Controversy clouds out-of-turn appointment of next army chief - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 18 December 2016

Controversy clouds out-of-turn appointment of next army chief

Defence Minister Parrikar addresses top generals at the recent annual "Army Commanders Conference"

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Dec 16

An inevitable controversy has erupted followed the government’s announcement of Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Bipin Rawat as the general who will succeed General Dalbir Singh Suhag on December 31 in the post of “chief of army staff” (COAS), or army chief.

Opposition parties have accused the government of politicising the appointment by abandoning the traditional criterion of seniority. More worryingly, there is sharp resentment within sections of the army on the side-lining of two high-calibre officers who Rawat will supersede --- Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, currently commanding the eastern army in Kolkata, senior-most after Suhag; and Lt Gen PM Hariz, also senior to Rawat, who commands the southern army from his headquarters in Pune.

Officers from the infantry are defending the supersession of Bakshi and Hariz, the former from the armoured corps, and the latter from the mechanised infantry. Over the last two decades, six out of eight army chiefs have been from the infantry and the other two from the artillery. The appointment of either Bakshi or Hariz would interrupt the infantry’s prolonged domination of the army command --- which comes with the right to make appointments and shape promotion policy.

The elevation of Rawat, like Suhag an infantryman from the Gurkha Rifles, preserves this arrangement.

However, even infantry officers are alarmed at how Suhag has packed army headquarters with his fellow Gurkha regiment officers. Besides Rawat himself, Gurkha officers occupy the key posts of Director General of Military Operations (Lt Gen AK Bhatt); Director General of Military Intelligence (Lt Gen SK Patyal); Director General of Military Training (Lt Gen AL Chavan); Adjutant General (Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma); and Director General Staff Duties (Lt Gen Vijay Singh), amongst many others.

Rawat’s supersession of Bakshi and Hariz indicates how difficult it has become for a non-infantry general to become chief, even when he has the seniority and merits. The army’s command hierarchy has demonstrated its ability to bring the government around to their viewpoint.

The government, however, justifies Rawat’s selection as based on merit. In leaks to chosen journalists on WhatsApp (which this correspondent has reviewed) a defence ministry spokesperson claimed Rawat’s rare combination of skill and experience makes him “the best suited among the Lt. Generals, to deal with the emerging challenges… (sic).”

Separately, the MoD spokesperson has told journalists over the phone that Bakshi, a tank man who has spent many years in the deserts of Rajasthan and in Punjab, was ill-equipped to handle the internal security challenges of J&K and the northeast. Bakshi’s tenures as chief-of-staff in northern command and as the eastern army command apparently count for nothing.

Nor apparently does the fact that war with Pakistan would centre on swift tank offensives under the “Cold Start” doctrine. “The army believes that peacetime operations are more important than preparing for a real war”, says a senior serving general.

Without question, the government has the right to appoint an army chief of its choice. In an army where seniority has often elevated the wrong general to the top job, a move to meritocratic selection must be unambiguously welcomed.

“Though it is good to have a meritocracy, there must be clear criteria for determining merit. Otherwise, generals will start approaching politicians who can promote them to the top, and that will end the apolitical character of the army”, warns Lt Gen HS Panag, a former army commander.

While Bakshi, Hariz and Rawat are all capable of leading the army successfully, there are no objective criteria to suggest that Rawat is any more meritorious than the officers he superseded. Bakshi, particularly, has distinguished himself from his cadet days, performing outstandingly over decades. He is enormously respected by subordinates and peers for his integrity and blunt forthrightness, both valuable military qualities.

“When I heard about Bipin Rawat’s appointment as the next chief, I immediately assumed that Praveen Bakshi – who I know enjoys an excellent reputation --- was being named the first tri-service chief. That might still happen, but the government should have first announce Bakshi’s elevation,” says Lt Gen Rostum Nanavatty, a revered former army commander who happens to be from the Gurkha Rifles.

That an unusual succession might be coming became evident in September, when the chief cut short Rawat’s tenure at the head of southern command, and appointed him vice-chief --- a placement usually given to chiefs-in-waiting to acquaint them with army headquarters (AHQ) functioning before they take over the army.

Then came the inexplicable delay in announcing Suhag’s successor, which is traditionally done two-three months before the outgoing chief retires. Eventually, the announcement came just two weeks before Suhag was due to retire.

Since independence, successive Indian governments have appointed army chiefs based on the principle of seniority. The one exception was the appointment of Gen Arun Vaidya as army chief in 1983, superseding Lt Gen SK Sinha, who the Indira Gandhi government considered dangerously political.

Earlier, in 1975, when Indira Gandhi had reservations over appointing the strong willed and forthright Lt Gen Prem Bhagat as army chief, for which he would have been in line when Gen GG Bewoor retired, the government granted Bewoor an extension to continue until Bhagat retired. As a result of this subterfuge, Bhagat never had to be superseded.


  1. should be based on meritocracy but "how is meritocracy defined" should be clear. i entirely agree

  2. It is sad, this is by far the worst govt for fauj...period!!

    How these guys manipulate the media and people, including faujis is actually fact the very fact that inspite of all the crap...many faujis (including some of my relatives) are staunch supporters of these guys.

    These guys are good politicians!
    But they're spoiling the fauj and politicising it.
    Overall very negative effect.

  3. In this article can we sense Col Shuklas own slant towards armored core men???... Just saying

  4. Very wrong on part of Govt. There is, or can be, no criterion that judges one Army Cdr over another for post of COAS. To say that Gen Bipin has more experience of J&K is most kiddish. COAS doesn't fight terrorists. As for strategic advise on J&K, I think Indian COAS is not even asked of that. Nor does he offer any.
    Have heard that Gen Bipin once did show willingness to get the army roped-in for cleaning of Ganges river. If this news is even remotely true, then it is very bad news i.e. a pliable COAS. Good for the BJP - terrible for the country- devastating for the army. Where are we headed? If this news is not true, I am somewhat relieved.

  5. I am just wondering why we can not have a political and religious wing at each Hq starting from the unit level , after all it is the Government's prerogative to decide what sort of armed forces they want ?

  6. bakshi hasnt even served in RR.
    A career spent in peace postings..softies..all of them.

  7. The process states MoD forwards three names and the CCS selects one.
    If we had to always select the senior most guy, this process needs to be changed.

    I do not know why so many rumours are floating around.

  8. I hope the new chief, will be the bigger man and :

    1. Abolish Command exit Model.

    2. Remove Arm/service quota in Promotion boards.

    3. Bring back firm interpretation of customs and traditions of the army. Enough of officers
    and wives walking into officers mess in casuals. More forced dinner nights, to inculcate class in the officers.

    4. I hope the leverages the senior JCOs, to bring back firm Uniform and turnout standards that includes forced PT for officers and men out of shape. I understand that Gurkha JCOs are reputed for ticking off officers and men alike if they have poor turnout.

    Frankly,even civilians can see that the turnout of the army (air force and Naval standards have gone to the dogs, especially that terrible fake plastic anklet they wear on RD Parade) has dropped.

    Officers and men wear uniforms like a civilian formal dress. Trousers are dangerously close to low rise jeans. uniforms shirts are stitched for either two sizes big or two sizes small. Uniform material has gone from olive green to a near black. with every one buying their own shades. The new cheaply manufactured ceremonial head gear look terrible and fake.

    Uniforms are meant to be thicker and once pressed they maintain their form, Almost all of the army now wears a thin silk like fabric, which burns the eyes of someone who has seen uniforms of the Army of yester years. All the ribbons and badges fall or dangle from this silk like material.

    Infantry Uniforms worn or RD parade have become too over decorated and colorful, with needless gold tassels. Cummerbands are now made from the same material as a neck tie.

    .... There is simply just too much to mention here.

    I hope the new chief cracks a whip and ushers in the old ways, coupled with new ways of thinking on operational concepts matters.

    5. reduce the interaction between civilians and the military at lower levels.

    I wish the new chief the best of luck. Good bless our Army.


  9. Ajai Shukla has brought down the debate to the level of infantry Vs Armoured Corps or the rest. The supersession of two officers portends much bigger malice; it is the continuing blatant political interference in the Army by the political bosses that should be more worrying for the countrymen.

  10. Dear Ajai, This refers to the implication that Gen Bhagat was wily nily superceded. That needs to be checked. Bhagat was Sam Maneckshaw;s choice to succeed him in Jan 73, and not to succeed Gen Bewoor. But Indira Gandhi ignored Sam Bahadeur's advise and appointed Bewoor, who was two years senior to Bhagat. Bhagat died on 23 May 75 and he had spent his last nine months as Chairman, Damodar Valley Corporation. Was he eligible to come back and succeed Bewoor? Moot point - though I believe he was on the Army List as Chairman, DVC. Needs checking.....
    Regards Brig Ajit Nair

  11. Seriously! I cannot understand the "best suitable for the job" statement of the Government. Who decides this? How can they say that somebody lacks expertise, while commanding the Eastern or the Southern army. I find this disappointing.

  12. Lt. Gen. Bakshi & Lt. Gen Hariz are both equally competent to be promoted to 4* rank. The situation can still be corrected. Lt. Gen. Bakshi must be promoted as Chief of Defence Staff (5*) & Lt. Gen. Hariz must be promoted (4*) & appointed as Chief of IDS.

  13. This is putting the right people in place.. before attempting something big and dramatic.
    Like appointing the right RBI Governor, before announcing demonetization.
    Brace yourselves guys.. something big about to happen.


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