Age row: Govt trying to work out truce with Army chief

Perhaps Dr.Swamy’s chiding of MMSingh has some bearing!

NEW DELHI: Last ditch efforts are underway at the highest levels of the government to find a peace formula to ward off the ugly prospect of an all-out legal battle in Supreme Court over Army chief General V K Singh’s petition challenging the government’s determination that he was born in 1950.

Discussions are underway to hammer out a formula to mollify the general, and prevent his petition from being heard in the apex court, without making it appear that the government has succumbed to pressure.

No formula has yet emerged, but pieces of what could possibly be the scheme to resolve the conflict can be glimpsed and they suggest that the crisis can blow over if government acknowledges his claim to have been born in 1951 and accommodates him in some other role.

The post of Chief of Defence Staff, a post mooted after the Kargil war but has not been created yet, could be one of the options. Billed to be the single point military advisor to the government, the CDS will be positioned above the three Service chiefs: a job profile that would make irrelevant the issue of when Singh retires as Army chief. The offer has to be made soon in order to get the general withdraw his petition.

There are indications that the CDS has figured in preliminary discussions that government’s representatives have held with sympathizers of Gen Singh, although there is no indication that government was ready to put the offer on the table yet.

However, authoritative sources confirmed the government could consider “accepting” May 10, 1951 as the date of birth recorded on the basis of Class X certificate of Gen Singh. It would satisfy the general’s key demand that his “honour and integrity” be protected, while scotching any perception that he misrepresented facts so that he continues in office for a few more months. To scotch any impression of backpedalling, the government will stick to its insistence that Gen Singh was appointed as the Army chief based on official files that showed his date of birth as May 10, 1950 and, therefore, he should retire on May 31 this year.

The idea of offering the general an alternative position has been mooted to compensate him for losing out on the ‘extra time’ of service that he would have been entitled to if he was deemed to have been born in 1951, as well as to make up for the hassles he faced.

A senior official said that while hurt, the government is still wary of the prospect of engaging the country’s Army chief in a legal combat. “We wouldn’t want to see an all-out fight in the court. It would not be good for both sides,” he said. The remark appeared to reflect government’s thinking.

Authoritative sources said there have been consultations between Gen Singh and some key contacts after he filed a statutory complaint with the ministry of defence. Among them were finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and national security advisor Shivshankar Menon. Defence minister A K Antony had deputed defence secretary Shashikant Sharma to work out a compromise formula.

However, what went wrong in the final moments, which led to MoD issuing a formal rebuttal to the statutory complaint filed by Gen Singh and his subsequent decision to move Supreme Court is yet not clear. It is being recognized that political leadership should have directly engaged with the general instead of leaving the issue to bureaucrats who don’t inspire much confidence in the military even in “peace” times.


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