Several former army chiefs have deplored recent attempts to restrain the government from naming General Bikram Singh’s successor, saying that dragging the force into politics could have disastrous results.
Former army chief General JJ Singh said, “The army stands on the three pillars of an apolitical stance, secularism and professionalism. These must never be compromised.”
The government initiating the selection is a normal process. It usually begins five to six months before a service chief is to retire and the announcement can be made two to three months before an incumbent is to demit office. Bikram Singh and former navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma were named as chiefs three months before the retirement of then army and navy chiefs.
The government has initiated the process to appoint the army’s vice-chief, Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh Suhag, as the next chief after General Bikram Singh retires on July 31. The Election Commission on Monday told the government it could go ahead with the process of appointing the new chief, overruling objections raised by the BJP.
Suhag is likely to be named the new chief on May 1, after the appointment is cleared by the PM-headed Appointments Committee of the Cabinet. Former army chief General Deepak Kapoor said, “It is the function of the government of the day to name the new chief. The army should be left out of politics.”
BJP leaders, including former chief General VK Singh, have tried to pressure the government not to name the new chief at the fag-end of its tenure. VK Singh’s critics, however, do not consider it a mere coincidence that if Suhag is passed over, Southern Army Commander, Lieutenant General Ashok Singh, could be the next chief. The latter’s son is married to VK Singh’s daughter.
General VK Singh said, “All people making such insinuations (of army being politicised or his relative benefitting) should get their heads examined.”
Days before his retirement in May 2012, VK Singh had issued a showcause notice to Suhag for alleged lapses in handling a failed intelligence operation in Assam’s Jorhat district. The move was seen as scuttling Suhag’s chances of not just taking over as Eastern Army commander but also as army chief.
The discipline and vigilance ban imposed on Suhag by VK Singh was lifted soon after Bikram Singh took over as army chief as nothing was found against Suhag.