Army chief row gets uglier, government promises strongest action
New Delhi, March 29 (IANS) The row between the government and the army chief got nastier with Defence Minister A.K. Antony calling as 'anti-national' leakage of V.K. Singh's letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over gaps in the force's war-fighting capabilities and noting that an Intelligence Bureau (IB) probe had been ordered into the matter.
Antony's assertion at a press conference on the occasion of Defence Exposition came within hours of Gen. Singh too terming the leak of his top secret letter to the prime minister as 'high treason' and calling for 'punishing ruthlessly' the guilty in the episode.
However, Antony indirectly questioned the timing of Singh's move of forwarding to the CBI a letter from Trinamool Congress MP Ambica Banerjee alleging corruption in defence deals by serving 3 Corps commander Lt. Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag.
'Whoever has leaked the letter (to the prime minister)... that act is anti-national. We requested IB to inquire into that. Once the report is received, we will take the strongest action,' Antony said, soon after inaugurating the four-day event, described as Asia's largest land and naval military systems exhibition.
'We want to find the truth. We will go to any extent to find the truth. We will go to the root. We cannot spare them,' the minister said.
In his letter to Manmohan Singh, V.K. Singh pointed to a shortage of arms and ammunition in the armed forces and questioned the Indian Army's fighting capability.
According to reports, Singh's letter, written March 12, states that army tanks have run out of ammunition. The letter emphasizes the need to bridge the shortcomings and bring the army to a fighting level.
The leakage of the letter has shocked the nation, with the political clamour seeking the immediate sacking of the army chief, who retires on May 31, increasing by the day.
Antony said every political party wanted to find the truth, be it 'Left, Right or Middle.'
Meanwhile, rejecting allegations that he had leaked the letter, an 'outraged' Gen. Singh claimed that the leak should be treated as 'high treason'.
A statement by the army chief, who was in Jammu Thursday morning, said: 'This is an outrage! Official communication with the PM (prime minister), RM (Raksha Mantri or Defence Minister) or anybody for that matter is a privileged information.'
'The leaking of the letter should be treated as high treason. This cynical approach to tar my reputation should be stopped. The source of leak has to be found and dealt with ruthlessly,' he said.
This clarification from the army chief came even as the chorus for strong action against him grew louder, with political parties demanding that he be sacked following reports that he had sought a CBI probe on graft allegations against a serving officer based on a letter written by the Trinamool Congress MP.
While the BJP voiced doubts on the timing of the army chief's disclosure, the RJD said Singh has lost people's confidence and demanded his sacking.
Antony indirectly questioned the timing of Gen Singh's move of forwarding the Trinamool MP's letter alleging corruption against Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag to the CBI. He pointed out that the army headquarters headed by Gen. Singh had recommended promotion to Lt. Gen. Suhag as army commander.
He said the army chief had brought the allegations against Suhag to his notice some months back and then, he had asked the chief to initiate action against the officer. But the matter had ended there and he was not aware that the letter from Ambica Banerjee was forwarded to the CBI for action.
While the Left said it wants the government to investigate the matter to ascertain who is behind the leak, United Progressive Alliance partners Trinamool Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party supported the government.
The letter by the Trinamool MP of May 2011 alleges 'procurement scams' in the 'secretive' Special Frontier Force (SFF), when Lt Gen Dalbir Singh was its inspector general.
The SFF is under the administrative control of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the country's premier foreign spy agency.
'The defence minister has said that an appropriate decision will be taken at an appropriate time. We should wait for that. The decision will be conveyed,' Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla said.
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