PM resists clamour to sack army chief
|OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT|
New Delhi, March 30: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and defence minister A.K. Antony are holding out against overwhelming opinion in the Union cabinet that favours strict action against army chief Gen. V.K. Singh.
Powerful sections in the government want Gen. V.K. Singh removed despite a placatory statement from the army chief today.
"Rogue elements are trying to create a schism between the defence minister and the army chief. We need to guard against rogue elements. There is no schism between us," Gen. V.K. Singh said.
The army chief did not identify these "rogue elements" but had yesterday said that there were efforts by unnamed people "to tar my reputation".
Despite the statement, the government is still finding the army chief an "embarrassment". Defence minister Antony yesterday said in his media conference that he was most concerned about the image of the army. He did say that the service chiefs have the confidence of the government.
But the trust deficit in the government between the political leadership and the army chief is mounting. The government is under pressure from within to remove Gen. V.K. Singh from his office despite the army chief's statement. This clamour is also echoing from among non-Congress leaders Lalu Prasad (RJD) and Shivanand Tiwari (JD-U). (The BJP today demanded the resignation of defence minister Antony).
But Manmohan Singh and Antony have been urging their colleagues to wait out the two months left for the army chief to retire. The memory of the sacking of then chief of naval staff, Adm. Vishnu Bhagwat, in December 1998 continues to cast a shadow on political-military relations.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee's NDA was at the Centre and George Fernandes was the defence minister then.
Gen. V.K. Singh is due to retire on May 31. Lt Gen. Bikram Singh, the army chief-designate, has been in the capital for briefings this week before taking office. The lieutenant general is currently the eastern army commander based in Fort William, Calcutta.
In his statement, the army chief said the issue of the attempt to bribe him on behalf of Tatra had arisen now because the person involved had made insinuations against him.
The army chief was referring to retired Lt Gen. Tejinder Singh. The retired officer, who has filed a defamation case in court, was alleged by the army in a March 5 statement to have attempted to bribe.
The army chief, who had yesterday called the leak of his letter detailing deficiencies in the military to the Prime Minister "high treason", said: "Institutional corrective steps were taken earlier after talks with defence minister A.K. Antony. Selective leaks culminated in airing of letter to the Prime Minister. We are duty-bound to serve the country and protect the integrity of the army even if we sometimes have to look within. We need to look within the confines of the system and law. Frivolous and uninformed comments should not be made on military matters."