I’ve always been in favour of merit being the criterion for promotion, especially for the top job. Deep selection to be acceptable, however, must ensure that selected candidates are head and shoulders above those superseded. Basing it on subjective criteria undermines the armed forces’ carefully crafted ethos with its emphasis on honourable conduct and tradition-strengthened professionalism. The principle of seniority in selection was preferred to obviate political interference or senior officers willy-nilly seeking political patronage.
This unfortunate controversy is the latest in a series of gaffes which have affected the smooth functioning of civil-military relations. In recent years, we’ve seen the mishandling of OROP, an unwillingness to address anomalies arising out of the 7th pay commission, downgrading of military ranks in comparison with their civilian counterparts in the defence ministry, exploiting of cross-LOC raids for political purposes and unwarranted delay in appointments of services chiefs and senior commanders. We need to constantly remember that as a weapon of last resort, the armed forces’ effectiveness and prestige must not be blunted.
Selection of the army chief
Working in damage-control mode, the ruling dispensation’s spin-doctors have alleged that general Praveen Bakshi has ‘done a lot of service in Rajasthan’ implying thereby that he is a desert warfare specialist and not au fait with operations in the mountains, counter-insurgency or LOC operations. This is an unacceptable argument for supplanting him since the military’s system of training and grooming for high command ensures that by the time they rise to the top, senior commanders are fully conversant with all strains of warfare and specialisation irrespective of their parent arm or terrain experience.
General JN Chaudhari served throughout his service with horsed cavalry or armour. Yet, he successfully rose, trained, equipped and put into place the large mountain shield in the Himalayas in the wake of the 1962 war which has not been breached since. General Sundarji despite being an infantryman (having served mostly with machinegun units at that) effectively commanded an armoured division. He later grew to be the father of the post-1971 push towards decisive armoured warfare.
General Bakshi served on the general staff of counter-insurgency force delta and later as the chief of staff, Northern Command. Staff appointments give one invaluable experience of dealing with operations, planning, training, logistics and coordination supplying deep insights into the nitty-gritty of command. He later commanded IX Corps which is heavily committed to counter-insurgency/counter-terrorist operations in a large area of Jammu province and northern Punjab. At the present moment, Bakshi is the eastern army commander with responsibility for the eastern frontiers and counter-insurgency operations in the North-East.
An army chief should be selected for his strategic way of thinking and ability to contribute to the formulation of policy rather than a tactical mindset.
Naval chief to crack the whip
Coming as it does on the heels of a long string of major accidents involving it’s warships in the last decade and a half, the INS Betwa mishap has left the Navy red-faced with a sense of loss of confidence. One person who’s determined to arrest the slide is naval chief admiral Sunil Lanba. One measure proposed by him to uphold professional standards is strict accountability. The axe is going to fall on deteriorating seamanship, integrity and watchfulness after the Betwa inquiry report is out.
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