Lt. Gen Suhag’s appointment as the next chief of the Army must now be cleared by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, which is expected to meet later this week.
In its order earlier in the day, giving the government the go-ahead for appointing the new Army Chief, the Election Commission cited its communication to the Defence Secretary on March 27 that the model code of conduct was not applicable to any matter pertaining directly to the defence forces, be it recruitments or promotions.
Lt. Gen. Suhag, now serving as vice-chief of the Army, is the seniormost officer after the outgoing chief of Army staff General Bikram Singh. Having graduated from the Sainik School in Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh town, Lt. Gen. Suhag joined the National Defence Academy in 1970.
He was commissioned in 1974 and served with distinction in Sri Lanka and Jammu and Kashmir. Lt. Gen. Suhag also served as commander of the Dimapur-based 3 Corps and as commander of the Eastern Command.
Last month, the BJP wrote to President Pranab Mukherjee, saying the government should not make the appointment in its dying days. This prompted the government to seek the EC’s opinion.
Gen. Bikram Singh is due to retire on July 31. Traditionally, the chiefs of defence services are appointed two months before the retirement of the incumbent. But, Gen. Singh was appointed three months before his predecessor Gen. V.K. Singh retired.
The controversy has its genesis in decisions made by General V.K. Singh, now the BJP’s candidate from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh. General V.K. Singh alleged that his predecessor, General Deepak Kapoor, pressured him into accepting a reduction of his tenure as Army Chief.
After his efforts to secure a longer term in office by petitioning the Supreme Court failed, the way was paved for General Bikram Singh to succeed him.
In the days before his retirement on May 31, 2012, General V.K. Singh barred Lt. Gen. Suhag from being promoted as he was being investigated for the “most unprofessional and lackadaisical” supervision of an operation under his command. The promotion ban was revoked within a fortnight of General Bikram Singh taking charge. The investigation indicted only two junior officers for failing to exercise adequate supervision of a raid on the home of a Jorhat businessman, during which a mobile phone and cash were stolen.
(With additional reporting by B. Muralidhar Reddy)