Embarrassed by the unprecedented action of Army chief Gen VK Singh in moving the Supreme Court over the issue of his age, the government was on Tuesday night finalising its strategy with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh consulting senior ministers.
The government took the expected step of filing a caveat in the Supreme Court requesting to be heard before passing any order on the writ petition filed by Gen Singh on Monday challenging the defence ministry's decision not to accept his position that he was born in 1951.
Defence minister AK Antony and law minister Salman Khurshid held a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the pros and cons of the Army chief's action. There was no official word on what the government's strategy would be.
However, there was speculation that Gen Singh may be asked to proceed on leave pending the apex court's view on his petition. But there was no confirmation of such a course from the ministry of defence.
Meanwhile, defence secretary Shashikant Sharma, who was in Malaysia on a two-day visit, was called back on Tuesday in view of the developments that may have taken the government by surprise.
All eyes are now on the Supreme Court even as some legal experts were of the view that Gen Singh should have approached Armed Forces Tribunal for redress of his complaint that his date of birth be taken as May 10,1951 and not as May 10,1950.
The apex court will be hearing on Friday a petition filed by The Grenadiers Association, Rohtak Chapter, in support of Gen Singh. It remains to be seen as to whether the court admits the petition filed by Gen Singh under Article 32 of the Constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights.
In his petition, the Army chief is believed to have sought a direction to declare his date of birth as May 10,1951 and for grant of all consequential reliefs and benefits.The petition contended that the July 21, 2011 order of the defence ministry had set aside an order of the Adjutant General's Branch on February 25,2011 that recognised his date of birth as May 10, 1951.
The petition held that it was an ex parte decision of the ministry in violation of principles of natural justice on the opinion given by the Attorney General.
Gen Singh claimed that the defence ministry unilaterally, on the Attorney General's advice, treated February 25 order as null and void.
Advocate Prabhjit Jauhar, who is one of the lawyers for Singh, said the General has argued that the law ministry had also given a similar opinion on February 14,2011.
Congress sources, meanwhile, said the government had gone the extra mile to placate the Army chief and had obtained three opinions from legal experts including twice from the Attorney General on his age issue.
The exercise of taking the three opinions was "only to satisfy" Gen Singh and persuade him against going to the Court, they said.
Government was "helpless" in the matter as the three opinions went against the Army chief, the sources said adding that in order to defuse the issue, back channel talks were also held with Gen Singh and "this must have been accompanied by some other offer".
Rules and regulations require that the age issue needed to be raised by an officer much before his retirement and matters do not help if they are brought to the fore just before superannuation, they said.
What had compounded the matter was that while two of the records about the date of birth cited by the Army chief were in his favour, one was against and there was confusion about the fourth, the sources claimed.
The government also apprehended that officers junior to Gen Singh in the line of succession could go to Court if the Army chief's contention had been accepted even after three opinions had gone against him, they said.