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New Army Chief starts with a handicap he could have done without

Last updated on: May 14, 2014 11:43 IST

It would perhaps have been better for Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh to have been elevated to the top post by the new government, notes R S Chauhan.

Getting elevated as the next Army Chief starting August 1 is like winning only a quarter of the battle for the current Vice-Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh (apparently, he doesn't like to use the 'Suhag' in his name, according to his spin doctors).

Cleared to become the Indian Army's 26th chief in a last gasp decision by the outgoing United Progressive Alliance government on Tuesday, General Dalbir Singh will have to overcome perceived and real perceptions among the possible leading lights of the next government, that his selection was hastily pushed through.

Essentially, General Dalbir Singh will start with a handicap he could well have done without.

In the normal circumstances, the appointment of a new Army Chief should have been kept out of any political wrangling, but the stand taken by former Army Chief and now the Bharatiya Janata Party's Ghaziabad Lok Sabha candidate General V K Singh (retd), that the outgoing government's unseemly haste in appointing General Dalbir Singh smacks of a conspiracy, has inevitably given the process a political colour.

General V K Singh and General Dalbir Singh have a history. As the outgoing Army Chief in the last week of May 2012, General V K Singh had imposed a disciplinary ban on General Dalbir Singh for having ignored a serious breach of standard operating procedures by an intelligence unit under him in the Dimapur-based 3 Corps.

That ban meant General Dalbir Singh would have become ineligible to be an Army Commander, a prerequisite to become Army Chief.

General Bikram Singh, General V K Singh's successor, however, lifted the ban the moment he took over on June 1, 2012. General Dalbir Singh was promptly elevated to become the Eastern Army Commander and then brought to Delhi as Vice-Chief in January this year.

As the senior-most general when General Bikram Singh demits office on July 31, General Dalbir Singh is rightfully the next chief.

If -- as widely predicted -- the Bharatiya Janata Party comes to power and General V K Singh too becomes an MP, if not a minister, General Dalbir Singh will have to overcome the suspicion that will linger on in sections of the new dispensation.

It would perhaps have been better, as NDTV's Nitin Gokhale wrote on his blog last week, for General Dalbir Singh to have been elevated to the top post by the new government. Gokhale wrote, 'Whoever is the next incumbent as the Chief of Army Staff -- and there is no indication to believe the next government will go against the seniority principle -- will start his innings on a strong wicket if the announcement is made by the fresh government in Delhi. Whoever it is will not carry the baggage of being the previous government's man, if the new government makes the appointment.'

The challenge of overcoming a lingering suspicion among the top political leaders of the next dispensation apart, General Dalbir Singh will have to make sure that the Indian Army makes optimum use of increasingly scarce resources at a time when it has set itself the ambitious target of raising a Mountain Strike Corps which is estimated to cost over Rs 70,000 crore at current prices, to be spent over the next seven years.

The Army is also battling obsolescence in most of its basic weaponry and is short of critical weapons platforms like artillery guns and is saddled with outdated basic infantry weapons. General Dalbir Singh, who will have a two year, four month tenure, will have to make special efforts to expedite the acquisition processes so that the troops remain armed with the latest weapons.

Commissioned into the 4/5 Gorkha Regiment in 1974, General Dalbir Singh has traversed the usual path that an infantry officer in the Indian Army takes -- Sri Lanka, Kashmir, North-east -- to reach the top. But his last couple of years in uniform will perhaps be the most challenging for this soldier, described by some to be the first Jat to become the Indian Army Chief.

General Bikram Singh, Chief of the Army Staff, left, with his successor, Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh. Photograph: PTI Photo.

R S Chauhan in New Delhi