The defence ministry on Monday decided to go ahead with the process of appointing the next Army chief as it recommended the name of vice-chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag for the top post.
The defence ministry sent its recommendation to the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC) shortly after receiving the go-ahead from the Election Commission, to which the matter had been referred in view of the Model Code of Conduct, highly placed sources said.
The sources said the recommendation had only the name of 59-year-old Lt Gen Suhag, who is the seniormost among the Lt Generals. It is now for the ACC, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to take a call on the recommendation.
Army chief Gen Bikram Singh will retire on July 31 and as per the tradition, the government announces the name of services chiefs two months before the tenure of the incumbent comes to an end.
The appointment of the next Army chief had been mired in a controversy as BJP is strictly opposing it, questioning the “hurry” and insisting that the matter be left to the next government as there is still time left. Earlier in the day, the EC sent a communication to the defence ministry giving the go-ahead.
The EC cited its March 27 order which makes it clear that appointments, promotions, tenders and procurements of defence forces are not covered under the Model Code of Conduct in the ongoing elections as well as any other election in the future, sources said.
The EC, responding to a reference made by the defence ministry, said if the government wants, it can proceed with the process to appoint the next Chief of Army Staff, the sources added.
BJP immediately questioned the “political propriety” of the outgoing government to appoint the new Army chief.
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Manmohan Singh government has “only 90 hours” left and “I leave it to their judgement of political propriety whether to appoint the new army chief or not when the vacancy is occurring end of July.”
In the wake of strong opposition by BJP to the appointment of the next Army chief, the government had last week referred the matter to the Election Commission saying any decision will be taken only after getting its nod.
BJP has been opposing the appointment of the next Army chief by the UPA government, arguing there was no hurry to do so and the matter