Friday, March 30, 2012

High treason vs anti-national - IB to probe letter leak

High treason vs anti-national

- IB to probe letter leak

New Delhi, March 29: Defence minister A.K. Antony today said the Intelligence Bureau had been asked to determine the source that leaked the army chief's letter to the Prime Minister on military deficiencies even as Gen. V.K. Singh, too, described it "as an act of high treason".

"I just want to say that whoever leaked the letter is anti-national," the defence minister said. "No patriotic Indian will do it. It will only help our enemies. We will take further action after the IB's inquiry. We want to go to the root, take the strongest action under the law," said Antony.

An act that is determined to be high treason is even punishable by death in Indian law. A few members of Parliament — Lalu Prasad and Shivanand Tiwari among them — had insinuated on Wednesday that the letter was leaked by quarters close to the army chief, Gen. V.K. Singh. Lalu Prasad and Tiwari had also demanded that the General be sacked.

"This (the leak) is an outrage!" the army chief said in a statement today. He was in Jammu and Kashmir on an official visit for two days and returned to the capital in the evening.

"Official communication with the PM, RM (raksha mantri) or anybody for that matter with the chief of army staff is privileged information. The leaking of the letter should be treated as an act of high treason. This cynical approach to tar my reputation has to stop. The source of the leak has to be found and dealt with ruthlessly," Gen. V.K. Singh said.

The severely strained relations between the army chief and the government have come to such a pass since the differences over his age that there is now a possible charge of treason against a person or persons unknown.

The army chief's letter to the Prime Minister dated March 12 had detailed the erosion of the army's firepower. The chief had urged the Prime Minister to take urgent measures to reverse the trend. The upshot has been that there is now an insinuation that the chief, the man leading the largest armed force in the country, leaked a document that exposed his own military's weaknesses.

For Gen. V.K. Singh, the last army chief to have seen full-fledged war (in 1971), this is deeply hurting. It is no less hurting for defence minister Antony.

"I cannot reveal my feelings to you," Antony told a media conference. "My judgement will be based on facts. I have shared my feeling in Parliament (on Wednesday). As an Indian, I was proud that there was a consensus (in the House) on matters of national security," Antony said.

But differences between army headquarters and the defence ministry are glaring.

The army chief had forwarded to the CBI a letter from Trinamul Congress MP Ambika Chatterjee alleging irregularities in procurement and blaming Lt Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag. Lt Gen. Dalbir Singh is currently the commander of the Dimapur-headquartered 3 Corps.

Antony said the army chief had informed him of the allegations against Lt Gen. Dalbir Singh. But, Antony said, he had received a note as recently as March 22 from army headquarters recommending Lt Gen. Dalbir Singh's promotion to army commander. The Trinamul MP had complained to the government in May last year.

Asked if Gen. V.K. Singh still enjoyed the confidence of the government, Antony replied: "All the service chiefs have the confidence (of the government), that is why they are there."

The defence minister was not inclined to discuss the contents of the army chief's letter to the Prime Minister in public because "we must protect the prestige of the armed forces".

He said the army was operational and was still deployed in field areas "and our soldiers and officers are dying in action almost every day".

But Antony said the government did not want to be cornered by arguments that, first, it was going slow on procurement and yet be asked to ensure that all purchases for the defence forces were above board.

"I will take action on any charge of corruption. But that will take time (and slow down purchases) and you cannot then blame me on two counts. We will have to strike a balance," he said.

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