In an indication that the government is keen to name general Bikram Singh's successor soon, the defence ministry has referred the matter relating to the appointment of the new army chief to the Election Commission.
Army vice chief lieutenant general Dalbir Singh Suhag is the frontrunner for the top job as he will be the senior-most officer when Bikram Singh retires on July 31.
The development comes weeks after the poll panel had given the ministry a blanket order to go ahead with making top appointments. The decision to seek the EC's approval indicates that the government is determined to make its case watertight.
A few BJP leaders, including former chief general VK Singh, have tried to pressure the government not to name the new chief right before the end of its tenure. Incidentally, Admiral Arun Prakash's appointment as navy chief was cleared by the outgoing NDA government in May 2004, days before the UPA government took charge.
A ministry source said naming the army chief was not a political appointment and was part of an ongoing process.
Defence minister AK Antony said the government wanted to "strictly follow" all procedures before taking a final decision.
General Bikram Singh will retire on July 31. A new chief is usually named two to three months before an incumbent is to demit office.
Meanwhile, President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday awarded General Suhag the Param Vishisht Seva Medal for distinguished military service, amid attempts to slam the brakes on his appointment as the next army chief. The President also awarded three Kirti Chakras and nine Shaurya Chakras to armed forces personnel for gallantry.