EC divided over permitting appointment of Army chief

EC divided over permitting appointment of Army chief

 Defence Minister A K Antony seeking the Election Commission's nod to appoint the next Army chief, to avoid controversy in the  wake of the BJP questioning the propriety of the UPA government to decide on the issue in the midst of elections, has put the poll panel in a spot, due to absence of unanimity among its members on the issue.

Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath is of the view that the model code of conduct does not apply to defence matters, as clearly stated in the EC's March 27 communication to governments.

However, his colleague and panel member H S Brahma apparently feels the issue could be settled after the elections as the current Army chief, Gen Bikram Singh, is due to retire three months later, on July 31.

The EC is set to take a call on the matter this week.

Conventionally, BJP leaders say, the government announces the name of the Army chief's successor only two months ahead of the incumbent's retirement.

The government will be free to act once the poll code ends on May 12, the last day of the Lok Sabha polls.

Those opposing the BJP stand say the party has forgotten that days before it demitted office in 2004, the Vajpayee government had announced the appointment of Admiral Arun Prakash as the Chief of Naval Staff.

The crux of the row appears to be the appointment of present vice-chief of the Army Staff, Dalbir Singh Suhag, the senior-most Lieutenant General. Next in command is Lt Gen Ashok Singh, the present Southern Command.

While Gen Bikram Singh has recommended Lt Gen Suhag as his successor, the present Army chief's predecessor, Gen V K Singh, a BJP candidate in the Lok Sabha polls, has opposed the choice.

This has triggered allegations that Gen V K Singh favours Lt Gen Ashok Singh, whose son is married to his daughter, and he has forced his party to back him.

Gen V K Singh had penalised Lt Gen Suhag, then commanding the 3rd Indian army corps at Rangapahar in northeast India, for a botched intelligence operation under his command. He had even issued an order that he not be promoted as commander of India's Eastern Army Command.

But the new chief reversed that order within 15 days of Gen V K Singh's retirement.
According to defence experts, the acrimony is because of a long-standing row in the upper echelons of the Army, which saw Gen V K Singh accused of trying to lower his age by a year to ensure he remained chief long enough to deny Gen Bikram Singh the top job.

Gen V K Singh is also accused of pulling up Lt Gen Suhag for the botched operation “purely out of malice”. But he has held that he acted on a probe. Military intelligence unit Corps of Intensive Surveillance, under Lt Gen Suhag's command, was prosecuted by the Assam Police for an illegal raid on the house of military contractor Poona Gogoi in 2011, and for stealing cash and valuables during the raid.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi asked Gen V K Singh to punish the guilty officers, which he did. But they officers were apparently let off after he retired.

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