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    OpinionsIndia must keep politics out of its Army

    India must keep politics out of its Army


    must keep politics out of its Army

    By Gurmeet Kanwal

    The die has been cast and it is important that next Army chief Lt Gen Bipin Rawat begins with a clean slate.

    Superseding two commanders-in-chief (C-in-C), Lt Gen Bipin Rawat has been appointed as the next Army chief. The government has also approved the promotion of Air Marshal BS Dhanoa as the chief of air staff. Both of them will assume their new appointments when the present incumbents superannuate on December 31, 2016.

    The government order has given the go by to at least two long-standing traditions pertaining to senior military appointments. One is an act of omission and the second may be termed as an act of commission.


    First, it has been customary for the government to announce the name of the new chief one to two months in advance. This ensures that the chief-designate has sufficient time to acquaint himself with the complexities of ongoing operations and the challenges confronting military modernisation, especially when he has not had the opportunity to serve as a principal staff officer at the Army headquarters in Delhi.

    Second, the principle of seniority has always been honoured by the government while appointing an Army chief, and it is only the second time that the seniormost C-in-C has been superseded.

    The first may be termed as a technical supersession. In 1974, an extension was given to Army chief Gen GG Bewoor because of which Lt Gen Prem Bhagat, Victoria Cross, the senior-most C-in-C in the line of succession, retired.

    It was generally believed that the government of the day, particularly the bureaucracy, did not like Gen Bhagat's outspoken manner and thought they would find it difficult to deal with him as the Army chief.

    The second supersession was clearly intended as such when Lt Gen SK Sinha was superseded by Gen AS Vaidya in 1983. An outstanding scholar-warrior, he too was known to be frank in expressing his views and was a strong votary of the welfare of the men under his command.

    Gen Sinha later served with distinction as India's ambassador to Nepal and as the governor of Assam and & Kashmir (J&K), both during difficult times.

    Appointing a new chief of the Army, the Navy or the Air Force is a prerogative of the government and there cannot be a quarrel with this fundamental tenet of civilian control over the military. The government may choose to appoint the next senior C-in-C to the post, as has mostly been the case in the past, or ignore the principle of seniority and choose the most suitable candidate among all the contenders.


    However, unless objective criteria are laid down and studiously observed, the selection runs the risk of the politicisation of senior leadership of the armed forces.

    It will be an adverse development for the management of security if senior military leaders begin to look over their shoulders to discern whether intended actions, for example in counterinsurgency operations, will have negative repercussions for one political party or another. Or, if they deem it necessary to cultivate friends among political leaders.

    The die has been cast and it is important that Gen Rawat begins with a clean slate. As the head of perhaps the most potent instrument of the national will, a combat force that has held the nation together through many wars and insurgencies, Gen Rawat has his work cut out in this era of strategic uncertainty.

    The new Army chief will have to work with the government to successfully defeat Pakistan's war against India through asymmetric means, manage periodic tensions on the Line of Actual Control with China and continue to undertake effective counter-insurgency operations in J&K and the Northeast.

    He will also need to improve the Army's preparedness for war, particularly the oft-reported inadequacy of ammunition.


    In addition, he will have to devote his time and effort to the modernisation of the Army, which has been stagnating for a long time. Of all responsibilities, modernisation needs the chief's personal backing. He will also need to pay attention to improving training standards and resolving personnel issues, such as the grievances regarding pay and allowances, which have been sapping morale.

    One saving grace of the recent government announcement of new chiefs for the Army and the Air Force is the widespread speculation, particularly in the social media, that though Lt Gen Bakshi will not be the next Army chief, he may soon be appointed the first Chief of Staff (CDS).

    The post of CDS was approved by the Vajpayee government in 2001 but is yet to be established. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar has said on several occasions that he will soon send his recommendations for the appointment of CDS to the Cabinet Committee Security.

    If this turns out to be true, it will be a welcome development. It is an idea whose time has come.

    (The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.)

    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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