Defence minister AK Antony at the Coast Guard headquarters in Kochi on Wednesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, April 11: Army chief-designate Lt. General Bikram Singh has quietly taken over the responsibility of all senior-level promotions and postings at the army headquarters even as the chief, General V.K. Singh, approaches the final leg of his tenure.
The announcement of Lt General Bikram Singh as the chief-designate nearly three months before he is to take over on the afternoon of May 31 has effectively undercut General V.K. Singh’s authority after the bruising battle between him and the government.
Lt. General Bikram Singh is the Eastern Army commander, headquartered in Fort William, Calcutta. He has been spending two to three days every week in New Delhi since the announcement that he was to be General V.K. Singh’s successor was made. He is being briefed by separate departments of army headquarters and the ministry of defence.
This week, the cabinet committee on appointments is slated to take a decision on the promotion and postings of 16 major generals recommended for the rank of lieutenant generals. The recommendations were made in consultation with Lt. General Bikram Singh.
Lt. General Bikram Singh is also likely to recommend an officer for the post of military secretary. The military secretary is one of six principal staff officers to the army chief. Promotions, postings and tenures are determined by the military secretary branch that is one of the most secretive at the army headquarters. It also makes the officer one of the most powerful.
Lt. General Syed Ata Hasnain, the 15 corps commander widely credited with bringing down violence in the Kashmir valley, is tipped to take over as the military secretary. Hasnain was recommended for the post of director general of military operations — also a principal staff officer — by General V.K. Singh. But this was not accepted by the defence ministry.
Lt. Gen Hasnain may take over from the incumbent, Lt. General Sanjiv Chhachra, who also retires along with the army chief on May 31. General V.K. Singh is yet to begin his farewell visits to all the commands and formations he may choose — a practice adopted by chiefs during the last two months of their tenures.
Lt. General Bikram Singh will also recommend the officer who will be sent on deputation to the home ministry to take over as the director general, Assam Rifles. General V.K. Singh had recommended Lt. General Chhachra for the post, but his suggestion was rejected by the home and defence ministries.
Unlike General V.K. Singh — who moved to New Delhi only after taking over as the chief — Lt. General Bikram Singh has served long terms in New Delhi and is perceived to be better networked in the capital. He was the army headquarters’ spokesperson during the 1999 Kargil war. Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s NDA government was in power then.
General V.K. Singh’s “transformation study” — a set of proposals to restructure the army from headquarters downwards — has also practically been shelved. The defence ministry has assigned it to a three-year “roll-on plan”, bureaucrat-speak for “cold storage”, to be examined after three years if required.