Citing new disclosure on "inaction," BJP wants Minister to quit

The tension between the government and the Army Chief appeared to have subsided on Friday, with General V.K. Singh blaming some “elements” for trying to drive a wedge between him and Defence Minister A.K. Antony.

“There are some elements in our society which are playing an active role in trying to project a schism between the Honourable Raksha Mantri and the Chief of the Army Staff. This is untrue and needs to be guarded against,” Gen. Singh said in a statement, a day after Mr. Antony sought to ease the tension by asserting that all three Services Chiefs continued to enjoy the government's confidence.

The Minister's statement came after some Members of Parliament demanded the removal of the Army Chief following the leakage to a newspaper of a confidential letter Gen. Singh wrote to the Prime Minister. The outrage was preceded by the Army Chief's interview with The Hindu, in which he stated that he was offered Rs.14 crore as bribe by a retired senior officer.

In his latest statement, Gen. Singh emphasised that the Army was, by extension, part of the government and was duty-bound to serve the country and protect the institutional integrity at all costs, even if it meant introspection. “We are duty-bound to serve our country and protect the institutional integrity of the Army at all cost, even if we sometimes have to looking within. We have to identify, and within the confines of the system and the law expose these elements. The freedom of speech and individual opinion need to be respected, but frivolous and uninformed comment on these issues will only muddy the matter.”

As for the timing of his disclosure of the bribe issue, Gen. Singh said that after he brought it to the notice of the Minister, “certain steps” were taken institutionally to keep a watchful eye on the retired officer who offered him the bribe.

Without naming the officer, the statement said that after 18 months, this person resurfaced and launched a “smear campaign” alleging that the Army had eavesdropped on the Defence Minister. “Once the individual concerned had been identified by the Army Headquarters, his identity and antecedents were made public,” the statement said, in an apparent reference to the March 5 press release that named Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Tejinder Singh.

Gen. Singh said that though there had been a string of selected leaks [to the media] in the past, it culminated in the airing of the letter he had written to the Prime Minister.

For the Congress, however, there was little to cheer about, as the party faced fresh embarrassment with a newspaper reporting that Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad wrote to Mr. Antony on October 5, 2009, asking him to investigate the Tatra trucks scam, and though a probe was promised, nothing came out.

Unofficially, sources in the party admitted that since the reason Mr. Antony cited for not acting on a similar complaint from the Army Chief was that it was not given in writing, the fact that he did not act either on a fellow Minister's written complaint required an explanation.

But, when the Bharatiya Janata Party demanded Mr Antony's resignation in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress came to his defence.

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