The New Chief

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - C O Mm E N T A R Y - From The In­dian Ex­press

The an­nounce­ment of mil­i­tary chiefs in In­dia has usu­ally been an un­re­mark­able, rit­u­al­is­tic af­fair, with the name of the se­nior-most el­i­gi­ble can­di­date be­ing an­nounced about two months prior to the changeover. With the an­nounce­ment of Lt Gen­eral Bipin Rawat as the in­com­ing Army Chief to re­place Gen­eral Dal­bir Singh, how­ever, the NDA gov­ern­ment has dis­rupted things-as-usual by dis­pens­ing with the long-stand­ing noun of se­nior­ity. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, the gov­ern­ment’s ar­gu­ment is that it chose the most suit­able of­fi­cer based on var­i­ous as­pects of the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try and the fu­ture sce­nario. In the cur­rent se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion, coun­tert­er­ror­ism and coun­terin­sur­gency are the key is­sues and the gov­ern­ment ar­guably felt that Lt Gen­eral Rawat is best suited for the po­si­tion by virtue of his op­er­a­tional as­sign­ments. The de­ci­sion has sparked con­tro­versy — for one, it is be­ing pointed out that the role of the Army Chief is not of an op­er­a­tional na­ture, it deals with the strate­gic man­age­ment of na­tional se­cu­rity at the high­est level. Hence, there is need for the gov­ern­ment to com­mu­ni­cate more openly and clearly the rea­sons for its de­ci­sion.

Hav­ing said that, it must be re­it­er­ated that the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship has the fi­nal pre­rog­a­tive of se­lect­ing the Army Chief. That is es­sen­tial to main­tain­ing the del­i­cate bal­ance of civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions in a con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy. Se­nior­ity can­not be the sole cri­te­rion for se­lect­ing a mil­i­tary chief. But the al­ter­na­tive to choos­ing by se­nior­ity can­not be an opaque, ar­bi­trary se­lec­tion made by the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship. The gov­ern­ment should for­mu­late an in­sti­tu­tion­alised process which de­lin­eates the se­lec­tion cri­te­ria clearly, so that not only is the se­lec­tion fair, it is also seen to be fair. This would re­quire of the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship a greater en­gage­ment with the mil­i­tary. There is an in­her­ent risk of po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence in such a case, but that is the only way ahead for a more trans­par­ent and pro­fes­sional se­lec­tion process.

The in­com­ing Chief in­her­its a chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ment on the na­tional se­cu­rity front. The cease­fire on the Line of Con­trol is be­ing fol­lowed more in its breach and the level and in­ten­sity of vi­o­lence has gone up in the Kash­mir Val­ley this year. Closer co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and Pak­istan, es­pe­cially on the mil­i­tary front, is an­other cause of worry as a new army chief has as­sumed of­fice in Rawalpindi. In­ter­nally, there have been voices of dis­con­tent in the army over the pay commission, in­terse se­nior­ity with civil­ian of­fi­cials and the one rank-one pen­sion is­sue. Gen­eral Rawat will have to hit the ground run­ning to take th­ese things in his stride.

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