The appointment of Lt Gen Bipin Rawat has caused a huge political controversy with Congress and CPI-M slamming the Centre’s BJP government of having ignored the seniority of two officers namely Lt Gen P Mohamed Hariz and Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi.
Lt Gen Bakshi is from the Armoured Corps and currently heads the strategically sensitive Eastern Command, which is headquartered in Kolkata. Lt Gen Hariz, is from the Mechanised Infantry and he was recently appointed as the head of Southern Command, whose headquarters are in Pune.
There are reports that the government may now appoint Lt Gen Bakshi as the country’s first chief of defence staff (CDS) in the coming weeks.
The last time the central government had allowed a general to supersede to become the army chief was in 1983, when Indira Gandhi appointed General AS Vaidya as the Chief of the Army Staff overlooking the seniority of Lt Gen SK Sinha. However, according to many officers, the decision to appoint Vaidya was justified as he was a ‘highly decorated’ officer compared to Sinha, who was deemed ‘less experienced’ at that time.
Lt Gen Sinha, in protest then resigned.
Ajit Doval links
All sorts of theories are now being discussed behind Gen Rawat’s appointment ahead of more suitable candidates in seniority.
At least two serving army commanders told Janta Ka Reporter on condition of anonymity that the ‘all powerful’ National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, had played a key role in appointing a ‘fellow Garhwali’ for the top job in the army. Both Doval and Gen Rawat reportedly hail from the same district in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand.
Incidentally, the newly appointed RAW chief, Anil Dhasmana, too hails from Pauri in Garhwal, home district of Doval.
Another theory being widely discussed is that this was to stop the appointment of Lt Gen Hariz, from becoming the first ever Muslim army chief in India.
Lt Gen HS Panag, who taught all three generals at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun and the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington told Indian Express, “It is the government’s prerogative to select the new Army Chief. It has only happened once earlier that the seniormost officer was overlooked, in the case of Lt Gen S K Sinha in 1983. But the criterion for deep selection by the government is not clear as it knows little about the job of an Army Commander. There is nothing spectacular about serving in J&K. If there is a war tomorrow, it could be fought in plains and deserts. What happens then?.”
Government sources maintain that Gen Rawat has tremendous hands-on experience of serving in combat areas and at various functional levels in the Indian Army over the last three decades.
However, officers who’ve known Gen Rawat disagree.
One officer, wishing not to be identified, told Janta Ka Reporter, “Reports of his performance in Jammu and Kashmir are simply too exaggerated. Gen Rawat’s performance was simply too lackadaisical during his time with the 5 Sector of RR (Rashtriya Rifles) in 2007. His contacts with the NSA has clearly landed him the top job”
There is nothing new to the allegations of Rawat using contacts to achieve excellence or awards during his time in the army. As an army cadet in the IMA, Rawat was awarded the prestigious Sword of Honour, which is awarded to a cadet for all-round excellence, despite being fifth in the order of merit.
Rawat had superseded at least four cadets to earn the Sword of Honour award, allegedly because of the then commandant, Ganju Rawat. The story goes that Ganju Rawat, who later became the vice chief of the army staff, was from 5 Gorkhas, the same batallion Gen Rawat’s father belonged to. There were also murmurs of Ganju Rawat favouring his fellow Garhwali cadet ahead of other more deserving individuals.
What happens to Lt Gens Bakshi and Hariz?
The current controversy over Rawat’s appointment, say army officers, may kickstart a dangerous trend, which will be ‘extremely detrimental’ to the armed forces’ discipline.
A Delhi based serving Lt Colonel, who didn’t want his identity disclosed, said, ” What has happened on Saturday is nothing less than a joke. Forget the fact that two more deserving generals have been overlooked. The fact that it’s become a public knowledge that Gen Rawat had his way because of his proximity to the current establishment, the seven commanders and one vice chief in future will now actively make attempts to be in the good books of the ruling politicians for such preferences. And, dare I say, this will be dangerous as it has the potential to politicise the armed forces.”
As for Lt Generals Bakshi and Hariz, both of them have very little service tenure left. Lt Gen Hariz has at least one year left, while Lt Gen Bakshi has less than a year to complete to his service. Both of them will have retired during Gen Rawat’s tenure as the army chief. That is, if they choose not to resign before that, something that Lt Gen Sinha had done.
Officers, who know these two generals, have ruled out any possibility of them resigning adding that ‘such decision may not be wise for both generals in the current environment.’
One officer said, “You become a hero when you resign protesting injustice by the political establishment in countries such as the US and the UK. But in India, people’s memory is very short. Should they choose to resign, they are likely to go into oblivion, say after 4-5 days. So, the best thing for them would be to complete their tenure and end their career with honour and pride.”
What’s the way forward
Many army officers say that, going forward, the government must set up a board, which should also have representations from the ‘world of politics.’ This board can be tasked to shortlist at least 3-5 deserving candidates with clearly stating their pedigree for the government to then announce one chief of staff.
This is along the lines of what the former American defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld had initiated when his commissioned board had shortlisted 50 candidates to appoint the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Those candidates had then been narrowed down to the list of 5 generals, who both Rumsfeld and then president George Bush (junior) had met informally to make up their mind.
In the absence of a well-defined selection process, the Centre’s Narendra Modi government may have opened a can of worms, which will considerably hurt the military interests of India in the years to come.