Government stands by Lt. Gen Suhag’s appointment as army chief, Congress wants Gen. V.K. Singh’s out

New Delhi : Defence Minister Arun Jaitley Wednesday said the appointment of Lt. Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag as the next Indian Army chief is final and urged the opposition not to politicise the issue.

Jaitley’s statement came as Congress leader Anand Sharma raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha, referring to tweets by former army chief and BJP minister Gen. V.K. Singh, and demanded his dismissal. Senior Congress leader Amarinder Singh too demanded the removal of Gen. V.K. Singh from the council of ministers for making “unacceptable and highly objectionable” statements on the issue.

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Defending the appointment of Lt. Gen. Suhag, the defence minister said: “It’s been a practice in this country that we keep some issues outside the realm of party politics and, therefore, keeping various standards of political maturity in mind, all of us, not only the government, must keep the army and its appointments out of this arena and stand by this appointment. The government is also fully defending it.”

“Lt. Gen. Suhag’s appointment as army chief is final,” Jaitley said.

Raising the issue, Sharma questioned how Gen. V.K. Singh was making “repeated statements and tweets” even as Jaitley himself had put the issue to rest after taking charge as defence minister.

“Repeated tweets and statements made by V.K. Singh are unacceptable and highly objectionable… He’s demoralising the forces, he should be dismissed,” Sharma said.

Demanding a statement by the prime minister, Sharma said in the upper house: “If a serving minister is making such a statement, the government ought to remove this minister. The prime minister must clarify this issue. It is unacceptable. He cannot continue in the government, he cannot be a member of the Council of Ministers.”

On Gen. V.K. Singh’s comments, Jaitley said: “As far as comments are concerned, I would urge that this issue, directly, indirectly, or collaterally may not be raised for the reason that if one of the major political parties chooses to attack the minister, then the minister may consider defending himself. Therefore, that is an area which is wholly outside… because the minister concerned is defending himself.”

The issue was raised in the Lok Sabha by Congress leader Amarinder Singh, who said Gen. V.K. Singh’s comments are “derogatory” to the forces.

“The language used by him in the tweet is highly derogatory. The government has chosen an army chief, to call him a criminal, and to call the men under him dacoits… I hope the government is taking note of it and he will be dismissed from the council of ministers,” Amarinder Singh said.

Talking to reporters outside parliament later, Amarinder Singh said Gen. V.K. Singh is questioning the “very integrity of the army”.

“It is a fundamentally wrong question. He is not just embarrassing the government but the nation. It is a disservice to nation,” he said.

The opposition raised the issue after former army chief and now a minister in the BJP-led government Gen. V.K. Singh tweeted: “If unit kills innocents, does dacoity and then head of organization tries to protect them, should he not be blamed? Criminals should go free!”

Former defence minister A.K. Antony refused to comment on the issue.

“I am no more the defence minister,” he said when asked about the controversy.

Gen. V.K. Singh had imposed a disciplinary ban on Lt. Gen. Suhag in connection with an intelligence operation in Assam. Gen. Bikram Singh later lifted the ban soon after he took over in May 2012, and Lt. Gen. Suhag is set to succeed Gen. Bikram Singh as army chief.

In an affidavit earlier this month to the Supreme Court in a promotion case related to Lt. Gen. Ravi Dastane, the defence ministry said the alleged lapses which were made as grounds to impose disciplinary ban on Lt. Gen. Suhag were “premeditated”, “vague” and “illegal”.

Jaitley, soon after taking charge as defence minister, had also said that the decision on the new army chief is final and there should be no controversy about it.

According to sources, the defence minister has questioned ministry officials why the affidavit was not shown to him before being sent to the Supreme Court.