New Delhi : Preparing itself for a legal battle with Indian Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh, the government Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to hear its version before passing any order on a raging age row involving the general. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met senior ministers to chalk out strategies to handle the unprecedented situation.
The defence ministry filed a caveat in the court, requesting it not to pass any order, before hearing the government, over the general’s petition that he should be deemed to have been born in 1951, not 1950.
In a related development, Manmohan Singh met Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Law Minister Salman Khurshid to discuss threadbare the army chief’s petition.
Informed sources said the meeting after Antony met Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati in his office to discuss the petition and the possible responses from the government.
Gen Singh, citing birth records, says he was born in 1951 and is not due to retire until March 2013.
But records at the defence ministry show he was born in 1950, which means that Gen Singh, who became army chief in March 2010, is due to step down in May this year.
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma, who was on an official visit to Malaysia, was called back as the defence ministry readied for a bitter legal battle.
The government refused to go into details of what it planned to do.
“Every human being has a right to seek justice if he feels he has been denied justice,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said here.
“I am afraid it’s very difficult to make it into an issue or controversy.”
The row has pitted the leader of the 1.13-million-strong army, the world’s second largest, against the government — a first in independent India.
The chief moved the Supreme Court Monday after the ministry in December rejected his statutory complaint, requesting change of his year of birth in official records to 1951 from 1950.
The army chief has denied his move was related to his tenure. He argues he wants to restore his “integrity and honour”.
The Supreme Court will decide on Singh’s plea next week. Experts say it may refer the case to the Armed Forces Tribunal or to a lower court.
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) slammed the government for its “failure” and “inefficient” handling of the age row.
“The government has displayed a serious failure of statecraft in the handling of the army chief’s age related matter,” BJP’s chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
“The sensitive matter ought to have been handled properly by the government internally, to the satisfaction of all concerned, instead of allowing it to come in public domain and resultant court proceedings.”
The Congress was quick to counter BJP, noting that the matter was between the Supreme Court, the army chief and the defence ministry.
He said Gen. Singh had stated that it was a “personal issue related to service record”.