A debate is raging between the defence ministry and military headquarters over whether spouses of the army, navy or air force chiefs should be allowed to travel with them on an official visit abroad.
The sensitive issue has reached defence minister Manohar Parrikar, who is expected to give his opinion this month as his ministry and the military administration hold opposite views on conventions and travel rules.
The headquarters have underscored past convention to pitch for spouse travel, saying wives accompanied the chiefs since they pick up welfare measures for the military wings their husbands were in.
It is standard practice for these first ladies to head welfare associations of fellow military wives and play a key role in rehabilitation of families whose kin have laid down their lives for the country.
“This is a military convention and many countries such as France, Germany, Vietnam, Thailand, and the UK follow, allowing the spouses to accompany their husbands,” a former army chief told Hindustan Times.
But the defence ministry’s finance wing has pointed out that only the President, Vice President and Prime Minister are allowed to take along their better halves at government expense during an official visit outside the country.
Further, according to government rules, not even a Union cabinet minister can take his or her spouse on foreign trips. That includes the defence minister.
At present, only vice-president Hamid Ansari travels with his wife, Salma Ansari.
In terms of protocol, the services chiefs are ex officio officers of cabinet secretary rank and report to the defence minister.
Parrikar is likely to speak to the three service chiefs and the defence secretary before he decides on the spouse travel rule.