Gen. Suhag takes over as new Indian Army chief

New Delhi, July 31 (IANS) General Dalbir Singh Suhag Thursday took over as the new chief of the 1.3 million strong Indian Army. He succeeds General Bikram Singh, who retired Thursday.

General Suhag assumed charge after his predecessor handed over to him the Chief of Army Staff baton in his South Block office here.

The decision to appoint Gen. Suhag, who was the army vice chief, as the next chief was taken by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government during the April-May general elections, and days before it demitted office.

The BJP, at that time, objected to the decision. However, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, soon after assuming charge, made it clear that there "shall be no controversy" over Gen. Suhag's appointment.

Gen. Suhag's tenure as the 26th chief of army staff will be for 30 months.

He comes from a family of soldiers from a village in Jhajjar, Haryana.

For residents of Bisaan village, located about 85 km from New Delhi, it was a day they had been waiting for. Celebrations began with distribution of ladoos and bursting of crackers as a simple village boy Thursday went on to be Chief of Army Staff (COAS).

Even as his proud parents, Ramphal Singh and Ishri Devi, both aged above 80 years, were in New Delhi to be part of their son's elevation, the villagers expressed happiness in their own way.

"We are distributing ladoos and bursting crackers. One amongst us has gone on to head the Indian Army. It is a great achievement for him and a proud moment for all of us," said Rajvir, a relative of the new Indian Army chief.

Father Ramphal Singh who retired as a subedar, had dreamt that his son would become an army officer.

An alumnus of Sainik School Chittorgarh, Gen. Suhag joined the National Defence Academy in 1970.

The 59-year-old officer served as a company commander during Op Pawan in Sri Lanka, commanded the 53 Infantry Brigade that was involved in counter-insurgency operations in the Kashmir Valley, and commanded the 8 Mountain Division in Jammu and Kashmir.

He is the second officer from the Gorkha Rifles to become the army chief after the late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.

In 2012, he was put under a Discipline and Vigilance ban by then outgoing army chief Gen. V.K. Singh for a failed intelligence operation at Jorhat in Assam.

The ban was revoked by General Bikram Singh, when he took over as the army chief, paving the way for Gen. Suhag's elevation as the Eastern Army Commander in June 2012.

Outgoing army chief Gen. Bikram Singh, who relinquished the command of Indian Army and hung up his uniform after a career spanning 42 years, extended his gratitude to all ranks of the Indian Army.

He also paid rich tributes to brave hearts who made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty as also those who suffered grave injuries while upholding India's honour and security.

Gen. Bikram Singh described the Indian Army as "a robust organisation, very very accountable, very responsive, very potent and a very relevant instrument of national power with the capability to take up any challenges".