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UPA govt's next battle... against its army chief

Last updated on: January 2, 2012 09:30 IST

UPA govt's next battle... against its army chief

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Ajai Shukla in New Delhi

The United Progressive Alliance government, still smarting from the Lokpal Bill fiasco in the Rajya Sabha, already contemplates its next battle.

Business Standard has learnt that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General VK Singh, plans to petition the Supreme Court on Monday after the defence ministry (MoD) on Saturday rejected his statutory complaint asking for his date of birth to be reconciled.

 

The army chief contends (supported by 19 documents, including matriculation and birth certificates) that he was born on May 10, 1951. That makes him eligible to serve till May 31, 2013, when he would retire after completing 62 years that month.

The Adjutant General's (AG's) Branch, the army's official record keeper, supports that date. But the Military Secretary's Branch, which handles promotions, has him born on May 10, 1950 and, therefore, due for retirement on May 31, 2012. The MoD has ruled that the latter date is correct.

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"The chief will leave on January 5 for an official visit to Myanmar. Before that, he would like to file his writ petition, to which he is entitled as a citizen of India," says a close aide to Gen Singh.

 

Sources close to Gen Singh describe him as "extremely bitter" at the government's "backstabbing" over this issue.

The sources say that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was mediating with the army chief on behalf of the government.

After Gen Singh refused the offer of a post-retirement ambassadorship or governorship, retorting that this was a matter of honour, Mukherjee had allegedly asked the chief to wait till January 16, 2012, when a face-saving compromise would be worked out. To the army chief's surprise on Saturday, the government rejected his petition.

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Approached for comments, Pranab's office admits that the finance minister met Gen Singh on Saturday, in a closed-door one-on-one meeting. But the official denies that the date-of-birth issue was discussed.

"So many people discuss different things with the finance minister. We cannot reveal what they talked about," the official said.

 

Business Standard learns that Gen Singh's legal team in the Supreme Court will be headed by Uday U Lalit, the CBI's Special Public Prosecutor in the 2G spectrum case.

Lalit is also associated with the defence of former Karnataka chief minister, BS Yeddyurappa; controversial mining tycoon, G Janardhana Reddy; and Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chairman, Suresh Kalmadi.

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This will be the first time that a serving defence chief takes legal recourse against the government. In handling this confrontation, the government has no precedence to fall back upon.

 

The MoD's poisoned relations with the army chief are apparent in the army's day-to-day functioning. Just days ago, the MoD rejected the army chief's nomination of Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra for the post of Military Secretary (MS), on the grounds that he has just 6 months to serve as MS before being elevated to army commander on June 1, 2012.

Now the army chief has returned the proposal to the MoD arguing that it is his prerogative to choose his MS, whether for three months or three years.

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