PM tells Antony to settle Army chief's age issue

PM tells Antony to settle Army chiefs age issue

Sensing that Army chief General V K Singh’s case against it in the Supreme Court could backfire on the government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday directed Defence Minister A K Antony to settle the age dispute controversy amicably with the aggrieved officer.

In accordance with the Prime Minister’s directive, Antony despatched Defence Secretary Shashank Sharma to meet Gen Singh so that the a festering controversy is quickly brought an end to before the government’s image takes more beating than it already has.

While the precise details of the Gen Singh-Sharma meeting were not known, government sources said that the defence secretary had been adequately and appropriately briefed to smoothen ruffled feathers.

The government’s softening of stand at this juncture appears to be based on a more pragmatic analysis of the situation, especially because any drastic action or a strong stand against Gen Singh in the Supreme Court, where his petition will be heard on Friday, might have a bearing on the Republic Day function where the Army chief plays an important function.

Besides, the government is also jittery about the contents of a public interest litigation that a section of retired Grenadier officers have filed in support of Gen Singh’s fresh contention that he was born on May 10, 1951 and not on the same date in 1950 which is the year of birth entered in the records of the Military Secretary’s office.

The Adjutant General’s office, which is the official record keeper of officers’ dates of birth, has Gen Singh’s date of birth recorded as May 10, 1951. The retired Grenadiers’ PIL, which alleges that General Vikram Singh, believed to be the government’s nominee for likely succeeding Gen Singh, is a distant relative of the Prime Minister, will be moved in the Supreme Court by advocate Bhim Singh of the Panther’s Party.

Even though there is no official confirmation, Antony is understood to have received flak from the Prime Minister's Office and a section of the Congress leadership for poor handling of the date of birth issue that has snowballed into a national crisis.

This at a time when an the defence ministry launched a low-key counter-attack against Gen Singh through a junior minister, M M Pallam Raju who said: “It (the Army chief taking the government to court) is an unhealthy precedent. It does not auger well either for the ministry or the forces. It is not a matter for public debate.”

The Army chief called on Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister Vijay Kumar Gachhandar. But he was absent when Gachhandar called on Antony at a meeting attended by Army vice chief Lt Gen S K Singh and senior officials from the ministries of Defence and External Affairs.

In a first for any military chief in independent India, Army chief went to the Supreme Court on Monday challenging the defence minister's decision of rejecting his statutory complaint and previous appeals on changing his year of birth from 1950 to 1951 in the records kept by the Military Secretary’s office.

The controversy arose in the first place because two record-keeping branches of the Army – Adjutant General and Military Secretary's branch - maintained two different records.

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