There is no doubt whatsoever that choosing the Army Chief, or any other service chief, is the prerogative of the government. Then why is there so much hue and cry over the selection of as the next army chief?
Over three decades ago, in 1983, when General AS Vaidya superseded Lt Gen SK Sinha there was an uproar but nowhere near as it is now, anger amongst both serving senior officers and military veterans cutting across all arms and services. This includes the infantry and the Gorkha regiment, the unit of the army chief designate.
Despite the fact that today electronic and social media call the shots, the numbLt Gen Bipin Rawat er of articles, editorials and 'letters to the editor' commenting on the controversy are much more than seen in 1983. It was, perhaps, due to the fact that Gen Vaidya, winner of the Mahavir Chakra twice – in 1965 and 1971 – had much greater battle experience than Lt Gen Sinha who only held staff appointments in the wars of 1947-48, 1962, 1965 and 1971.
The supersession was fully justified. Since I was commissioned in the cavalry regiment of Gen Vaidya, the Deccan Horse, my view may seem biased by some military veterans. But there is no doubt that Gen Vaidya was an iconic figure of the Indian Army, especially the armoured corps, the arm to which the superseded Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi belongs. Ultimately, Gen Vaidya, among India's most decorated soldiers, made the supreme sacrifice, like Indira Gandhi and Sant Longowal, for ensuring that the sword arm of India was not cut off.
But as the supersession raised a controversy that was not in the interest of the Army, it was decided during the premiership of Rajiv Gandhi that the senior-most amongst the Vice Chief and Army Commanders would be chosen.
Gen Vaidya’s successor, General K Sundarji, and all successive chiefs thereafter have been selected by both Congress and non-Congress governments on the basis of seniority. The biggest advantage of following this principle is that nobody can accuse the government of the day of politicising the defence forces or indulging in favouritism.
Unfortunately, the choice of Gen Rawat, no doubt an outstanding officer, on the eve of the Uttarakhand elections has raised eyebrows and led to an avoidable controversy. The only option before the government is to make Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi the CDS or Chairman of chiefs of staff committee (CSC) and similarly accommodate Lt Gen P.M. Hariz in an advisory role where he will not be junior to Gen Rawat. Nobody would be happier with this arrangement than Gen Rawat.
This will be in the best interest of both the Army and the nation. The Army should be kept totally apolitical and secular. Otherwise there will be no difference between the armies of India and Pakistan where supersession is never surprising and has become an established norm.
(The writer, an ex Armoured Corps officer, is Member, National Commission for Minorities. The views expressed by him are personal.)