The government’s decision to bypass the principle of seniority and appoint Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat as the next chief of Army staff has been opposed by several defence veterans settled in Mhow.
The selection of Rawat, an infantry officer, on the grounds of his having greater operational experience, has also brought to fore the rivalries amongst the fighting arms of the Army -- the Infantry, the Armoured Corps and the Artillery.
According to Lt Gen Vijay Madan (Retd), a former commandant of the Army War College, Mhow, “The whole issue has unfortunately been turned into an Infantry vs Armoured Corps tussle, which it is not. The infantry did not demand anything from the government. Merit is definitely a prime factor in such selections, provided there are clear guidelines that are followed ethically. If left to discretion, there is bound to be manipulation due to numerous factors. The government has set a very dangerous precedent and I fear that this may percolate down to the lower levels.”
Lt Gen MG Datar (Retd), a former Commandant of the Military College of Telecommunication Engineering Mhow, also opposed the government’s decision. “All this talk of selecting the candidate with more operational experience is unconvincing. The basic issue is which candidate is the government, specifically the National Security Advisor, more comfortable with. Of late, relationship between the Armed Forces and the NSA has not been very good. I fear the Army will cede more ground to NSA and central police organisations and this will not be good for it in the long run.”
Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, the seniormost Army officer today, is an Armoured Corps officer who is heading the infantry-dominated Eastern Command, said Major General Binoy Poonnen (Retd) of the Mahar Regiment, adding, “By the government’s logic, he should have been heading commands where the Armoured Corps is used extensively. He has ample experience of counter-insurgency operations as a Colonel and later as a Corps Commander. Commanding our Eastern Army will give him all the operational experience he will need to be an efficient army chief. The government should remember that an army chief’s role is very different from that of a battalion commander’s.”
Though a majority of veterans opposed the government’s decision, there were some who supported it. Colonel KK Sharma (Retd), a Sikh Light Infantry officer, “There is nothing wrong in bypassing the seniormost candidate when the government has a pool of senior officers to choose from. When selecting the Army chief, neither the regiment nor the religion matters, the only criterion is merit and the government has chosen the right man for the post.”
However, most veterans said they felt Indira Gandhi had erred in overlooking Lt Gen SK Sinha for the post of Army chief and Narendra Modi is repeating the mistake by overlooking Lt Gen P Bakshi.