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Suhag named next army chief

New Delhi, May 13: The Centre today decided to appoint vice-chief of army staff Lt General Dalbir Singh Suhag as the next army chief, overriding objections from the BJP that wanted the decision to vest with the next government.

The lieutenant general will take over as the general and the chief of army staff from General Bikram Singh who is scheduled to retire on July 31.

His appointment coincides with the general election and the last hours of the UPA-II government. The official announcement from the defence ministry is still awaited but the army has put out news releases describing him as the “army chief-designate”.

Lt General Suhag’s appointment was recommended last month but defence minister A.K. Antony sought the permission of the Election Commission because voting was in process.

But former army chief General V.K. Singh, who is contesting on a BJP ticket from Ghaziabad, objected and alleged that the Centre was acting in “undue haste”.

While in service, V.K. Singh, was known to have objected to a “line of succession” in senior appointments through which Lt General Suhag’s promotion was ordained. The government denied the charge.

He had also imposed a discipline and vigilance ban on Lt General Suhag that was lifted by General Bikram Singh.

Lt General Suhag will be the seniormost army officer when General Bikram Singh retires and his appointment does not distort the “hierarchy” in the top brass.

The lieutenant general, who usually does not use the surname “Suhag”, was commissioned into the 4/5 Gorkha Rifles regiment in June 1974. He saw action as a company commander during “Operation Pawan” in Sri Lanka (1987). He has commanded a Rashtriya Rifles Battalion in Nagaland and an Infantry Brigade in the Kashmir Valley. He also commanded a Mountain Division in Jammu and Kashmir.

Before taking over as vice-chief, Lt General Suhag headed the eastern army command and a corps in the Northeast.

His associates describe him as a “fitness freak” who is a long distance runner, rider, swimmer and rock-climber.