New Delhi: As embarrassed government stands isolated on Indian Army chief General VK Singh's age row, Defence Minister AK Antony has been vehemently criticised by opposition leaders, as well as from within the Congress who have conveyed their criticism to the top leadership.

Former Defence Minister and senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh led the charge when he said that an 'incompetent Antony' had treated the 'sensitive issue in an insensitive manner'.

“I am amazed at his (Antony's) incompetence and the sheer folly of treating such a sensitive matter in an insensitive manner,” he told mediapersons on Tuesday.

“I stand by my every opinion. The mishandling continues,” Jaswant Singh said on Wednesday.

“Could the Defence Minister or the Prime Minister not stopped or asked the Army Chief.....walked to his office and sort out this elementary matter of sorting government records,” Singh asked.

Samjwadi Party leader Mohan Singh said, “The government should have taken it as an extraordinary issue and dealt with it with utmost sincereity and sensitivity.”

Political analysts say that the government has realised the flaws in handling the issue.

That may be one reason why the government fielded Minister of State for Defence MM Pallam Raju to make the first official response on Wednesday. Antony's reaction could further escalate issue, one analyst said.

Antony did not react when journalists asked him about the matter on Wednesday.

Several Congress leaders have apprised party president Sonia Gandhi that the issue should be handled carefully to avoid any repurcussions in the coming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand -- which have a huge number of ex-servicemen -- party sources said.

Former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, an ex-Indian Army captain who had openly supported General Singh, was asked by Antony to state these were his 'personal views', Congress circles pointed out.

Several traditional critics of Antony in the party, especially from his home state Kerala, have told Gandhi that Antony's 'indecisiveness' had earlier cost the party in the state's politics earlier and this should not now affect national-level politics.

“Antony often becomes adamant and a prisoner of his holier than thou image,” said a party leader. According to him, partymen refrained from criticising him as he was in Gandhi's good books.

“As Antony's actions are creating political problems, more leaders are now raising their voices inside the party,” the leader added.

Outside the political arena also, criticism of Antony is on the rise.

“The Minister (Antony) and the government have messed it up. The number of former army officers criticising the government on TV channels should embarass the government,” former Border Security Force chief EN Rammohan said.

(Agencies)