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Centre set to ignore VK grouse on chief

New Delhi, April 28: The ministry of defence is likely to recommend vice-chief of army staff Lt General Dalbir Singh Suhag as the chief of army staff-designate, ignoring protests from the Opposition BJP.

Suhag is tipped to take over from General Bikram Singh who is due to retire on July 31.

The government usually names a service-chief-designate two or three months before the incumbent is scheduled to retire. But the BJP has alleged that the Centre is acting in unseemly haste in an election season.

The defence ministry’s recommendation has to be approved by the appointments committee of the cabinet.

The campaign against the possible announcement of Lt General Suhag as the army chief-designate is led by the former army chief, General V.K. Singh, who is contesting on a BJP ticket from Ghaziabad.

While in service, V.K. Singh had imposed a discipline and vigilance ban on Suhag’s appointment as the eastern army commander. Suhag was then the general officer commanding of the Dimapur-headquartered 3 Corps. The ban was lifted 15 days after General Bikram Singh took over as the chief.

Within the defence establishment, officials hold that General V.K. Singh is continuing to target senior officials in the army whom he alleges are close to arms dealers and the UPA government.

They suspect that V.K. Singh is favouring a clutch of officers himself, one of whom is Lt General A.K. Singh, southern army commander, whose son is the former chief’s son-in-law. The southern army commander would be the next in line to be the chief if Lt General Suhag’s appointment is scuttled.

Lt General Suhag has had a rough ride with cases against officers he has commanded in the Northeast. First, there was an allegation that an intelligence unit under his 3 Corps had harassed and stolen from a businessman based in Jorhat.

In the latest charge against him, the brother of a man who was allegedly killed by the same unit has petitioned the high court in Imphal. The petition names Lt General Suhag as the commander under whom three persons were allegedly abducted and tortured to death by the same intelligence unit.

But sources in the defence ministry said Lt General Suhag was not in charge at the time of the incidents in March 2010, in effect clearing the vice-chief of the accusations and paving the way for his promotion to the highest rank.

In a sense, the current general-versus-general controversy was stoked after the government confirmed Admiral Robin Dhowan as the navy chief, superseding the senior-most naval officer, Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha. Sinha, the western naval chief, has sought premature retirement.