Going by the time-tested principle of seniority, the government is set to appoint Lt Gen Dalbir Singh as the next Army Chief, with his name being forwarded by the defence ministry to the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC) on Monday afternoon, hours after it got formal clearance from the Election Commission (EC) to go ahead with the process.
A top defence ministry functionary confirmed that Lt Gen Singh, who is currently the Vice Chief of Army Staff, has been recommended for the top post and that he would become Army Chief-designate after approval from the ACC. The ACC clearance is only a technicality and is expected within a day or two.
With the model code of conduct in place, the defence ministry had sought the EC’s approval for recommending Lt Gen Singh, the senior most Army officer after Gen Bikram Singh who retires on July 31.
While the appointment of a service chief has followed the seniority principle in the past, the BJP had raked up the issue this time, even lodging a complaint with the EC urging it to restrain the government from moving ahead with the appointment. The BJP’s argument was that since Bikram Singh only retires on July 31, the incumbent government need not rush the process to name his successor.
The UPA government countered that Gen Bikram Singh was appointed three months before the retirement of his predecessor Gen V K Singh. Sticking to the timetable of the past, the government went ahead with the appointment process and obtained all clearances from intelligence and vigilance authorities before finally approaching the EC for clearance.
In the wake of the BJP’s opposition, the government referred the matter to the EC last month, saying a decision would be taken only after getting its nod. With the EC’s clearance in place, the ACC headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is set to clear the name.
Former Army Chief and BJP candidate V K Singh, whose close relative Lt Gen Ashok Singh was a contender for the top post, was among those who opposed the move. During his last days as Army Chief, V K Singh had put a “discipline and vigilance ban” on Lt Gen Singh, then 3 Corps Commander, for the “failure of command and control” in the functioning of an intelligence unit. The ban was lifted after Bikram Singh took over as Army Chief.
In an earlier order in March, the EC had stated that the model code is not applicable to matters pertaining directly to the defence forces, “be it the recruitments/ promotions for defence forces, all service matters pertaining to them, defence purchases of all kinds, tenders relating to the matter of the defence forces”.