NEW DELHI: As the Ministry of Defence is pitted against its own Army chief, General V K Singh, after the latter moved court in an unparalleled step on Monday, both stakeholders refused to budge from their stands and braced for a fight to the finish.
The Defence Ministry decided to oppose General Singh’s writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking to change his date of birth to May 10, 1951. The government, through the defence ministry, on Tuesday filed a ‘caveat’ petition in the apex court— which means that the government sought from the Supreme Court not to give any decision without hearing its version. Also, the government would have to be informed of all the legal moves of General Singh beforehand.
Sources indicate that General Singh is likely to tender his resignation right after the next senior-most officer Lt Gen V K Ahluwalia retires in February-end. This would make Western Army Commander Lt Gen S R Ghosh, who is said to be close to the incumbent, eligible for the top post. However, the ministry could preempt the General by naming Lt Gen Bikram Singh as the next chief earlier than expected.
The Army chief, a commando and veteran of the 1971-war, on Monday became the first serving military chief to drag the government to court. He filed a 66-page writ petition with a slew of documental evidence in 150 annexures. In support of his date of birth May 10, 1951, the chief brandished documents including his matriculation certificate, opinion of former chief justice of India Justice J S Verma, certificate submitted to UPSC and his service identity card, among other documents.
Hinting that internal machinations in the army were behind the age controversy, the General in his petition pointed fingers at his predecessor General Deepak Kapoor for letting the issue hang fire despite “personally assuring” him that it would be resolved, in 2008.
The Supreme Court is yet to admit the petition; it will come up for hearing on Friday or next week.
The establishment, caught off guard, scurried into a huddle as Defence Minister A K Antony met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma was called back from Malaysia in the wake of the development. Antony also held consultations with Attorney General G E Vahanvati.
The government hopes the Supreme Court would refuse to admit General Singh’s petition and direct him to approach the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) or the Delhi High Court. However, the army chief can argue that presiding members of the AFT are all junior to him in rank.
While many have criticised the Army chief for going against military ethos by dragging the civilian government to court, General Singh has found a supporter in Admiral (retd) Vishnu Bhagwat, the only chief to be sacked by the Indian Government on the issue of ‘indiscipline’ in 1998. Admiral Bhagwat had later moved the Supreme Court and got his privileges restored. Admiral Bhagwat told the Express that it was a “deliberate planned manipulation to effect early ouster of the Army chief”.