Lt. Gen Bipin Rawat’s appointment as the Army Chief has become the latest flash point between the government and the opposition days after political row over demonetisation. The opposition party said that it wasn’t questioning Rawat’s abilities but wanted to know why two senior people were superseded as the government did not follow a three decade old tradition of elevating the senior most officer. Such political sparing over the army chief appointment is unusual as parties usually steer clear of commenting on what is seen as an apolitical institution.
Standard procedure of appointing the Army Chief
By and large, India has followed policies in which the senior most is selected as the chief except few exceptions. Hence, whenever the seniority principle is bypassed, it does evoke its share of criticism and speculation as to why it has been done.
In this case, there is scenario of heightened state of conflict in Jammu and Kashmir and to that extent, the selection of the army chief even in Pakistan is influenced by the spiked up tension in J&K.
There were three core commanders running in Pakistan but General Bajwa was selected for his experience in J&K. it is similar on Indian side where there were three commanders in the line to be appointed in army chief. the terrain profile based upon an evaluation of their experiential profiles with the rising threats in J&K, the government chose General Bipin Rawat who has had about 10 years of service experience in J&K and counter terrorist operations, a battalion commander on LAC with china, brigade commander in RR sector in the valley, commanded the 19th infantry division in Uri and JOC at the time of surgical strike in Myanmar. So with this experiential profile, the government had decided to have him as the next Army Chief.
Chief of Defence Staff- any possibility?
There have been speculations in the media that there may be appointment of the permanent Chief of Defence Staff which is highly essential for tri service integration, synergy and cooperation as per the recommendation of Kargil review committee in 2000. It was repeated by former Cabinet Secretary where it was recommended to have a permanent chairman chief of defence staff instead of chief of defence staff. A third commission has also recommended that this position is of operational exigency in the era of high tech warfare where the three services have to work in close concert and cooperation. Hence, India does need a military numero uno who can decide on the conflict. He should have the military competency to decide if there are strong difference of opinion between the services and take one line and give it to government. Tri service cooperation is a sine qua non. It is a battle winning factor of the modern warfare.
The people who are questioning General Rawat’s appointment are unnecessarily politicising institution which is not needed. After all it is the prerogative of the government of the day to choose the Army Chief more suitable for the circumstances the country is facing. It is not the sacrosanct principle that the senior most has to be Army Chief. Even in the professional armies elsewhere like in USA, France, Germany, Pakistan, the seniority principle is not the sacrosanct principle. The question is what is required for the national security at that point of time.
The seniority principle or merit principle?
Very early in the history of Indian republic, Baldev Singh, the defence Minister had asked PM Nehru about the metrics to use to appoint the first Commander in Chief of India, whether it will be seniority or merit.
Nehru wrote that if seniority is taken, very soon in time, seniority will edge out merit. Hence, there is nothing sacrosanct about the seniority principle to be chosen while making military appointment as the circumstances determine the choice.
If the appointment is merit, it is an excellent standard to apply to any body and position in the government of India than seniority.
No service section rule has been violated in making this appointment. The universal principle is as one goes up the ladder, it is rejection of the unfit and selection becomes lower criterion at the bottom. As one goes further up, then the unfit and the selection become equally important. When one reaches at the very top, the selection becomes the key area. Thus, the principle gets reversed from bottom to top.
For example, for a joint secretary’s post, 50% are rejected on the basis of unfit. Then for additional secretary, out of 10 available, then the selection is done very closely with regards to merit. At the very top, the government has the discretion to choose the secretary.
What happens next?
As per the service norms and ethics, the moment the officer is superseded, he puts in his papers and resign. By and large in the armed forces, especially at top level, people prefer to resign as happened in case of Genera Sinha who was superseded by General Vaidya on the ground that he did not have adequate combat experience.
The other side of the picture is that the political executive has the opportunity to start interfering with the higher echelons of management of services such as income tax service, RBI where the same kind of selection issues come. There should be a line somewhere that politics at the final level should be eschewed. At the same time, politics should not govern merit.
An indirect message has been sent to Pakistan as well that India is going to focus on the international border and the northern command is going to receive free hand as far army working independently is concerned.
However, there is nothing much to read between the lines. More than sending a message to Pakistan, it is an internal matter of state. The neighbouring countries will be mindful of the fact that General Rawat has experience on LOC and LAC, engaged in counter insurgency and has operational skills of the kind that are required.
Now the problem that has come in recent times is that the armoured corps and a lot of other arms of army have not been getting their share of combat experience because India has not fought a major war since 1971. So there is lack of combat experience among the suitable candidates and hence they feel discriminated.
But that argument doesn’t hold as one can always volunteer to join the Rashtriya Rifles, go to Siachen glacier or Special Forces to get an experience of combat. The man who has faced bullets is much better placed to take combat judgements. That was the principle on which Lt. Gen Bipin Rawat had been selected.
Connecting the dots:
What in your opinion should be the selection principle in critical organisations like defence? Critically evaluate.