The Centre has opened the race for the top job in the navy to four admirals, after DK Joshi resigned as chief on February 26, taking moral responsibility for the recent naval mishaps.
The line-up of contenders for the job consists of acting navy chief vice admiral Robin Dhowan, Western Naval Command (WNC) chief vice admiral Shekhar Sinha, Eastern Naval Command (ENC) chief vice admiral Anil Chopra and an unexpected challenger, Southern Naval Command chief vice admiral Satish Soni, a top government official told HT.
The defence ministry has asked the naval headquarters to provide their dossiers for a thorough examination before selecting the new chief, said the official. The ministry is likely to make its choice soon and send the name for clearance to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, headed by the PM.
Of the four contenders, Sinha, who joined the navy in June 1974, is the senior-most but comes with a lot of baggage. As reported by HT on February 28, two navy chiefs had advised the ministry against giving operational assignments to Sinha, who has presided over some of the worst accidents, including the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak that killed 18 sailors last August. The INS Sindhuratna mishap that killed two officers last week and led to Joshi’s resignation also took place under Sinha’s watch.
A source said defence minister AK Antony couldn’t risk to be seen rewarding Sinha for the same reasons he promptly accepted Joshi’s resignation, a first in India’s military history.
Sinha, who retires on August 31, 2014, could either resign or drag the government to court if he is passed over. The second senior-most admiral, Dhowan, who was commissioned in January 1975, hasn’t led a fighting command, either the WNC or the ENC.
However, there are precedents that could work in Dhowan’s favour. Admiral Sushil Kumar did not have the experience of running an operational command but he was still named chief after Vishnu Bhagwat’s sacking in December 1998. Also, late Admiral Oscar Stanley Dawson, chief during 1982-84, had not led a fighting command. Dhowan retires on May 31, 2014.
Had Joshi not stepped down, he would have served till August 2015 and then been replaced by Soni, who retires in March 2016. A chief can either serve for three years or till the age of 62.