Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

General goes to war over birthday

Indian Army Chief General Vijay Kumar Singh who is in dispute with the government over his birthday and mandatory retirement (AP)

The Indian government and its army chief are asking the Supreme Court to answer an odd question: Just how old is the nation's top soldier?

General Vijay Kumar Singh says he was born in May 1951 and will not reach the mandatory retirement age of 62 until next year. But India's Defence Ministry says its records show he was born a year earlier and must retire in four months.

The disagreement, the first time a serving general has dragged the government to court, is complicated because Singh's army records and school certificates show different dates. Like many Indians of his generation, he has no birth certificate.

Singh filed a Supreme Court petition challenging the government's assertion that he is 61. The Defence Ministry asked the court for time to present its own evidence.

Singh took over as army chief nearly two years ago and insists his case is not about getting an extra year in power. "It's all about honour and integrity, not tenure," he told the Times of India.

The Defence Ministry has said that it will stick to 1950 as Singh's year of birth.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Cabinet members to discuss the government's strategy in the dispute.

Opposition parties said the army chief's removal was likely to affect troop morale.

"The mindlessness of the government in handling a sensitive situation will have its consequences," Jaswant Singh, a former defence minister, warned.

India has one of the world's largest armies, with 1.2 million soldiers and nearly another million in reserves.