Traditionally, the new service chiefs are appointed¬†at least two¬†months before the incumbent¬†retires. However,¬†since Prime Minister¬†Narendra Modi has the habit of¬†springing surprises, the announcement¬†of new army and air chiefs was¬†done on 17 December when they¬†have to take over their respective¬†appointments on the afternoon of December 31 last. ¬†The other surprise¬†was Lt Gen Bipin Rawat, Vice-Chief of Army Staff; the new appointee supersedes¬†Eastern Army Commander¬†Lt Gen Parveen Bakshi and Southern¬†Army Commander Lt Gen PM Hariz.
The appointment has triggered¬†a political storm and given the Congress¬†and Left Front a new stick to¬†beat the government. In fact, a political¬†slugfest has broken out. The Congress¬†and the Left Front have questioned¬†the government on the wisdom of¬†superseding two senior generals.¬†Left says that appointments under¬†NDA have become controversial and¬†raises ‚Äúserious and critical questions¬†of institutional integrity.‚ÄĚ Congress¬†too feels that government is playing¬†with institutions. Some have even¬†gone to the ridiculous extent of giving¬†the appointment a religious colour.¬†BJP moved quickly to suppress¬†the political storm and defended the¬†appointment by saying that the decision¬†was not unprecedented and¬†‚Äúnothing can be extrapolated out of¬†context to justify supersession.‚ÄĚ
The Centre has clarified that¬†‚Äúthey are all competent officers, but under the prevailing security scenario,¬†the government found Lt Gen¬†Rawat the most suitable candidate.¬†We will urge all political parties to¬†not do politics over it.‚ÄĚ It is believed¬†that the ‚Äėprevailing environment¬†and requirements‚Äô was key to Lt Gen¬†Rawat‚Äôs elevation as Army Chief.¬†Opposition may have the right to¬†ask for the ‚Äėcompelling reasons‚Äô¬†behind the supersession, but the¬†government is not obliged to disclose¬†any information of sensitive¬†nature. Only government, which has¬†all the required inputs about competence,¬†integrity, compassion etc, can¬†decide whether an individual officer¬†possesses the requisite credentials¬†for a particular appointment or not.
Controversy in appointments in the armed forces is not something new.¬†In 1972, Lt Gen P S Bhagat, a popular¬†General who was also a Victoria¬†Cross awardee was superseded in¬†favour of Gen G G Bewoor. In fact,¬†Gen Bewoor was given a year‚Äôs¬†extension to succeed Gen (later Field¬†Marshall) Sam Manekshaw. In 1983, Lt Gen A S Vaidya superseded Lt Gen¬†S K Sinha, who resigned in protest. The previous UPA government deviated from¬†the tradition of appointing the army chief¬†two months ahead of the retirement¬†of the incumbent while appointing ¬†Gen Bikram Singh in 2012. The¬†appointment of Lt Gen Dalbir Singh¬†Suhag as Chief of Army Staff succeeding¬†Gen Bikram Singh had kicked up¬†a row because he was appointed¬†in May 2014 by the outgoing UPA¬†government ignoring the protest by his¬†predecessor Gen V K Singh. BJP criticised¬†the government for the hurry¬†in appointment.
Though armies all over the world¬†function within two important¬†parameters; one, they follow a pyramid hierarchy, and second, they are¬†very rank-conscious, Indian Army is¬†a¬†victim of both and any¬†deviation raises hue and cry. It is¬†extremely unfortunate that an army¬†which takes pride in being highly¬†apolitical, and has proved its apolitical¬†credentials time and again,¬†is being unnecessarily drawn in to¬†avoidable controversy for narrow¬†political gains by the opposition. As¬†expected many retired officers have¬†also given their opinion either way;¬†while some feel that government is¬†well within its right to appoint the¬†most suitable person which Lt Gen¬†Rawat is, some veterans have called¬†it a ‚Äúsurgical strike on the Indian¬†Army‚ÄĚ and feel that two very competent¬†officers have been superseded.¬†Former Army Chief, Gen Shankar¬†Roy Chaudhary has expressed disappointment¬†over government‚Äôs move.
‚ÄėAll are competent¬†officers but under¬†the prevailing¬†scenario, the¬†government found¬†Rawat the most¬†suitable candidate‚Äô
It is simple to understand that¬†the senior most may not be the most¬†eligible and suitable officer for a particular¬†appointment and most certainly¬†not for such an appointment¬†which demands many qualities of¬†head and heart and multi-dimensional¬†skills of a very high order.¬†Respecting seniority and hierarchy¬†is important but what is more¬†important is overall suitability of¬†an appointee. Even in hierarchical organisations like the armed forces,¬†merit and suitability must overrule¬†seniority.
Appointment of Service Chiefs¬†as also of other senior officers is no¬†doubt the prerogative of the government¬†of the day. And any government¬†must take many complex¬†factors (some of which may not be¬†in public domain), including the¬†combat and operational experience¬†to decide in favour of a particular aspirant.¬†It is believed that Lt Gen Rawat‚Äôs¬†hands-on experience in combat¬†areas at different functional levels¬†over past 30 years, including more¬†than 10 years experience in Counter¬†Insurgency (CI) operations weighed¬†in his favour. Also, the next senior Lt¬†Gen Bakshi, an Armored Corps officer¬†has spent much time at Jodhpur¬†and has relatively less experience¬†along LoC in J&K and in North East.
It is the responsibility of the government¬†of the day to ensure that¬†only the best and the most suitable¬†out of the many eligible is picked up¬†to heads one of the best armies in the¬†world. He must first and foremost be¬†a great leader. Happily, our armed¬†forces provide many role models of¬†great leadership. Moral and mental¬†toughness of a leader is best tested in¬†operations and hence performance¬†in such environment is considered¬†the acid test of any military leader.¬†Of late, military leadership researchers¬†feel that emotional and symbolic¬†aspects of leadership of a commander¬†must also be taken into account, while assessing his suitability¬†for promotion. He should have demonstrated¬†fairness and just approach¬†as he will become the custodian and¬†guardian of soldiers who would¬†always look up to him in times of¬†war and peace. At the top most level¬†a leader‚Äôs work gets linked to his values,¬†beliefs and self-image.
A good military leader must also¬†display ability to prepare the organisation¬†under his command for¬†the capacity to maintain and improve¬†its performance based on past¬†experiences. Managing military¬†organizations today is very different¬†and any chief of approximately 13¬†lakh strong force must understand¬†the realities of managing it in totality.¬†He also must be able to deal with¬†political complexities, which are an¬†integrated part of the armed forces¬†in a democracy like ours, in the best¬†interest of the men he commands¬†and instill confidence in them. ¬†An ideal military leader must¬†possess the four dimensions suggested¬†by Greek philosopher Aristotle, the intellectual dimension,¬†the moral dimension, the aesthetic¬†dimension and the spiritual dimension.¬†It is assumed that the government¬†has followed the laid down¬†procedures and weighed all relevant¬†factors before finalising such a sensitive¬†appointment.