New Delhi: Defence minister AK Antony and Army Chief General VK Singh who are at loggerheads, will come face to face at the Defence Expo on Thursday. A letter written by the General to the Prime Minister's Office claiming shortcomings in defence preparedness was leaked to the media evoking sharp reactions from the government as well as former Army officers. Pressure is now building on the Prime Minister to intervene.
Former Army chiefs have called for a full probe into the source of the leakage of the letter and General VK Singh's claims. "They have to find out that where these leaks are occurring, who is leaking them. Is there an espionage inside in the Army headquarters? We do not know the answers to any of these questions and they have to be inquired into very seriously," General (Retired) Shankar Roy Chowdhury said.
Lt General (Retired) Raj Kadyan added, "A privilege communication between an Army Chief and the Prime Minister is a very serious matter and needs to be investigated."
Meanwhile, there was furore in Parliament over the leaked letter with members demanding to know not just the source of the leakage but the contents of the letter too, questioning the security preparedness of the country. "We will take an appropriate action, we're doing everything to plug the leaks," a defiant Defence Minister Antony said.
But outside the House, it's politics that divided the parties with some politicians even calling for the Army Chief to be sacked. Raising questions on the Army Chief's conduct, JD(U) leader Shivanand Tiwari said, "It's a matter of concern. The fact that he has written to the PM shows he is trying to clarify his position. The Army Chief's conduct is now doubtful. It seems that he is lying. Now that he has got involved in the controversy he is trying to pass the buck."
Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad even alleged that General Singh was preparing for a political role after retiring from the Army. "The Army Chief is frustrated. He wants to contest elections," said Lalu.
Even the Congress used the moment to take pot shots. Indian Overseas Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi even called General Singh a frustrated man. "He did not get an extension even from the court so it may be a frustrated mind's utterance," said Ravi while referring to the age row case in the Supreme Court where the General was forced to accept his date of birth as May 10, 1950 in the official records instead of May 10, 1951 as he had been claiming.
When the General's age controversy broke out, questions were raised about whether caste politics were taking over and whether the caste battle was rearing up once again. The Rajput and Jat mahasabha had rallied around the General the last time around. This time while the Rajput and Jat MPs have kept quiet, it's the Yadavs who are turning the heat on the General.
The General's leaked letter is being seen as a major security breach by a government already embarrassed by the controversy breaking out when the Chinese premier is visiting. But it's the caste politics that should have the government worried and the fact that the defence forces are becoming the new rallying point for netas looking for votes.