The UPA government on Monday rebooted the process of naming Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag as the next Army chief after the Election Commission gave its nod earlier in the day, after sitting over the Defence Ministry’s request for over 15 days.
The file recommending Suhag’s name had moved to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after Defence Minister A K Antony and secretary R K Mathur inked it following the EC’s communication reaching the ministry.
With this, the UPA government is all set to clear 59-year-old Suhag’s name for appointment as the successor to incumbent Army Chief General Bikram Singh, who retires on July 31.
With the last phase of the nine-phase elections ending on Monday and the results to the 16th Lok Sabha polls just four days away, senior Defence Ministry officials said the formal naming of Suhag as the next Army chief may not come immediately.
Convention followed by successive governments has been to name the successors to Armed Forces’ chiefs about two months from the date of the incumbent’s retirement. There have been instances when the naming had been done three months ahead of the serving chief’s retirement too, as in the case of General Bikram Singh, who succeeded General V K Singh in May 2012.
Suhag’s naming as the next Army chief had got into political trouble in April, with the BJP objecting to the “haste” shown by the UPA government, which is likely to be voted out.
On Monday too, BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said “when the Manmohan Singh government is certainly going to demit office after its defeat in 89 to 90 hours, I leave it to their judgment of political propriety whether to appoint the new Army chief or not when the vacancy is occurring in the end of July.”
After the BJP’s opposition a fortnight ago, the Defence Ministry had written to the EC seeking a clarification if it could go ahead with the process of identifying the successor to General Bikram Singh.
The appointment of incumbent Gen Singh was done three months prior to the retirement of his predecessor Gen V K Singh, who had a turbulent relationship with the Defence Ministry and even dragged the government to the Supreme Court over his age controversy.
Significantly, during the last days of his tenure as Army Chief, V K Singh had put a ‘discipline and vigilance ban’ on Lt Gen Suhag, then 3 Corps Commander, for the “failure of command and control” as an intelligence unit under him had allegedly carried out 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 as the Eastern Army Commander.
Lt Gen Suhag, First Jat Chief
Lt Gen Dalbir Suhag, if named the next Army chief, would become the first officer belonging to the Jat community to occupy the coveted post in the force’s history.
Suhag — though he prefers to be called Dalbir Singh — is at present the Vice-Chief of the 11.3-lakh Indian Army and would be the senior-most infantry officer when he takes over as Army chief.
Army Reshuffle Likely
With three top generals of the Army retiring over the next three months, a major reshuffle in the force’s senior appointments is on the cards.