Notwithstanding opposition from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the defence ministry on Monday went ahead with the process of appointing the next Army chief, recommending Vice Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh Suhag for the top post.
The ministry sent its recommendation to the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC) shortly after receiving the go-ahead from the Election Commission (EC), to which the matter had been referred in view of the model code of conduct, sources said.
They said the recommendation had only the name of 59-year-old Lt-Gen Suhag, who is the seniormost among the Lt-Generals. It is now for the ACC, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to take a call.
Army chief General Bikram Singh will retire on July 31 and according to the tradition, the government announces the name of services chiefs two months before the tenure of the incumbent comes to an end.
The appointment of the next Army chief had got mired in a controversy as BJP is strictly opposing it, questioning the “hurry” and insisting that the matter be left to the next government. Earlier in the day, the EC sent a communication to the defence ministry giving the go-ahead.
EC cited its March 27 order, which makes it clear, that appointments, promotions, tenders and procurements of defence forces are not covered under the model code of conduct in the ongoing elections as well as any other election in the future, sources said.
Because of the strong opposition by BJP to the appointment of the next Army chief, the government had last week referred the matter to the EC.
The appointment of incumbent chief General Singh was done three months prior to the retirement of his predecessor General V K Singh.
Significantly, during the last days of his tenure as Army Chief, V K Singh had put a “discipline and vigilance ban” on Lt-Gen Dalbir Suhag, then 3 Corps Commander, for the “failure of command and control”, as an intelligence unit under him had allegedly carried out a dacoity in Jorhat in Assam, outside the jurisdiction of the Corps. The ban was lifted soon after Bikram Singh took over as Army Chief and appointed Suhag the Eastern Army Commander.