Both sides fume over ‘letter leak,’ Gen seeks meet with PM and Antony today

The Army Chief has sought an appointment with the PM and Defence Minister A K Antony

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi | Published: March 30, 2012 1:32 am

The UPA government is learnt to be disinclined to take any immediate action against Army Chief General V K Singh even as the latter’s support base in political class appeared to be running thin.

Senior Congress leaders who had supported him on his age controversy are distancing themselves from him in the wake of his allegations of a hefty bribe offer,and his letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh regarding defence preparedness. The Army Chief has,in the meantime,sought an appointment with the PM and Defence Minister A K Antony on Friday.

Antony today asserted that all three service chiefs enjoy the confidence of the government but vowed “strongest action possible” against those responsible for the “leak”. Earlier in the day,the Army Chief issued an official statement asserting that his communication with the PM was “privileged” and the leak should be treated as “high” treason. “This cynical approach to tarnish my reputation should stop. Sources of the leakage should be found and dealt with ruthlessly,” he said.

A visibly upset Antony took questions on the issue stating that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has been asked to conduct an expeditious probe as “national security is at stake”.

Senior Congress leader Captain Amarinder Singh who had earlier written to the Defence Minister supporting the Army Chief’s contention on his age,today appeared to distance himself from him. “I don’t want to comment on this. That was a different issue,this is a different issue,” Amarinder Singh told The Indian Express. Congress MP from Maharajganj Harsh Vardhan also wrote a letter to the defence minister demanding the removal of the Army Chief “in the interest of the country and the Army”.

Sources said Antony is against the extreme step of either sacking the Army Chief or asking him to go on leave. Incidentally,in 1999,when Navy chief Vishnu Bhagwat was dismissed by the NDA government,the Congress had then demanded setting up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the charges levelled by Bhagwat. The ruling dispensation is also inclined to wait for the findings of the probe into the “leakage” of the Army Chief’s controversial letter before taking the next step.

“I assure you that we will not leave it there (IB probe). We will make every possible attempt to find out the real culprits who have done this anti-national activity and they will be given the maximum punishment under the Indian Penal Code,” the minister said at a press interaction on the first day of the Defence Expo. “All the three service chiefs enjoy the confidence of the government. They are still working. Otherwise how can they continue,” he added.

While Antony refrained from making any comments on his relationship with Singh,he made it clear that anyone found guilty of leaking the letter,no matter how senior,would be punished with the harshest sentence possible. “My first priority is to find who leaked the letter…don’t want to live in a fantasy,want to find the trust first,” he said.

The minster took on questions about the preparedness of the armed forces,questions on which had been raised in the Army Chief’s letter to the PM,holding that the strengthening of defence forces is a continuous process but the need to modernise has to be balanced with the desire to keep corruption at bay.

“Don’t blame us on both counts. There are complaints (of malpractice) which I have to enquire but at the same time,have to ensure that things are processed quickly. I can’t ignore the complaints of corruption. I can’t throw them in (the) basket,” he said.

The Congress hardened its stance today. “It is ridiculous to suggest that every nut and bolt is procured by the Ministry. Army is autonomous at many levels and when big bucks comes into play,the ministry comes in,” Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury said. “The country is being visited by leaders,including those from our neighbouring country. There should be restraint and constraint. Our patience should not be viewed as our weakness.”

She said that anyone pointing fingers at the Defence Ministry was not only doubting the integrity of the government but also that of Parliament. “If you are going to go to the media,then there seems to be a larger picture. We do not discuss what we discuss with the defence minister. Then it evokes a response,” she said adding that she was sure that the Army Chief was “aware of the scope of his jurisprudence”.

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