The Indian authorities have found themselves in the embarrassing situation of being taken to court by their army chief in a move to determine how old he really is.
General VK Singh has appealed to the Supreme Court to declare that he is a year younger – at 61 – than the government maintains.
General Singh, citing his record of birth, insists that he was born on 10 May 1951 and is not due to retire until March 2013. But the Ministry of Defence maintains that its records show he was born 12 months earlier on 10 May 1950 and should stand down from his post on 31 May this year. The dispute between the government and the commander of the world's second-largest standing army has stunned many observers, shocked to see a civilian versus military stand-off more usually seen across the border in Pakistan.
A number have questioned whether the court should be using its time for such matters. Yesterday, comments from a government official appeared to underline the sense of the ridiculous. MM Pallam Raju, a junior Defence minister, told reporters in Delhi: "It is not a healthy precedent either for the ministry or the armed forces. It is not a matter for public debate and like I said, it's an unhealthy precedent."
General Singh, who met government officials yesterday, appealed to the court earlier this week after the Ministry of Defence rejected his request that it change the records. Reports in the Indian media say General Singh is trying to save his reputation rather then extend his tenure. The Times of India reported that General Singh, who served in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war, has the support of four former chief justices. In their opinion the General has been consistent on his date of birth since he joined the National Defence Academy.