New Delhi: Gen Bikram Singh, an infantryman, Thursday assumed command of the 1.13 million strong Indian Army, bringing to an end the controversial 26 month tenure of his predecessor Gen V.K. Singh, who retired after 42 years of service. He is only the second Sikh to be elevated to the post.
Bikram Singh, the 27th Indian Army chief, had to surmount a number of hurdles, including a legal battle that almost denied him the opportunity to the helm the world’s second largest army. He was hitherto the Kolkata-based Eastern Army Commander and will serve for 27 months as the army chief.
Commissioned in 1972 in the Sikh Light Infantry, Bikram Singh, 59, marks a generation shift in the army, being the first chief who has not seen action in a conventional war. The last conventional war India fought was in 1971 against Pakistan to liberate Bangladesh. During the last major operation the Indian Army was involved in – Kargil in 1999 – he was posted in the Directorate General of Military Operations at Army Headquarters and used to conduct the daily media briefings.
His ascension to the top had come in doubt over his predecessor’s claim that he was born on May 10, 1951 and not in 1950, thereby allowing him 10 months more as chief till March 2013 – by which time Bikram Singh would have retired.
However, the Supreme Court, in February, heard a petition on V.K. Singh’s age and upheld the defence ministry decision to treat the birth year as 1950 in official records. This paved the way for Bikram Singh to be named army chief-designate in March, ending months of a bitter succession row.
Bikram Singh’s appointment came after an intricate vetting process in the wake of an allegation that he was involved in a fake shootout in Kashmir and an intelligence check on his family members.
The defence ministry had sought a detailed clearance from intelligence agencies on his eldest daughter-in-law, who was said to be a Pakistani citizen. This had raised fears of “security risks and implications”.
But intelligence agencies rubbished this and in fact informed the defence ministry that the daughter-in-law is a US citizen. She is the daughter of an Afghan and her mother is from a Central Asian country.
As for the March 2001 Kashmir shootout, the mother of an alleged militant killed in a south Kashmir village said her son was a civilian labourer and troops under the command of then Brigadier Bikram Singh had killed him in a staged gun battle.
Kashmir Police gave him a clean chit, even as a petition on the issue is still pending with the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
Bikram Singh was among the three short-listed senior-most officers – Vice Chief Lt. Gen. Shri Krishna Singh and Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. K.T. Parnaik being the other two – in contention for the top post.
Bikram Singh is an alumnus of the National Defence Academy and the Indian Military Academy. He also attended the US Army War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania.