Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat’s appointment as army chief has become the latest flashpoint between the government and the Opposition, days after a political row over the recall of high-value currency washed out Parliament’s winter session.
The Congress said it wasn’t questioning Rawat’s abilities but wanted to know why two senior people were superseded, as the government did not follow a three-decades old tradition of elevating senior-most officers.
“Is it that all these officials who were superseded were not able? Or was it cherry picking?” Congress leader Manish Tewari asked.
Such political sparring over the army chief’s appointment is unusual as parties usually steer clear of commenting on what is seen as an apolitical institution. But within hours of Rawat’s appointment on Saturday, the Congress and the Left had criticised it.
On Sunday, Tewari also pointed out how the NDA administration created controversies over other key appointments, such as that of the chief vigilance commissioner.
Former central board of direct taxes chief K V Chowdary was appointed as CVC after a long delay, triggering criticism from lawyers such as Ram Jethlamani and Prashant Bhushan.
- Lt Gen Bipin Rawat’s appointment as army chief has become the latest flashpoint between the government and the Opposition.
- The Congress said it wasn’t questioning Rawat’s abilities, but wanted to know why two senior people were superseded.
- Within hours, the ruling BJP hit back, saying that the government had followed standard norms.
- Government sources said Rawat was found “best suited” to deal with emerging challenges.
The Congress also cited the “non-appointment” of a full-time director of the enforcement directorate.
“Right now, there are questions about the CBI director... and they have still not notified the appointment of the Chief Justice of India,” said Tewari.
The Congress had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the appointment of
Rakesh Asthana as interim CBI director earlier this month, calling the process “vitiated and manipulated”.
Within hours, the BJP hit back, saying that the government had followed standard norms and that the Congress couldn’t dictate terms.
“The government does not require the permission of 10, Janpath (Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s official residence),” Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said on Sunday.
“I think till now the Congress is not able to understand that they have lost power at the Centre.”
The BJP and the Congress have been locked in a verbal war since the government recalled Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes last month, a move that the Opposition says has hurt the poor and the farmers.
Controversy over the decision deadlocked the winter session, which saw little legislative business.
In promoting Rawat, the claims of Eastern Army commander Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, the senior-most general, and Southern Army commander Lt Gen PM Hariz, were ignored. The last time this had happened was in the early 1980s.
But government sources said Rawat – who takes over on December 31 – was found “best suited” to deal with emerging challenges, including a “reorganised and restructured military force in the north, continuing terrorism and proxy war from the west, and the situation in the Northeast”.
Former army chief Shankar Roy Chowdhury also confirmed the government had the “final authority” to pick the army chief. “I have no patience with what political parties are saying. I appeal to them not to politicise the last reputable institution of India which is world class.”
But many opposition parties didn’t seem convinced.
“Superseding in appointments always opens the up the avenue for many questions,” said Tathagat Satpathy, a leader of the Biju Janata Dal that is otherwise supportive of the government.
Communist Party of India leader D Raja reminded that the appointments in the army, CVC and other top-level positions had become controversial during the NDA regime.
“The government should answer how these appointments have been made,” Raja said.