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Vijay Kumar Singh, India Army Chief, Birth Date Questioned In Court

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In this Jan. 15, 2012 file photo, Indian Army Chief, Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh, center, smiles on the occasion of the Indian Army Day in New Delhi, India. (AP)
In this Jan. 15, 2012 file photo, Indian Army Chief, Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh, center, smiles on the occasion of the Indian Army Day in New Delhi, India. (AP)

NEW DELHI — The Indian government and its army chief are asking the Supreme Court to answer a peculiar question: Just how old is the nation's top soldier?

Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh says he was born in May 1951 and will not reach the mandatory retirement age of 62 until next year. But India's Defense Ministry says its records show he was born a year earlier and must retire in four months.

The disagreement, the first time a serving general has dragged the government to court, is complicated because Singh's army records and school certificates show different dates. Like many Indians of his generation, Singh has no birth certificate.

Singh filed a Supreme Court petition Monday challenging the government's assertion that he is 61. On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry asked the court for time to present its own evidence.

Singh took over as army chief nearly two years ago and insists his case is not about getting an extra year in power.

"It's all about honor and integrity, not tenure," Singh was quoted as saying in the Times of India.

The Defense Ministry has said that it will stick to 1950 as Singh's year of birth.

Defense Minister A.K. Antony met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Cabinet members Tuesday to discuss the government's strategy in the dispute.

Opposition parties said the army chief's removal was likely to affect troop morale.

"The mindlessness of the government in handling a sensitive situation will have its consequences," Jaswant Singh, a former defense minister, warned Tuesday.

India has one of the world's largest armies, with 1.2 million soldiers and nearly another million in reserves.

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