Now, announce the tri-service chief - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 20 December 2016

Now, announce the tri-service chief

By Ajai Shukla
Editorial, Business Standard, 21st Dec 16

The announcement that Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat will be the next army chief, superseding two generals senior to him, should not, in itself, be worrying. Rather than blindly following the principle of seniority, every government has the right to pick a chief. Nor is this the first time supersession has happened. In 1983, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi chose General Arun Vaidya to be army chief, superseding one officer. Earlier, in 1975, she had superseded Lieutenant General Prem Bhagat by the backdoor, granting an extension to the serving chief, General GG Bewoor, until General Bhagat retired. Overall, there can be no quarrel over the government transparently picked its service chief, superseding other generals if necessary. This is the norm in armies worldwide.

What are of concern, however, are the reasons the government has advanced for choosing General Rawat over his seniors, General Praveen Bakshi and General PM Hariz. Spokespersons have put out that the new chief is more experienced in dealing with the challenges of the China border, and with terrorism, insurgency and proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and the Northeast. Generals Bakshi and Hariz, both from the mechanised forces, are specialists in tank warfare, especially the quick armoured strikes that would be crucial if push came to shove with Pakistan. By prioritising operational experience in peacetime low-intensity conflict, the government is unwittingly acknowledging that Pakistan has achieving its aim of using jihadi militants to tie down India’s military in an impasse in J&K, while its nuclear forces deterred India from upping the ante. In effect, New Delhi has accepted this, ruling out a riposte from its own conventional warfighting forces.

Meanwhile, the army’s officer cadre views the supersession of General Bakshi and General Hariz in the light of a ongoing internal struggle for the proportional distribution of promotion vacancies, which non-infantry officers allege have been disproportionately cornered by the infantry. The Supreme Court has acknowledged this, and ordered a more equitable redistribution of vacancies created by the Ajai Vikram Singh Committee. In this backdrop, it is difficult to rule out a deep concern among many in the army whether infantry officers – with long stints in low intensity conflict – will henceforth be preferred for the top job.

Inexplicably, the government continues to remain silent on appointing a tri-service commander --- either a four-star permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee (CoSC) recommended by the Naresh Chandra Task Force in 2012, or the five star chief of defence staff (CDS) that a group of ministers had recommended in 2001. Almost since the day he took over as defence minister, Manohar Parrikar has repeatedly promised this badly needed reform measure, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also made this promise. The delay in announcing the new army chief had led to widespread speculation that the government was finding a way to simultaneously announce the appointment of a tri-service commander. Yet, the government’s silence raises the question: why was there such a delay in announcing the next army chief? It would put much of the controversy around this announcement to rest and also benefit long-term defence planning if the government expeditiously announced a tri-service commander. 


  1. NSR says ---

    It is high time for India to have a unified commander with teeth and claws in the form of CDS or JCS to unify, plan, execute, collate intelligence and take action, referee on allocation and/or prioritize the resources and acquisitions, a single source to brief DM and PM, work with NSA, etc

    Remember Kargil...
    A CDS or JCS would have instantly assessed and acted with full force before the Pakistanis got entrenched...
    Too much disagreement and procrastination lost the chance to get our own heights and occumpy some of their in J&K LOC area,, like Pir Panjal...
    ACDS or JCS could have made counter attacks to regain initiative, recover lost areas, and possibly gaining some additional strategic peaks...

    Go forward and announce immediately...

  2. The only guy who foots the bill for CDS now is the naval chief. Surely, you can't have a CDS who hasn't seen the pains of a Chief for at least a year? And, the naval chief will be the wrong choice as India's battles will almost always be army predominant, with navy and air force in supportive role. Of course, it also depends on what charter of duties are laid down for the CDS. In most scenarios, a CDS would be a waste or even an handicap. At some point in the hierarchical pyramid, the advice of the service chiefs will have to be interpreted and evaluated by some civilian. That point is effectively the RM. Why not have an RM who knows what the three chiefs are talking about? This one surely doesn't.

  3. My take is that GoI tried to arrive at CDS but realised it will take longer and went ahead with just the COAS announcement. The delay probably came from there. The other possibility is there was genuine confusion in selecting one from the three.

    The way things are going, I think CDS will happen sooner than believed.

    @Alok - fits the bill you mean? And why do you believe current RM does not know what the three chiefs are talking about.

    - Manne

  4. Surely you can't position Bakshi as tri services chief now, or anyone else for that matter. The govt that maintains that Bakshi and the other guy (Southern Army) are not fit as Army Chief since they do not have adequate 'Kashmir' experience, can't surely post them in any tri-service job, since they lack 'Kashmir' experience', as well as navy and air force experience. By this stupid logic, Govt has locked itself out of anyone being found suitable for tri-services jobs, since no one has experience in all three services and that too, in all specializations of each service! Didn't think ahead of their noses, did they?

  5. Is this asking for too much from this government so quickly. Congress did nothing even though they were in power for 10 years.
    Then bureaucracy played mischief in committees that were defining CDS role.
    Service chiefs &'CDS should not be like our Chief Justice appointment , very few months or max 1-2 years a new guy comes in , promises moon & goes out.
    We need to have a service chiefs & CDS who will retire at or before completing 62 after competing minimum 3 year term at the minimum. This will ensure continuity of leadership.

    This means we need to look at service chiefs who are appointed at 58-59 years maximum.
    If we need to have colonel at about 35-37 year band , this is not impossible.
    I do not see such calculation from your end.

  6. This govt has no moral right to announce a tri-service chief. They've rejected two eligible Lt Gens of army from post of COAS only because these two do not know all about Kashmir. So, the govt expects all Chiefs to be master of all that is today's rage. That must apply to a tri-services chief too. And, you just can't get a man in uniform today who has handled all the hot desks of army, navy and air force, as of today. The MOD and these ministers can't think ahead of the tip of their noses, can they?

  7. @Manne - Sorry. I meant 'fits the bill'. Thanks. And why do you believe this RM will understand what the chiefs say? When I see him saying, 'We'll gouge out the eyes of anyone who looks at India with evil eyes', I can understand his level of thinking. Is apparent from his several other acts and statements too.
    @Ajai Shukla - Sorry for double posting. After posting, I got a delivery notification message and hence so. Am still getting that message each time I post.

  8. Agree with Alok Asthana.If the superceeded Lt Gens were not found fit to be COAS how can they be even considered fit for higher appts of Tri service chiefs!! Calls for another deep selection to find a suitable 3 star offr, with merit & not seniority being the criteria.They may even go in for a retired meritorious offr as the first CDS to overcome the seniority problem.

  9. I have a feeling that Modi/Dovval is trying to emulate what is/used to happen in Pakistan. The NSA holds Pakistanis in high regard, having seen them up close. But they are going about it the wrong way. The Pakistani will pick anyone of the top 2-5 Lt. gen with a clearly defined criteria. Their last guy was from Training and so is their new guy. Their COAS's have been impressive compared to IA guys because they constantly have to compete and no one is seen as the heir apparent until 2 weeks to go.


  10. An interesting article in 'The Wire' on 'Why the seniority principle for promotion to Chief'. Here - My comments there as follows - 'Surely, the best man must be made the Chief. But what is the criterion? At least, seniority is a criterion. What does the RM know about the capabilities of the Army Cdrs, so as to pick one and drop the senior ones. There is no criterion for being the RM itself. All that he is known to possess, for sure, is that people in his limited constituency favour him over others, and the PM likes him (who himself has no criterion, as the RM)'.
    That brings me to a point I have raised with PMO - All functionaries of any ministry have some definite qualifications and laid down selection system. They're in that position as a result of 'some system' however poor.
    How can we then have a minister who can override them all, with the only qualification ( and therefore definite skill ) of being more popular than some others. As an MP, it is OK. But to also be a minister, some qualifications (and tests) MUST be laid down, even if they relate to decision making ability or other behavioural traits.
    What's wrong with my logic, other than 'Bah, it can't happen!'


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