Games generals play: promotion tussle roils army - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 30 July 2016

Games generals play: promotion tussle roils army

As army chief shuffles generals, western command without a head (Photo: Courtesy Getty Images)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 31st July 16

A crucial series of top army appointments have remained vacant for months for no discernible reason. On Monday, the army’s most prestigious and vital operational command --- the Chandi Mandir based Western Command --- will be headed by a makeshift commander.

Even this temporary appointment is being made by army headquarters to avert criticism. Meanwhile, inexplicably, a fully qualified and experienced lieutenant general has been placed on the sidelines. Lieutenant General DRN Soni, who has successfully commanded a corps in Bhatinda and fulfills the residual age criteria needed to become an army commander, has been “attached” to army headquarters --- effectively placing him on hold.

Business Standard learns this is the latest shot fired in the long-running contest between the infantry and the armoured corps to have a larger number of so-called “army commanders” --- the army’s seven top lieutenant generals, each called a “general officer commanding-in-chief”, or GOC-in-C. Heading the army’s western, northern, eastern, southern, south-western and central commands, and the army training command (ARTRAC), these seven generals, along with the army chief and vice chief, monopolise vital decisions on the army’s future and promotions to the rank of lieutenant general.

Army insiders say Lt Gen Soni --- who is available and qualified for promotion to GOC-in-C Western Command --- is being denied this job since he is from the armoured corps. Instead, the army chief, an infantry officer, is slotting him into another appointment, which will render him ineligible to participate in army commanders’ conferences.

This will be presented as a fait accompli to the incoming chief, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, also from the armoured corps. While Bakshi’s appointment as army chief has not been announced, he will be the senior-most officer on November 30, the day the current chief, General Dalbir Singh, retires. Traditionally, the senior-most officer remaining in service is appointed army chief.

If proper procedure were to be followed, Bakshi --- who is currently GOC-in-C Eastern Command in Kolkata --- would be moved to army headquarters as vice-chief of the army staff (VCAS), as soon as he is announced as the next army chief. This allows an incoming chief the time to familiarize himself with ongoing army projects, procurements, and with functional procedures within South Block.

Instead, Bakshi is being kept at arm’s length from New Delhi, with the VCAS appointment now going to another infantry officer, Lt Gen Bipin Rawat, who is currently GOC-in-C Southern Command. Sources say the army is moving Rawat to Delhi even though he has commanded the southern army for just seven months. With two more years of service remaining, Rawat will fill the powerful VCAS slot through much of Bakshi’s tenure.

Many veterans are expressing disappointment that what should be healthy inter-arm rivalry is morphing into a blatant, no-holds-barred tussle for appointments. Lieutenant General (Retired) Aditya Singh, a former GOC-in-C Southern Command and an armoured corps officer, points out that all three of India’s strike corps are currently being commanded by infantry officers --- something that has never happened before.

“Strike corps are mechanized formations, based on tanks and infantry combat vehicles. That is why mechanized forces officers have traditionally commanded them. Having all three strike corps commanded by infantry officers can hardly be a coincidence. It suggests parochialism,” says Aditya Singh.

These regrettable turf battles are not just confined to the army. At the broader, tri-service level, the impulse to safeguard turf is now threatening to scuttle the important experiment of the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC). The ANC is India’s first tri-service command, containing elements of the army, navy and air force; it was to be commanded in rotation by flag officers from all three services. Instead, the navy is consolidating its hold on it, with the appointment, on February 1, of a second consecutive commander.

It was hoped that the ANC would lead the way to more tri-service commands. Instead, in what analysts see as a quid pro quo, the three services are jointly scuttling the notion of tri-service command by handing ANC over to the navy. In return, the air force covets the strategic forces command, while an army general could permanently head the integrated defence staff (IDS).


  1. Extremely biased and short on facts! Typical Ajay Shukla article!

  2. Ajai this is unfortunate and not acceptable by the Nation. The current situation not only shows the organization in bad light but also emboldens our adversaries. I sincerely hope our top brass takes corrective measures asap. Today apparently the generals need to go back to IMA to revisit Chetwoode's teachings.

  3. Ha ha ha ! This is Service,Arm and Corps infighting is as old as the days of Adam in the Army and the Tr-Services. Infact, at times it also boils down to Regiment and Battalion fights. The succession planning story, by then Army Chief Gen JJ Singh, for the next Army Chiefs was possibly true.The writer being an ex Armoured Corps Officer, will definitely espouse the cause of the Armoured.

    Much to many peoples disgust I too feel that it is the Infantry Officer who must always be the Army Chief and so also the G O C-in- C's of the Operational Commands. The IDS and the Training Command could have Armoured and Artillery Offrs as GOC -in-Cs. The Strike Corps must have Infantry Offrs as their GOC. The Armoured Divisions could be rotated between Armoured and Mechanised Infantry.

    The post of C-inC ( Commander -in-Chief) must be brought back and he must have under his command all the Three Services of the Military. He must always be an Infantryman.Why call that post CDS ???? His Order of Protocol must be the same as it was. No2. Only after the PM.

    These days large scale wars are just not possible. It will always be Ltd Warfare and swift and short as also Proxy Wars of the likes we are having in Kashmir. In both the cases, it will be the Infantry which will always at the fore. Even if it be Foreign Shore Beach Landings, Air Bombardings/ Straffings, etc, it will be Infantry who will be the predominant Ground Fighting Arm as well as the Ground Holding Arm, thereafter. The Top Notch General Officers, must be predominantly Infantry, since they have all gone through the nuances of Infantry Battle Drills, right since the day they were born with Army Uniform.And the %age of Infantry in the whole equation is also much larger than that of others.

    1. Typical infantry blind approach u have

    2. read military history before making senseless innuendoes abt infantry...

    3. May i tell u der is no space 4 cdr in chief in democracy plz understand sir

  4. good and informative article, however i wonder if army high command level politics should be discussed in public?.

  5. This is not the first time that such blatant and unseemly manipulation and tussle has taken place at the top the Army's hierarchy - hark back to the tenure as COAS of the current MoS for external affairs.

    It is tragic and extremely worrying that no mechanism seem to have been put on place at the national leadership level to obviate repetition of such turf wars and petty politicking within the armed forces.

    It is high time that a nation on the verge of bursting out onto the global stage sorts out and crystallise the civil-militery relations within the context of its national security arrangement and structure once and for all.

    The present system of promotions and appointments of top military commanders without any legislative oversight, and solely on seniority without any consideration of merit is an anachronism in a sovereign democratic political system, and is usually to be found in third world banana republics! Civilian supremacy is a must for a truly national armed force in a democracy, and that cannot be ensured, and neither overall national interests be served by the continuing reluctance of the national political leadership to assert itself in the domain of both national military and civil bureaucratic affairs.

  6. Article Brings out the SHODDY STATE OF AAFAIRS IN DEF FORCES.That's Why the 3*CHIEFS Have NO Time To Take of DEGRADATIPN OF DF and Absolutely NO Welfare of Brave Soldiers. What A SHAME ON THESE 3 CHIEFS??

  7. The article is pertinent because a conventional army needs some tankmen to take care of the western sector given that it's primarily tank country.
    However conveniently leaving out the role of these very tankmen crying foul today for the mess we are doesn't bode well on where the author is coming from.
    He himself has been the beneficiary of the liberal policies of the Armoured Corps and has seen the heydays when all the top ranks of the Army were sequestrated by them, leading to a backlash that brought us Pro Rata and now the absolute resolve of the Infantry to never let that happen again.
    Shouldn't the readers know the whole picture?
    Guess some loyalties run deep even beyond the uniform.

  8. Mr Shukla stop tslking about armoured or infantry at that level everyone is eqully qualified to command an army .Albiet infantry offr or for that matter arty offr is more qualified

  9. Instead fighting Government for downgrading the status of Armed forces;they are fighting among themselves ;thus making easier for government to pick and choose a non deserving Gen who will be his masters voice.

  10. Wasn't the same game played when armoured corps and infantry colluded to wipeout artillery from army commanders? But you were silent then and have chosen to speak only because your own corps is at the receiving end. There is nothing new in these turf wars. Since you want to highlight the strike corps, please have a look at the German army of second world war which pioneered the concept of blitzkrieg. They had maximum no of field marshals from artillery.
    All such articles and new reports by you should have a mandatory disclaimer at the end " Author has served in armored corps and his views are prejudiced by his affiliation"

  11. Instead fighting Government for downgrading the status of Armed forces;they are fighting among themselves ;thus making easier for government to pick and choose a non deserving Gen who will be his masters voice.

  12. A misleading article with distorted half truths.

  13. Ashim Choudhury31 July 2016 at 04:06

    Will these Chiefs ever growing up? This sort of action only breeds a reaction that can be telling on the morale and efficiency of the defence forces and could bring in dissension and disharmony. This can very seriously affect inter-Arm and inter-Service cooperation in future engagements. Playing these silly games only gives a handle to the bureaucrats to play around with them. Hang a carrot in front of these generals and they will do your bidding is something the babus know very well. I wonder what carrot has been hung in front of Gen Dalbir Suhag and why! Is Gen Soni a man who knows his mind and is not likely to dance to the tunes played by the babus? With the VCOAS position having gone to someone else I hope Gen Praveen Bakshi does not miss out on the top post in November! To rule out any allegation of bias I am neither from the Infantry nor from the Armoured Corps.

  14. Well for all the issues raised it does not look too bad !!!

  15. This is NOT news. These are opinions of the author, which may have any degree of truth. Very subjective matters. It is like the case on TV channels where the anchor has the mike and can project what he wants.


  16. The real issue is the historic problem of INdians being argumentative for reasons like pride and all that rubbish. With that what sort of team spirit can be acquired? Its in every level of Indian society now wonder as individuals Indian excel but as a society, they fail. The army needs to get rid of turf wars.
    Aside, Why does that Indian general have a pot belly? I don't see Pakistani or Chinese generals sporting pot bellies.

  17. Well written piece on a subject which is being discussed in hushed whispers in army installations around the country.You will receive flak being an armd officer yourself but thats part and parcel of being a retired officer turned defence analyst
    Fact of the matter is that this infantry vs armored vs arty vs services tussle is very much part and parcel of everyday life in the Army esp at star ranks. All General Officers identify with their regiment first always and every time, then the stream( inf/arty/armd etc) they belong to next and last always and every time comes the Army. Case in point being the 5 odd Gurkha Maj Gens out of 12 cleared for 3 star in the last batch.
    Obviously the Chief either doesnt think highly of or vibe well with Gen Soni and therefore hasnt appointed him to take over Western Command despite being cleared for Army Commander.It would be interesting to discover what plausible reasons he gave to the Cabinet Appts Committee in obtaining their approval of this proposal of officating GOC-in-C.
    The easiest and most sensible thing to have done was to appt Gen Soni as VCOAS but then in 6 months when Gen Bakshi takes over as Chief , you wud have had both COAS & VCOAS from the Armd corps which would be a red rag to the rest of the army- so that option is out.
    The ANC command, another opening at GOC-in-C level looks like being permanently commandeered by the Navy so all thats left staring Gen Soni in the face is the punishment paper tiger posting of CIDS to COSC. The MS branch and the COAS have goofed up badly in Gen Soni's case and are treating him like a pariah.( Shades of Gen Bikram shafting Gen Chait!!)
    There are no easy long term solutions to this issue -which may mean conversion to senior promotions based on merit, officers shedding their regimental affiliations on picking up their first star and becoming true general officers et al -but who will bell the cat??

  18. The need is for 'merit-based selection' and not some zero-sum game based on lanyard loyalties. There are only two arms in any Army - the fighting arm( Infantry, Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry), and the support arm. This support arm was broken down further by Gen Sundarji as Combat Support Arm (Artillery, Engineers and Signals), and Service Support Arm (the rest).
    Interesting to read some comments, where the Lanyard loyalties are very visible. Upto the time an Officer is with his unit, he should wear his unit colours. Thereafter, he should wear the accoutrements of his ARM - Fighting, Combat Support or Service Support. This will allow the people to grow up, beyond the childish mentality - my Daddy(Arm)'s the strongest.
    Thence only merit should be considered, and not 'Mandalisation' by this accursed pro-rata system, which is akin to the 'Reservations' that we have for OBCs, SC/STs.
    It does not speak well for our Infantry officers to hide behind this ruling, which only promotes Mediocrity.
    The comment by one person that deep-strikes in a short duration war is not feasible reeks of Mediocrity. He only needs to study the 6-day Arab-Israeli War!!! A lot can be achieved within 30 days, or even 45 days - after all, short duration is a very relative term.
    When you have qualified officers available, and then you are not placing them based on vacancies - then motives will always be talked off. It does not reflect well for such a pass to come about. I think we are only letting the vultures have a field day, by resorting to such subterfuge.

  19. Games in organizations never do any good to the organization, nor to the country.
    Often, even the winners (if at all it could be called a win) in end realize: "Jeevan Bhar kaa haai parishram loot liya do boondon nai"

  20. What should be done is what is good for the Nation, and the answer lies in merit. At the level of Div CDR and above the professional competence would sail us through in war. The Arms specific appointment should end at Cdr level or at Div level to some extent for some of the specialised Eqpt heavy divisions. Above Bde level, the selection should be primarily on Merit.
    Having any specific Arm heavy Army would lead to dilution in the quality of CDRs for the strategic objectives. Decide what you want to put on top, your regiment or the Nation?

  21. They are tainting the moral fabric of the Army.

  22. These are the ones who are tainting the moral fabric of army. Cutting each other down to hide their scandals. Every soldier sees what they are upto.. Shame on them!

  23. very interesting article Ajai, it is very sad that the present chief is no better than his predecessor v k singh. it seems the present coas is of the belief that what I have gone through others must as well!!
    it will be interesting to know who is the final signatory of such high level appointments? if it is RM then there is hope of some justice otherwise it will be blatant favouritism if AHQ is deciding everything.
    its a national shame that army is fighting within when we have neighbours who would love to exploit such opportunities....all we can do is wait and watch

  24. Sir,
    The present COAS retires on 31 December.

  25. The services have learnt to allot vacancies for promotion from one star (brigadier) higher ups on pro rata basis based on the strength of Arms from their political bosses who distribute the assembly or parliament vacancies on cast considerations.Ideally the most deserving officer should get the promotion.It will never happen in Indian Army.The bright officers can be conveniently eased out before they reach the ranks of ** or *** generals.Looking back into history.Mcaurthur,***** general of US Army was not from Infantry.Napoleon was a gunner(Artillery)In 1972 Gen Maneckshaw ( later Field Marshal) while addressing Infantry Commanders' conference at Mhow openly stated,"Why do you clear officers other than those belonging to Infantryfor promotion.They are serving under you and you write their annual confidential reports.Prior to 1962,the promotions weredecided by Nehru or Krishna Menon.Later the Chiefs were advised to do their bidding.Now within the Army,postings and promotions are so arranged.that careers of well connected senior officers can be safeguarded.Inter arm rivalry is now so deep rooted that not much can be achieved unless there is complete shake up within the Army.

  26. What Motivates our Senior Military Leaders ?

    Im very curious to know what is the motivation of these senior military commanders that they fight for the top job so voraciously.

    1) Is it that they have some ideological plan or dream to fix their service or greatly improve their service ?

    If so then Why are commands like ARTRAC or DG Human Resources or DG ceremonial affairs not preferred places to go to, as they are the cradle of the services from where maximum real changes to the Army can be made.

    2) Is it that they aim to fight the injustices being handed to their Service from the babudom and therefore want to get to the top job and set things straight ?

    Certainly does not look like it, most of them dont make a sound against the babudom, the services are dwindling in their parity and seniority vis a vis the civil service. I dont see any senior officers threatening to retire across all services. With the Exception of Admiral DK Joshi.

    3) Is it because of higher pay and perks ?
    If so, then the pay and perks in the corporate world are far better than even the top job in South Block. The work load is not even half outside. They can all retire and join a think tanks in Washington DC like most Pak Military senior leaders do.

    4) Is it to hold on to some form of self relevance, that is perceived to be available only inside the forces ? So one tries to prolong their service in the Armed forces. "In the Service, I am king, when i retire nobody is going to ask of me."

    5) Is it some great glory of combat related ambition ? Perhaps they would like to be a Maneckshaw ?
    Our generals admirals and Air Marshals, dont ever show an image of swashbuckling image of lion waiting to break off the chains of the government and savage its prey. But rather a dull status quo ist image is projected. While CAPFS are doing the exact opposite, with marketing material good enough to confuse the common man leading him to think that CAPFs are the the army's "special force" :)

    All officers say that their dream was to command a battalion a group or be the captain of a ship and rest is just a consequence. If so then why and for what do they fight,scheme,cozy up for higher and higher ranks ?

    Because from the looks of it, It does not look like they have any great vision of what they want to do, when they get to be in an office of power. BUT desperately struggle against all odds to get to the office of Power.

    1. Utter nonsense

    2. Would you like to respond and explain to this tax payer or just sulk by saying "utter nonsense" ?

      Because our nation knows what our military's young officers and troops aspire for, we saw quite clearly in Kargil conflict.

      Nobody tells us what is the motivation of senior officers.

      Perhaps you can shed light to an otherwise completely unaware general public who would like to know what is the motivation of our top brass to climb higher. There is no disrespect just curiosity.

  27. The whole arguments seem to rely on what constitutes merits which Indian Army has set for itself (inconclusively so far) in the stiff opposition from the likes of Shukla and others.

    A soldier bearing 'Arms' for the nation and his experiences in using those Arms preferably on active service, of which there is no dearth in India, is the single largest merit rather than seniority and ones experiences of deep thrusts on a map or on a model. How can an officer claim "merit" if he has not commanded a battalion, a brigade or a division on active service. Merit of IMA pass out list is no merit and subjective. Merit of course grading and peacetime activities are but very secondary in nature. Then merit is a environment and task specific matter. If not, then even a supply corps officer can claim merit to be COAS.

    Those who shout 'Mandalisation" are in fact asking reservation for themselves. Their very idea and concept is anti- majority and are demanding disproportionate share for themselves claiming false merit. Otherwise, how can an officer qualifies to be inserted for command of an Infantry Division when he has neither commanded an Infantry battalion or brigade. That is a big joke on merit !! It is a big joke when one mechanised formation outweighs the merit of three other formations in RAPIDs in consideration of command assignments for those.

    If utilisation of an Arm or Support Arm is a speciality, then it must apply to all ... Engineer, Artillery, Mechanised, airborne and Infantry formation alike. Reserving one set of formations to speciality and throwing open Infantry formation to all and sundry defies any logic.

    Taken logically, the actual merit must to extended to highest levels of decision making, that is - Army Commanders levels.

    I hope one understands the demerits of Plutarchy and Aristocracy for the health and future of an organisation as vital and big as IA.

  28. Perhaps its time for Somebody from the CORPS OF ENGINEERS to become COAS.

    Contrary to popular widespread belief even among officers of Infantry and Artillery and Armoured Corps, Corps of engineers is a "Combat Arm".

    IN FACT,

    1. They move Ahead of Infantry and perform many roles of the Infantry in combat.
    2. They Move Ahead of Armor and have armor assets of their own.
    3. They perform arguably the most dangerous task of Mine Clearing and diffusing of IEDs.
    4. They are the most educated group of people of the Officer corps, every one holds a Degree in engineering. Vis a Vis their remaining counter parts in the Army "Combat Arms ".
    5. They also have their airborne Units and one of its airborne units is highly coveted in the Army.
    6. If Afghnaistan is to be used as a benchmark for COIN operations, then one must know that the biggest killer of Nato Troops was IEDs and to develop a good counter IED Strategy including resources denial is required. Who better than Engineer officer to lead the charge on it.

    7. Faced with Poor infrastructure on the Line of Actual control, I am shocked as to why Army does not deploy its Engineering Units to the LAC. Not only can they be tasked to man the border, they can also be employed to develop fortifications and Infrastructure along the LAC to great affect.

    8. Infantrymen are quick to argue that physical fitness is a big issue, in that case lets look at the excellent sports record of Madras Engineering Group in Boxing and Bengal and Bombay in terms of Rowing. Nobody will deny that manually launching a bridge is highly physically demanding.

    9. Engineer officers have also served in Specialist units like SFF and NSG.

    10. Engineers have a great boating tradition and working in the river means that the troops are amphibious and engineer battalions are ideal units to be attached to an amphibious role and will be better fit for working with the NAVy.

    11. Amy engineers also play a vital role in NBC and CBRN, Disaster relief. Aviaton and engineering units are the ideal choice in such operations. as evidenced in Nepal and Chennai.

    The Nation has sen Army chiefs from the Infantry, Armour, Artillery and frankly the tax paying civilians like us are aware of your catfights and ego clashes at the cost of the nations time and dime.

    Its time to recognize, the most lethal but least vocal of our army's Combatants, empower them so that they set the rest of you straight. We know they are sticklers for discipline.

    It shows in their drill and turnout on Republic day. While maintaining a simple uniform with not many overtly colorful uniforms (another trend in the army and Paramilitary today to decorate oneself like a Christmas tree so as to gain attention), The Madras Engineers still win the Republic Day Parade best contingent every time they participate !

    Its Time we had a chief from the Corps of Engineers. Its time over due.


  29. @ Jean Luc Picard

    Infantry is the only Arm which does its own job for itself in all shares - be it firing Motors in own support or laying / clearing mines, constructing their own r0ad and field defences, . It is capable of and has unviable combat record of operation through mechanised fighting vehicles, owning and using missiles, operating radars, UAVs, carrying out helli-borne, airborne and amphibious operations. Capable of battles in all terrains and all types of environments including NBC warfare with least amount of manpower and resources. When the same numbers of Motors are given to Artillary that become a battery, less numbers of missile forms a specialist missile company and the numbers of mines it lays / demines is equal to Engineers if not more. All others are but in support role. Infantry is the only self sufficient and self sustaining Arm- well that is the basics which needs repetition here.

    That, however, does not diminish the roles of others but no one can overtake the role of Infantry except for Infantry itself. If any other Arm can undertake some tasks of Infantry such as Engineers, that is very secondary in nature.

  30. @Anonymous 19:44 - Thanks for your explanation. By Your own account if tasks, roles and employment of Engineers and Infantrymen are Similar (if not same) then why is it that

    1. In 69 Years of The Indian Army's existence that not a single COAS has been from the Corps of Engineers. The arm has a PVC to its name, in addition to many other Gallantry awards, Most recently in public memory at Chabad House as part of a counter assault action of the NSG. The arm also has Battle Honors and Theatre honors.

    2. Again Using Afghanistan as a example, NATO during its COIN Operations deployed PRT or Provincial Reconstruction Teams Which were tasked with developing infrastructure for Locals in Combat zones and even high risk areas Like Helmand Province, the Pashtoon Strong hold and hotbed of militancy. The idea was to build basic amenities. These PRTs were lead by engineers supported by infantry and performed tasks under enemy fire or high threat. Just like Infantry does Engineering roles, Engineers can also be deployed to J and K or Arunachal as RR Units on COIN operations or along Line of Control or along LAC.

    3. In The UK, The previous Chief Of General Staff , General Sir Peter Anthony Wall was an officer of the Royal Engineers.

    We have had chiefs from all combat Arms Infantry, Artillery and Armour except from the Corps of Engineers. Perhaps a chief from the Engineers will act as a much needed Impartial, productive, oversight to an Army, whose Combat Arms are behaving like pre TE Lawrence Arab tribes.

  31. Truly ... Ajai now whats new on the Inf Armr divide??

  32. Ajai sir ,now so much has transpired since you published this article ,you proved all the doubters were spot on with your analysis.

  33. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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