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Let the General now get on with his job

Rajiv Williams |

General Bipin Rawat has taken over as the 26th Chief of the Army Staff after weeks of speculative talk on ‘who is the next COAS’ and suggestive conclusions that Gen Bakshi, the senior most General was the obvious choice etc. The announcement made by the Government on 18 December that Gen. Rawat would lead the world’s third largest army, was immediately followed by serious debates in print, electronic and social media on ‘how’ and ‘shy’ Gen. Bipin Rawat, the third in the seniority line was nominated to the top post much against the usual practice of making the senior most person  the Chief.

At a personal level, it is a proud moment for me to see one of my students of the 1978 batch at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) of 64 Regular (Zojila Company) becoming the COAS. Going back in time, I am reminded of certain anecdotal incidents especially on the very close race for the ‘Sword of honor’. The two contenders were Gentleman Cadet Academy Cadet Adjutant S. S. Kundu and Gentleman Cadet Battalion Under Officer Bipin Rawat.

While many favored the former, son of a Junior Commissioned Officer, the final choice fell on the latter, son of a Lt. General and nephew of the IMA Commandant, Maj Gen G. S. Rawat. Both cadets excelled in all fields and both belonged to the same Battalion in the IMA, i.e. ‘The Manekshaw Battalion’ first under Lt. Col. Shankar Roy Choudhary (who later became the COAS) and subsequently under Lt. Col Luthra.

The two top young officers were commissioned into the two fighting Arms; while Rawat was allotted his fathers’ Infantry Battalion, Kundu was commissioned into the Armoured Corps. I am sure both worked hard to reach levels of competencies with Rawat finally becoming the Chief. It was only last month during the Infantry Day celebrations at the Manekshaw Centre at Delhi Cantonment that I met Rawat after many years and was extremely happy to see the warmth of his greetings and he reflected upon the relationship in all sincerity. That brief meet was from the heart and without either of us knowing that a month later he would be selected over two of his senior colleagues to lead the Indian Army.

The news of his selection came when I was away on travel to Australia. What was most disturbing were the debates in the media about the rift and bickering taking place between officers from the two Arms, i.e. Infantry and the Armoured Corps. Both groups were echoing views like, ‘The Government should have followed the protocol and appointed the senior most General as the Army Chief’,  ‘Gen. Rawat was more experienced than the other two officers, who belong to the Mechanised forces and lacked essential combat skill sets’ and ‘A good political choice because of the Uttarakhand elections’  etc. There were debates about experience, about understanding the complexities of counter-terrorist operations and about the current security scenario.

Such conversations were rather disheartening as I am sure competence of Army Commanders and equivalents cannot be challenged and the process followed for the selection was as per laid down practices with the Appointments Committee, presided over by the Prime Minister finally declaring the Government’s choice. Such debates therefore, were quite meaningless and the media was only keen on hype up the debate to raise TRP ratings and to get the ‘First to Report’ brownie points. To achieve their purpose they invited so-called experts and analysts for inconclusive debates; they in the process ran down the institutions they had once served. The debates on competence of the bureaucrats to recommend the selection or for that matter the politicians’ capability to announce the final selection were again I thought rather superfluous and could have been avoided.

In a democracy, we soldiers understand that the ‘Military Element of Power’, though independent in many ways, remains subservient to the ‘Political Element of power’. We may differ in various aspects and from that standpoint I believe we must put up our arguments for sound military decisions to be taken by the Government. But challenging the decision through debates does not augur well for either the military or society at large. If an individual feels aggrieved about a decision which is contrary to his thinking and it is felt that the outcome will not be good for the military, he should resign and convey a strong message to the environment. How many of our senior Generals have resorted to such steps when placed in similar circumstances? How many have demonstrated their disapproval either contesting postings from one theatre to another when they were posted out prematurely, or taken a stand on matters military. My thoughts on this are very clear; we should refrain from and toeing the line when in service and argue against it when out of uniform.

I would rather think that the discussions if at all required should take place much earlier in service and not when it comes to nominating the next Chief of Army Staff. Perhaps the Government’s interference on promotions of Major Generals and above needs to be challenged. Or, for that matter, there should be debates on whether the Government even has a role to play on issues relating to important postings or giving formal approval on military leadership, etc.
You find  aberrations even when in a number of cases the Army does not recommend an officer for further promotion, yet the Government overrides the Army’s decision and promotes him. It is at such times that the Government’s interference needs to be challenged even at the cost of the senior officer resigning his commission in case the Army’s views are not being respected.

I am informed that Lt. Gen Bakshi, having been superseded met the Defence Minister to discuss his supersession and that he may be considering next steps. My view is that if the General feels aggrieved and feels there are anomalies in the system he should resign. Alternatively, he should continue as an Army Commander or whatever appointment the Government gives him under the leadership of his once junior colleague.

General Rawat has many challenges at hand, both internal and external. He needs the support of all within and outside to carry the mantle with a firm resolve. With his outstanding qualities of leadership, he will do well for the Indian Army in particular and the country as a whole.

The writer is a retired Brigadier of the Indian Army.