Nothing the government does these days go without sparking a political storm. The latest is the Centre’s decision to designate Lt Gen Bipin Rawat as the next Chief of Army Staff (COAS). As soon as the news of the new COAS emerged, some opposition leaders sensed a conspiracy.
Lt General Rawat superseded seniormost Lt Generals, Praveen Bakshi and P M Hariz. While the government said that merit was taken into consideration for the decision, the opposition questioned it.
This is the second time in two months when a defence matter has become a political controversy. Earlier, the opposition had demanded proof of surgical strikes carried out by Indian Army on terror launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in September.
The Congress said the selection of Lt Gen Rawat as the new COAS was “whimsical cherry picking”, according to an IE report. Congress leader Manish Tewari led the Congress charge in media.
In a series of tweets, Tewari questioned as to why seniority was not respected in the appointment of next army chief. “Why has Seniority not been respected in Aptt.of Army Chief? Why have Lt Gen Pravin Bakshi & Lt Gen Mohamed Ali Hariz been superseded Mr PM, Why has third senior most officer Lt Gen Bipin Rawat with due respects to his professionalism superseded other two in a hierarchal force? correction. Gen Rawat is not third but fourth senior most. Even Lt Gen BS Negi Army commander Central Command is senior to him? Why Mr PM,” Tewari tweeted.
However, it seems there is a division of opinion on the issue among Congress leaders. Another senior Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi said there should not be politics over the appointment of COAS. “Only seniority isn’t the parameter, other qualities also considered. The government must have thought the decision through,” Chaturvedi told ANI today.
“Questions raised on the appointment of Army chief aren’t welcome. Merging politics and Army should be a big no,” he added.
JD(U) leader KC Tyagi said the government’s decision reminded of “Emergency” imposed by the then Indira Gandhi regime. “It reminds me of the past days of the Emergency during Indira Gandhi. It seems those old days are coming back,” Tyagi told IE.
Attacking the government over the decision, Swaraj Party leader Prashant Bhushan tweeted, “By superseding senior officers, govt is politicising army& destroying its morale. This puts us at risk with Modi’s military adventurism.” Delhi Chief Minister and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal retweeted Bhushan’s remarks. However, Kejriwal has not yet come up with his own statement on the matter.
Earlier, the Ministry of Defence sourced had told ANI that COAS selection was done purely on merit basis. “Currently, counter terrorism and counter insurgency are key issues. Hence, background and operational experience of the officers on the panel were considered in depth while selecting next COAS. Lt Gen B Rawat fulfils these criteria by virtue of operation assignments,” MoD sources had told the agency.