Army chief-designate lieutenant general Bipin Rawat expects “support and cooperation” from the two generals superseded by the government to elevate him to the top position, as uncertainty looms over the senior officers’ next move.
In promoting Rawat, who takes over as army chief on December 31, the claims of lieutenant generals Praveen Bakshi and PM Hariz were ignored.
“They have been cooperating all along and I think they have been most supportive thus far and I expect the same in future,” said Rawat in his first interview after being named as general Dalbir Singh’s successor.
Bakshi and Hariz were commissioned in December 1977 and June 1978, while Rawat joined the army in December 1978. Had the government gone by seniority, Bakshi would have been the next chief. But Rawat’s experience in Kashmir and the Northeast tipped the scales in his favour.
On the seniority principle being abandoned, Rawat said it was the government’s call and “we should all abide by the decision”.
“Both generals Bakshi and Hariz have been good friends and I have lot of respect for them. But since the government has taken a decision, it is with humility I accept this responsibility and I will do my best.” He said he was as surprised as others when the announcement was made.
There’s talk in the army that the supersession may have created an intra-service rift. Rawat is from infantry while Bakshi and Hariz are from mechanised forces.
Asked if he was inheriting a divided army, Rawat said his perception was different.
“The army has had tremendous successes all along and divided armies don’t succeed. Whatever we have done, whatever achievements we have had… all this has happened because of operating in a synergised manner.”
Rawat, who was commissioned into 5/11 Gorkha Rifles, said all arms and services were assigned equally important roles and as long as the army functioned as a team, it would remain an efficient force.
The general, who has had three stints in Kashmir, said the situation in the Valley was dynamic and a status quo mentality wouldn’t work. “You have to seek status change…A renewed thrust will be given to all issues after I visit Kashmir and interact with the men who are operating on the ground under difficult conditions.”
Rawat takes over as army chief at a time when the force has stepped up efforts to meet deficiencies ranging from assault rifles and body armour to high-end artillery guns and air defence systems.
He said modernising mechanised forces, artillery, air defence systems, the army’s aviation wing and improving night-fighting capabilities would be his top priorities.
“Priorities have already been spelt out by general Dalbir Singh and I think with the government’s support, we are moving in the right direction.”
He also backed creating the post of chief of defence staff, saying “it’s a good idea to integrate the defence services at the highest level but it’s the government’s call”.
After the Kargil war with Pakistan in 1999, a government-appointed panel recommended the appointment of a CDS to provide single-point military advice to the country’s leadership.