There is no doubt whatsoever that choosing the Indian Army Chief, or any other service chief, is the prerogative of the government. Then why so much of a hue and cry over the selection of Lt Gen Bipin Rawat as the next army chief?
Over three decades ago, in 1983, when Lt Gen AS Vaidya superseded Lt Gen SK Sinha, there was an uproar but not as much, in fact nowhere near now, anger amongst both the serving senior officers and military veterans cutting across all arms and services.
Despite the fact that today the electronic and social media call the shots, the number of articles, editorials and letters to the editor that are commenting on the controversy are much more than in 1983. It was, perhaps due to the fact Gen. Vaidya, twice awarded the Mahavir Chakra — in 1965 and 1971 — had much greater battle experience than Lt. Gen. Sinha, who only held staff appointments in the wars of 1947-48, 1962, 1965 and 1971. The supersession was fully justified.
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Since I was commissioned in Gen Vaidya’s cavalry regiment, the Deccan Horse, my view may seem biased to some military veterans. But there is no doubt that Gen. Vaidya was an iconic figure of the Indian Army, especially the armoured corps, the arm to which the superseded Lt. Gen. Praveen Bakshi belongs. Ultimately, Gen. Vaidya, India’s most decorated soldier, made the supreme sacrifice, like Indira Gandhi and Sant Longowal, for ensuring that India’s sword arm is not cut off from the rest of the country.
But as the supersession raised a controversy which was not in the interest of the army, it was decided during the premiership of India’s youngest Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, that amongst the vice chief and the army commanders, the seniormost would be elevated.
Gen Vaidya’s successor, Gen K Sundarji, and all the successive chiefs thereafter have been selected by both the Congress and non-Congress governments on the basis of seniority. The biggest advantage of following this principle is that nobody can accuse the government of the day of politicising the defence forces or indulging in favouritism.
Unfortunately, the choice of Lt. Gen. Bipin Rawat, no doubt an outstanding officer, on the eve of Uttrakhand elections has raised eyebrows and led to an avoidable controversy. The only option before the government is to make Lt. Gen. Praveen Bakshi the CDS, or Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CSC) and similarly accommodate Lt. Gen. P.M. Hariz in an advisory role where he will not be junior to Gen. Rawat (on his elevation). Nobody will be more happier with this arrangement than Gen. Rawat. This will be in the best interest of both the army and the nation.
The army should be kept totally apolitical and secular. Otherwise there will be no difference between the armies of India and Pakistan, where supersession is never surprising and has become an established norm.