age dispute—filed by an ex-servicemen’s association (Grenadiers) in Rohtak —comes up for hearing. The army chief is one of the respondents in the PIL.

The age controversy occurred because two record keeping branches of the Army—Adjutant General and Military Secretary—have two different date of birth records for Gen Singh.

The AG’s branch listed it as May 10, 1951, while the Military Secretary’s office marked it as May 10, 1950.

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