Though it has been over a week since Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat was designated as the next army chief, superseding two seniors, the controversy surrounding his appointment refuses to die down.
The serving and veteran military community, media and political parties remain divided in their views on the government’s decision. While TV debates on the topic have ceased, columns in newspapers continue. Such has been the impact that the chief designate has yet to give his traditional press interview on his vision for the future.
Within the military community (serving and retired), those objecting to the appointment of Gen. Rawat are basing their arguments on two prongs. The first is increased government interference in senior military appointments, an action that has not been resorted to for decades. After all the military is very seniority conscious.
Some opine that this action of the government would open doors for increased politicisation, with those in line for future top appointments lobbying with those in power. This, in their perception, could affect professionalism. The second has been divisions within the army between the infantry, armoured corps and others.
There are claims and counter claims on the existing hierarchy’s bias towards the infantry against the armoured corps. This is truly sad as it reflects a microscopic view of the army as against a macro view which is the requirement of the day.
Those in favour of his appointment support the decision on the grounds of his experience, prerogative of the government to appoint as also that this action has offset those waiting in the line of succession and playing safe, thus enhancing professionalism. The media was almost similar in its approach. Those supporting the government defended this decision, while from those possessing an anti-government approach there was open criticism.
For political parties in the opposition, it opened a new front to oppose the government’s decision; after all in a democracy, the opposition’s primary role is to find fault with every government decision. However, with passage of time, their voices slowly ebbed.
The fact that the announcement has been made and the two generals superseded would now take a call on their future, life in the army will move on. Down the ladder, the decision has been accepted like any other, with justa shrug.
While in every other government service, supersession for the top post is the order of the day, the military except in rare cases had been immune. It was bound to happen sometime and with a strong government at the Centre, one willing to take a major decision like demonetisation, such an action should have been expected.
The fact that the announcement was delayed till the end of the parliament session was itself an indicator. Rumours abounded of the appointment of a CDS, with General Rawat expected to be chief.
In the army, the pyramidical structure results in supersession at every level. Competent, decorated and capable officers miss the cut at every rank.
Vacancies are limited, contenders are many, hence supersession has become a norm, with over 50 per cent being superseded at every level. Very few resign, a majority go about their normal routine, accepting it as part of the system.
Field Marshal Manekshaw had stated while reviewing the passing out parade at the Indian Military Academy “all of you would now commence climbing the ladder of success. Most of you would climb a few steps and then fall, very few would rise and possibly only one amongst you would reach where I am.”
In other government services, even post supersession resignation is generally not resorted to.
A new government in every state changes most top appointees of the previous regime, selecting even subordinates. Hardly anyone resigns. Whatever the two senior army commanders decide, it would be their personal choice and the army would respect it.
They would always be remembered for their contribution in making the service a better place, their professionalism and for their simplicity and clean image. New appointees would assume their place and life would continue as before.
Within the rank and file, it matters little as to who the chief is. Their daily routine and tasks keep them engaged. Jokes have flooded social media on the importance of either belonging to Uttarakhand or serving in the Gurkhas for career progression. However, it is now time to move on.
For General Rawat, the chief designate, challenges are numerous. He will lead the mighty Indian Army in conditions of increasing hostility and uncertainty. Both borders are active, while militancy including in the North-east, is on the rise.
Simultaneously, the army battles shortfalls in equipment and lags in modernization. Morale is low due to government policies of downgrading the military in stature and delay in releasing the seventh pay commission and its connected allowances.
The veterans’ community is dissatisfied with OROP and would expect the chief to intercede on their behalf. He will have a lot on his hands as he takes charge. His actions in the days ahead would prove whether the decision to appoint him is meritorious.
Having served as the Vice Chief prior to assuming the chief ’s mantle, he would be well prepared for handling the current problems. Further, his vast experience in serving in every theatre of operations would give him an added advantage.
For us, serving and veterans sitting on the sidelines passing judgement, it is time to stop commenting on his appointment as the decision of the government is irreversible and final. He is the next chief and would remain so for three years.