There is turmoil in the Army over the UPA government’s plan to announce Lt Gen Dalbir Suhag as the next Army chief.
A military investigation into a botched intel op in the North East had established his ‘command failure’ when he was the Corps commander at Dimapur. This ban, imposed when General V K Singh was Army chief was lifted immediately on June 5, 2012 after Gen Bikram Singh ook over, thus making Suhag his successor. If the ban was still in force, it would have instead enabled Integrated Defence Staff headquarters Deputy Chief Lt Gen Ravi Dastane to succeed Bikram Singh.
The present battle is tainted with bitter memories. Several former chiefs form the dramatis personae in a saga that spans many episodes, ranging from the time General J J Singh was the Army Chief in 2005. The common player is General V K Singh, the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate in Ghaziabad. His main grouse has been that Gen J J Singh and his successor Gen Deepak Kapoor played a role in reducing his tenure as Army Chief by 10 months. This action, in turn, benefited Gen Bikram Singh and Gen Suhag. The Discipline and Vigilance (DV) ban is now coming back to haunt Gen Suhag, the senior-most Gorkha regiment officer in the Indian Army. The government appointed him as Army commander on June 15, 2012 and his seniority was restored retrospectively from June 1, 2012. When Bikram Singh demits office on July 31, Suhag would be the senior-most officer in the Indian Army, which automatically makes him eligible to be appointed chief going by the seniority principle.
The Supreme Court will hear Dastane’s plea on May 3. If the UPA government decides to make Lt Gen Suhag the next Army chief, it would have to do so before the date of court hearing. By convention, the name of the new chief is announced two months in advance, or even before, but the Defence Ministry seems to be in a hurry to elevate Suhag. The first time this convention was breached was when Gen Bikram Singh was named chief three months or more ahead of his predecessor Gen V K Singh’s retirement on May 31, 2012. In Dhowan’s case, the government had waited 50 days to appoint him the Navy chief.
Gen Dastane’s petition contends that he was overlooked for appointment as Army Commander by the government, despite being eligible on June 1, 2012, when two vacancies arose. But the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh-led Appointments Committee of the Cabinet had approved Gen Suhag’s promotion as Army commander before the ban came into effect. Dastane, who has the distinction of commanding the 14 Corps headquartered in Leh in 2011-12, and whose responsibility was to defend Ladakh and Siachen from Pakistan and China, has contended in his petition that he should have been made the Army commander on June 1, 2012. Two posts had fallen vacant that day. One was filled up by promoting the-then Military Secretary Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra. Sources say the other was deliberately left vacant and reserved for Gen Suhag, since there were enough signs that Bikram Singh would vacate the DV ban.
Sources close to Dastane, speaking to The Sunday Standard, question General Chachra’s motives. It is the Military Secretary’s responsibility to empanel the names of officers for promotion as Army commanders. On June 1, 2012, vacancies arose when the Western Army Commander Lt Gen Shankar Ghosh retired and Eastern Army Commander Bikram Singh became the Army chief. As per military rules, the MS should have recommended four names for the two vacancies, leaving the choice to the Appointments Committee of the cabinet. Gen Chchara, however, recommended only two—his own and Suhag’s. “If four names had been sent to the ACC, then Dastane would have been the automatic choice on June 1, 2012, as Suhag was under a DV ban on that day,” the sources contended. If Dastane had been promoted as army commander, as the senior-most on July 31, 2014, he would also have been eligible to become the army chief after Bikram Singh.
Warfare on Army high ground indicates the war of loyalties is far from over. Top Army sources say Gen Dastane is perceived to be close to V K Singh and is carrying on the battle against the “injustice” perpetrated by what is called the “Chandigarh Club” that comprises bureaucrats close to the Manmohan administration. The saying goes that old soldiers do not die, they simply fade away. Both Gen V K Singh and his opponents refuse to fade away, their motto being ‘Never Say Die.’