Lieutenant-General Bipin Rawat's appointment as the new army chief has kick started another political storm days after the washed out winter session of the Parliament.
The Congress, Left and Janata Dal (United) have slammed the government move questioning the political intervention in the army. The Modi government didn’t follow the three-decade old tradition of choosing the senior most officers for the top post. Rawat, Vice Chief of Army Staff, was appointed by superseding two senior officers, Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi and Southern Army Command Chief Lt Gen P M Hariz. The BJP government sources said that Rawat was ‘best suited’ to counter the challenges the nation currently faces including a “reorganised and restructured military force in the north, continuing terrorism and proxy war from the west, and the situation in the Northeast” and urged to not politicise the issue.
According to the Defence Ministry, the newly appointed Army Chief has handled several operational responsibilities including the Uri terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir and China’s cross-border attacks serving in many combat areas and at various functional levels in the Indian Army over the last three decades. However, the move is being rampantly criticised. The appointment of Rawat superseding the senior most officers in the army, would lead to the favouring of political inclinations and interests rather than professional eligibility and this in turn, would adversely affect the valour as well as efficiency of the army.
The sources including those in the army say that Rawat’s closeness with the Centre including the Defence Minister and the fact that he hails from the same Garhwal region of Uttarakhand as Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor, has played a key role in his appointment for the top army post. There are also criticisms that the move was an attempt to ignore the seniority of Lt Gen P M Hariz who belongs to a minority community. Lt Gen SK Sinha, who retired in 2015 as the head of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Syria and Israel, had dubbed the move as a ploy to stop the appointment of Lt Gen Hariz from becoming the first ever Muslim army chief in India. He wrote that Lt Gen Bakshi would be appointed as the Chief of Defence Staff, a top position to be newly formed in the army.
Army Chiefs are, by norm, appointed by the Centre. These least transparent supersessions are bound to negatively affect the spirit of the army officers. Those retired from the force as well as the officials still in service have already admitted it to the media. Indira Gandhi had twice, made attempts to appoint officials she favoured. She appointed Lt Gen G G Bewoor ignoring the seniority of Lt Gen P S Bhagat in 1972. Gandhi again in 1983, appointed Gen AS Vaidya as the army chief superseding Lt Gen SK Sinha who was much senior. The Operation Blue Star ordered by Gandhi in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, the very next year and the subsequent incidents are viewed as Vaidya’s inefficiency by the defence sources even today.
Janata Dal U General Secretary K C Tyagi compared the government’s decision to the period of Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Gandhi had earlier, also got appointed A.N. Ray as the Chief Justice of India superseding Justice Mohammad Hidayatullah. Tyagi said that the Centre was following the “footprints of Indira Gandhi”, and that such decisions were similar to an ‘undeclared Emergency’ in the country.
It’s normal for the ruling political parties to show favouritism while choosing candidates for senior most positions. But the precedence isn’t toppled to ensure the smooth function of the government systems and to protect the interest in the welfare of the nation. The changes implemented by the autocratic rulers without taking into account the mandates as well as the ethics will only break up the state. In the wake of Rawat’s appointment as the Army Chief, assuming that such supersessions would become a tradition from now on and hence making efforts to please the Centre would land the country into chaos. The government had tried to suppress the criticisms raised against the atrocities carried out by the army saying that it would demoralise them. The allegations of the Opposition that the same government is playing politics in the army should therefore be dealt with pragmatism.