Narendra Modi government has waded into yet another controversy by overlooking the two most senior Lt. Generals Praveen Baskhi and Lt Gen PM Hariz in appointing Lt. General Bipin Rawat as India’s next army chief.
With this decision Modi has done away with another time honored convention of appointing the senior most serving Lt. General as the army chief. Only once before, in 1983, when Indira made Lt. General Vaidya the army chief instead of Lt. Gen Sinha, has seniority been ignored. The contentious decision raises several discomforting thoughts.
Politicises the Army
One of the most remarkable achievements of India has been how it has provided an alternative model for democracy. Before democracy thrived in India, the popular belief was that democracy was not suited for heterogeneous and poor in a society. But India defied this conventional wisdom and survived as a democracy despite being in an neighbourhood where elected governments being toppled through military intervention has been a norm.
An important reason for this success of Indian democracy has been that the army has been kept insulated from politics. This distance of army from politics has meant that unlike Pakistan, Mayanmar and Bangladesh, Indian army has never posed a threat to democracy in India.
An important way in which the army has been kept depoliticised is that appointments to the top posts were done through discretion free seniority rule that left little scope for politicians playing favouritism game. But by dumping the seniority rule and playing favorites, Modi has sent a dangerous signal. Now all serving officers will try to warm up to BJP leadership because the opinion of these leaders instead of having gathered experience (as reflected by seniority) will be the criteria for the upper echelons in appointments. Thus this opens up the door for our Army becoming politicised and loyal to A or B party and leaders instead of being loyal to the nation.
Undermines unity of army
The government overlooking an armoured officer (Lt. Gen Bakshi) for an infantry officer(Lt. Gen Rawat) and portrayal of infantry roles as somewhat more essential for the top post, plays havoc with the moral of armoured officers. It creates a deep sense of injustice and inequality among the armoured officers and makes army divided along the lines of the battalions they serve in.
The government has also placed a premium on Lt.General Rawat‘s J&K experience in choosing him. This again will make officers with specialisation in other front lines such as equally sensitive (because of threats from China) eastern sector legitimately resentful. How is the experience along these other front lines any less important than that along J&K?
Humiliates two otherwise extremely distinguished officers
By overlooking two extremely competent officers, General Bakshi and Hariz, and spinning our merit as the reason for overlooking them, the government is adding salt to their injury.
These two officers are widely respected officers, who have given their entire lifetime for keeping each of us safe. They legitimately expected to be made the army chief according to the precedence. But at the twilight of their long service they are robbed off this opportunity to serve the nation. Instead the government casts aspersions on their merit by justifying its decision to overlook them on grounds of merit? Is this the reward these officers get for their long selfless service, being cast as lacking in merit by the government?
Stench of nepotism
In an unprecedented development, three of the senior most positions in the Indian security apparatus belong to men from the same district: Ajit Doval-NSA, Lt. Gen Bipin Rawat- Indian Army Chief designate, Anil Dhasmana- RAW. All from Pauri Garhwal, Uttarakhand. This seems to be to much of a coincidence. It’s laden with stench of nepotism.
It’s widely acknowledged fact that Doval is the final word on national security matters in Modi regime. So when important security positions are awarded to those who share their district and caste with Doval, one does get a sense that in Modi’s regime even the most sacred of appointments are driven by caste and regional considerations instead of being based on merit.
The stuffing of key bureaucratic posts with fellow Gujratis by Modi, has made many wonder whether Modi’s appointments have anything to do with merit or they are only about jaan pechaan (personal connections) one has with Modi and Doval putting all his district people in vital security positions makes this doubt stronger.
Modi Government has been accused of systematically undermining important institutions by keeping posts of Lokpal, CVC, information commissoner, CBI director, SC and HC Judges, etc either vacant or making ad hoc appointments or appointing yes men.
Still, few had expected the government wouldn’t have the courage to extend its assault on autonomous institutions to even the sacred institution of Indian Army. But by not even sparing the army chief’s appointment, the government has displayed a brazenness that should make each of us, who cherish and celebrate Indian democracy and its system of checks and balances, worried.