The Defence Ministry of India on Saturday announced that Lt General Bipin Rawat would be the new Army Chief.
Since the declaration of Lt General Rawat’s appointment, who will succeed General Dalbir Singh Suhag on December 31, a major controversy has erupted, as the opposition accused the government of politicising the appointment by not following the traditional criterion of seniority.
Who is Bipin Rawat?
- Rawat is a ‘Sword of Honour’ awardee.
- He was commissioned in the Fifth Battalion of the Eleven Gorkha Rifles in December 1978 from Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun.
- He is presently serving as the Vice-Chief of the Army Staff (VCOAS) of the Indian Army from September 1, 2016.
- Through all his years in service, he has gained a vast experience in high altitude warfare and counter-insurgency operations. He was the commander of the infantry battalion along the Line of Actual Control, a Rashtriya Rifles Sector and an infantry division in the Kashmir Valley.
- Rawat has conducted instructional appointments at IMA and Army War College in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh. He has also held important staff appointments at Directorate General of Military Operations and Military Secretary’s Branch at Army HQ.
- With an experience of over 35 years, he has been awarded for gallantry and distinguished service with the UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, VSM, COAS Commendation on two occasions and the Army Commander’s Commendation. He has been twice awarded the Force Commander’s Commendation.
Why was Rawat chosen?
The appointment of army chief is made at the sole discretion of the government. However, it is based on the principle of seniority. It was Lt General Praveen Bakshi, who is serving as Army Commander at the Kolkata-based Eastern Command, who was next in line to be the Army chief by virtue of being the seniormost officer. It could also have been Lt Gen P.M. Hariz, also senior to Rawat, who commands the southern army from his headquarters in Pune. The government says they chose Rawat based on merit and that his operational experience is suitable for the post.
“Lt Gen Bipin Rawat fulfills this criterion by virtue of his operational assignments as Commanding Officer of 19 Division in Jammu and Kashmir and his outstanding track record, his familiarity with the functioning of the Army HQ and MoD in his capacity as Vice Chief and his general dynamism has also played a role in tipping the scales in his favour,” the sources told PTI.
It is speculated that due to India’s aggressive foreign policy and a stringent stand against Pakistani insurgents, the prime minister had wanted an officer with great experience on the Line Of Control. It is Rawat’s forward thinking of employing unconventional tactics that made him suitable for this job. The government also believed that Bakshi, who is considered a strategic planner, would be suited best in the role of Chief of Defence Staff.
The controversy that followed
Opposition parties have accused the government of politicising the appointment by abandoning the traditional criterion of seniority. Rawat has superseded two senior officers Bakshi and Hariz, the former from the armoured corps and the latter from the mechanised infantry. The appointment of anyone of them would have resisted infantry division’s prolonged domination of the army command. And Rawat is also an infantryman from the Gurkha Rifles, like his predecessor Suhag.
Suhag has brought infamy upon him by filling the post if army headquarters with Gurkha regiment officers, for example, Lt Gen A.K. Bhatt is the Director General of Military Operations, Lt Gen S.K. Patyal is the Director General of Military Intelligence, Lt Gen A.L. Chavan is the Director General of Military Training.
Rawat’s appointment proves that it has become tough for a non-infantry general to become a chief.
There is no doubt that the government has the right to choose the army chief on the basis of merit. But, there has been no proof submitted so far that Rawat is more meritorious than the other two senior officers he superseded.
Have there been any other appointments like this before?
Since independence, army chiefs have been appointed based on seniority with one exception of the appointment of Arun Vaidya as army chief in 1983, superseding Lt Gen S.K. Sinha, who the Indira Gandhi government considered dangerously political.
The Congress and the Left have sought for answers for the appointment of Rawat over this seniors. Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari asked, “Why this supersession has taken place. Now the argument the government will give that Congress did supersession in the 80s and, therefore it has the right to do so is complete nonsense.” He further said, “Did the government have anything against them? Was their professionalism in question? What was the reason and I guess the army being a public institution the country deserves those answers.”
CPI leader D Raja also questioned the government’s move and said appointments have become controversial. “Appointments in the army have become controversial, the appointments in the judiciary are already controversial, the appointments of CVCs, CBI director and to Central Information Commission, all these top-level appointments are becoming very controversial,” he said.
The government, however, maintained the seniority principle while appointing the next chiefs of the Air Force, and the country’s internal and external intelligence agencies. It appointed Air Marshal BS Dhanoa as the next Air Chief, Rajeev Jain as the next director, Intelligence Bureau, and Anil Dhasmana as Secretary, Research and Analysis Wing. All three appointees were the senior most officers available.