The Election Commission would take a call any time next week on the reference made by the government on whether or not it could go ahead with the process for appointment of a new Army Chief.
According to sources in the Commission though in the last week of March it had communicated to the Defence Secretary that the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) does not apply to defence related matters including appointments, the full Commission would look into reference made by the UPA government on selection of a new Army Chief.
“The full Commission meets on a regular basis to consider various issues related to conduct of election. Some times it could even be twice a day depending on the issues and developments. Since the government has made a specific reference it is only natural that as and when the next Commission holds a meeting the Army Chief appointment would be on the agenda,” sources in the EC told The Hindu.
Among other subjects that could come up at the meeting include the petition by the BJP seeking review of the EC order on registration of an FIR against its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi for alleged violation of The Representation of People Act, 1951 and Model Code of Conduct.
On Friday the Defence Minister A.K. Antony had said that the government had sought counsel of the Commission on the issue as it wanted to `strictly follow all the procedures’ before taking any final decision on the issue. The government move to seek EC’s advice followed questions by the BJP on the competence of the government to make any major appointments in the middle of a general election.
Tenure of the present Army Chief Gen. Bikram Singh would end on July 31. Traditionally, the appointment of chief of services has been made two months before the retirement of the incumbent.
However, in the case of present Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh the appointment was done three months before the retirement of Gen V K Singh, who was engaged in a long-drawn battle with the government over his age issue.
For several weeks now the principal opposition party has been questioning the propriety of the government to make new appointments including that of the new Army Chief on the plea that it would be against the letter and spirit of the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct (MCC) in operation since the announcement of the general election scheduled on March 5.
On April 19 the BJP Legal Affairs Cell wrote a letter to the Election Commission asking the poll body to direct the government to refrain from making `major appointments’ including those related to armed forces.
The letter had said, “We learn that something similar is cooking in respect of the Army Chief where the present incumbent is due to superannuate in July 2014. We also hear that there is some hurried activity in hastening the selection process of the Lok Pal”.
Well before the BJP letter the EC had informed the government on March 27 that the Code is not applicable to any matter pertaining directly to the defence forces, be it the recruitments/promotions for defence forces and defence purchases of all kinds.
“These instructions shall be treated as standing instructions of the Commission and will be applicable for all elections in future. This may be brought to the notice of all concerned for future guidance”.