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 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 told PTI.
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 got mired in a controversy as the Bharatiya Janata Party 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.
In the wake of strong opposition by the 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.
The BJP has been opposing the appointment of the next army chief by the United Progressive Alliance government, arguing there was no hurry to do so and the matter should be left to the next government.
The appointment of the incumbent chief Gen Singh was done three months prior to the retirement of his predecessor Gen V K Singh, who had a turbulent relationship with the defence ministry and even dragged the government to the Supreme Court over his age controversy.
Significantly, during the last days of his tenure as army chief, V K Singh had put a 'discipline and vigilance ban' on Lt Gen Dalbir Suhag, then 3 Corps commander, for the "failure of command and control" as an intelligence unit under him had allegedly carried out dacoity in Jorhat in Assam outside the jurisdiction of the Corps.
The ban was lifted soon after Bikram Singh took over as army chief and appointed Suhag as the Eastern Army Commander.
Image: Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag