The war of attrition between the Army Chief and government showed no signs of abating with Gen V K Singh describing as "high treason" the leak of his letter on defence preparedness and the government promising that those responsible would be given "maximum punishment".
As Gen Singh's March 12 letter to Prime Minister in which he had complained about lack of defence preparedness continued to generate controversy, he issued a strongly worded statement in which he said the source of leak should be dealt with "ruthlessly".
In a brief statement released by Army Headquarters, Gen Singh, who is currently in Jammu and Kashmir, said his official communication with the Prime Minister and Defence Minister is "privileged" communication.
"The leakage of the letter should be treated as high treason. Cynical approach to tarnish my reputation should stop. Sources of the leakage should be found and dealt with ruthlessly," said Singh, who is due to retire on May 31.
At a press conference in Delhi, Defence Minister A K Antony vowed to take the "strongest action" under laws against those responsible for the leak of Gen Singh's letter to the Prime Minister.
He disclosed that the Intelligence Bureau has been asked to go into the leak of the letter and said the government will get to the root of it and find out the persons behind the "anti-national" act.
Maintaining that no patriotic Indian would indulge in leak of sensitive communication because it would only help the enemies, Antony said the report will be available at the earliest.
"I assure you that we will not leave it there. We will make every possible attempt to find out the real culprits who have done this anti-national activity and they will be given the maximum punishment under the Indian Penal Code," he said.
Asked whether government would take action on demands for removal of Gen Singh, the Minister said, "all the three service chiefs still enjoy the confidence of the government. They are working...Otherwise, how can they continue".
He was asked whether Gen Singh still enjoyed the government's pleasure and confidence and whether the government would continue to "grin and bear" him till retirement in May or ask him to go on leave following a spate of controversies surrounding him.
The Minister's remarks on the confidence in the service chiefs came moments after a statement issued by Gen Singh from Jammu that the leak of his letter should be treated as "high treason" and its source should be dealt with "ruthlessly".
Ever since he lost the battle over the age issue, Gen Singh has been at loggerheads with the government and has given media interviews claiming he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore to swing a substandard defence deal.
On top of acrimony over the issue, the leak of his secret letter to the Prime Minister enraged parliamentarians and political parties, some of whom demanded his removal.
Today, in yet another embarrassment to the government, a Delhi newspaper carried a story that Gen Singh has referred to the CBI a corruption complaint of a Trinamool Congress MP against Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh Suhag, who commands the Dimpaur-based 3 Corps and is in line to be Army Chief after Singh's successor.
Initially Antony sought to parry questions on the controversies surrounding the Army chief urging journalists not to bring Army into all controversies and damage institutions.
Asked if he felt a sense of betrayal, Antony said he would not reveal his personal feelings and his judgements would be on the basis on facts.
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