Army chief decision before poll panel
The Centre has referred to the Election Commission the issue of the next army chief’s appointment and any decision would be taken only after its approval, defence minister A.K. Antony said on Friday. The ministry was expected to recommend vice-chief of army staff Lt General Dalbir Singh Suhag as the chief of army staff-designate. The government usually names a service-chief-designate two or three months before the incumbent is scheduled to retire. General Bikram Singh retires on July 31. However, the BJP has argued that the appointment should be made by the next government. The party’s campaign is led by the former army chief, V.K. Singh, who is contesting from Ghaziabad. If Lt Gen. Suhag’s appointment is scuttled, the officer next in line to be the chief would be Lt General A.K. Singh, whose son is V.K. Singh’s son-in-law. PTI picture shows Antony with General Bikram Singh at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Friday.
New Delhi, May 2: The Centre today said it would appoint a judge to probe the Gujarat “snoopgate” before the votes are counted on May 16, prompting the BJP to allege a “political and mala fide” exercise to “target” Narendra Modi.
As the BJP insisted that the Centre would not be able to find a judge to head the probe commission, the Congress accused the Opposition party of trying to intimidate judges.
“I will be very curious to know the name of the judge who has agreed to ‘lend’ himself to the UPA. I will be surprised if there is one. I hope, for the cause of judicial dignity, no one agrees to be a part of this desperate exercise,” BJP leader Arun Jaitley wrote in a post.
Union minister and Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said the remark was “very intimidating” and “threatening” and looked as if Jaitley was asking which judge would “dare” come forward for such a probe. He alleged it was an “advance warning of the shape of things to come”.
Earlier, Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had told reporters in Shimla: “We will soon appoint the judge, before May 16.”
To a question, Shinde said the move would not violate the model code of conduct because the decision to form a judicial probe commission had been taken by the Union cabinet four months ago.
A purported sting last year had claimed Gujarat police snooped on a woman architect in 2009 at the behest of a Modi aide, directed by “his saheb”. The BJP claimed the surveillance was prompted by a request from the woman’s father who was worried about her security, and the father later endorsed the claim.
Rattled by the possible political fallout, the Gujarat government appointed two retired judges to probe the matter. While their report is still awaited, the Union government announced a central probe saying the surveillance — tapping the woman’s phone and monitoring her movements —had continued outside Gujarat.
“I am worried. The way the Gujarat chief minister has snooped into the life of a woman, I am really worried about what will happen to the women of the country if he becomes the PM,” Shinde said.
The BJP warned of reviewing the “illegitimate” decision if it came to power. “The Centre has no right to form a commission at this stage,” Jaitley said.
“We understand that judge after judge has rejected the UPA’s offer for the past five months.”
Jaitley said his party was also opposed to the government’s “last-minute” moves to set up a Lokpal search committee and appoint information commissioners in the “last 10 days” of its term. He urged the bureaucracy not to play ball with its political masters.
“The political wing of the government would be advised well to act according to established precedents and norms. But if it still goes ahead and enforces the decisions, the next government can contest the legality of such appointments,” he warned.
Union law minister Kapil Sibal asked: “Why are BJP leaders worried? Why are they stating publicly that no judge should join this commission?”
He answered his own question, saying the BJP knows that “once the commission is set up, there is no saving for Narendra Modi because there is documentary evidence of what he has done”.
To this, Jaitley replied: “The law minister has a lot to worry about Chandni Chowk (Sibal’s Lok Sabha seat). He should stop worrying about larger issues.”
Another BJP leader, Ravi Shankar Prasad, alleged that the Centre’s move was “nothing but a reflection of the government’s arrogance”.
“It is not snoopgate, it is stoop-gate. The home minister of India is stooping to this level. I can see the desperation.... No judge is willing to inquire into it, but they are insisting. We don’t fear from you,” Prasad said.