Lt Gen Bipin Rawat was named India’s next army chief on Saturday, as the government abandoned a three-decades-old tradition of elevating senior-most officers as military chiefs.
It, however, stuck to the practice in elevating vice chief air marshal BS Dhanoa – a Kargil war veteran – as the next head of the Indian Air Force.
The two new chiefs – both 1978 batch officers – will take charge on December 31.
Political parties usually avoid comment on military appointments but the choice of Rawat was immediately criticised by the opposition Congress. Its spokesman Manish Tewari questioned why the government had ignored others for Rawat, who is the now the force’s vice chief. A vice-chief is not necessarily the second senior-most officer.
In early 1980s, Lt Gen SK Sinha was overlooked in the appointment of Gen AS Vaidya as the army chief.
In promoting Rawat, the claims of Eastern Army commander Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, the senior-most general on the day present army chief Dalbir Singh retires, and Southern Army commander Lt Gen PM Hariz, were ignored.
There were early indications that the government might not follow established norms. The names of news chiefs are conventionally announced 2-3 months before an incumbent retires.
But this time the next appointments have come barely a fortnight before the incumbents retire.
Dhanoa, who was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal after Kargil, will be the third Sikh to head the IAF after distinguished military leaders Arjan Singh and Dilbag Singh.
Rawat will be the second consecutive chief from the Gorkha Rifles. He will succeed Gen Dalbir Singh who was commissioned into 4/5 Gorkha Rifles.
Rawat, a Kashmir and Northeast veteran, miraculously survived a chopper accident when he was commander the Dimapur-based Headquarters 3 Corps. He headed the Indian brigade during the UN peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2008.