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Padmanabhan may be new Army Chief
From Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, July 31 There is an air of expectancy prevailing in the Army headquarters (AHQ) and the corridors of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the appointment of the next Chief of Army Staff.

Sources in the government said that a formal announcement in regard to the appointment of the new Chief of Army Staff was expected soon with Lt. Gen S. Padmanabhan said to be the front-runner.

However, according to reports the names of Lt Gen Chandra Sekhar, who is also the seniormost officer in the force after Gen V.P. Malik and also presently the Vice-Chief of Army Staff and Lt Gen H.M. Khanna, presently the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, are also being considered by the government.

Apparently the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) has been provided with the background on the three officers and is expected to make a final choice soon. Government sources do not rule out the possibility of an announcement in the coming few days.

With the date for retirement of the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Malik, coming nearer there is a growing interest as to who would take up the hot seat in the South Block. The announcement for the new Chief of Army Staff can be expected now since General Malik is scheduled to retire from service on September 30.

The air of expectancy in both the AHQ and the MoD was more as the government had recently announced the promotion of 14 Major Generals to that of the post of Lt. Generals and also accordingly made new appointments to crucial posts in the Army. Not only was a new Deputy Chief of Army Staff appointed by the government in the earlier announcement, but also the critical post of the Director-General Military Intelligence (DGMI) was also filled.

Besides the above three names the Army Headquarters had also forwarded the names of two other officers for the government to consider for the post of the Chief of Army Staff. Reports said that the names of Lt Gen H.B. Kala, the GOC-in-C Training command and Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, GOC-in-C Western Command had also been sent for consideration.

Earlier there were reports that there was a possibility of some tussle for the post of new Chief of Army Staff. While the AHQ was said to be interested in the appointment of Lt. Gen Chandra Shekhar to the post, Lt.Gen Padmanabhan comes as the natural choice for the post, as the former would be retiring on the same day as Gen. Malik. There has been no precedent in the Army for granting of an extension of a day for an individual to take over as the Chief of Army staff.

Incidentally the reports of AHQ being interested in a particular appointment had been denied by the headquarters. It had pointed out that Lt.Gen Chandra Shekhar was the senior most officer and that the AHQ had no role to play in the appointment of the new Chief of Army Staff.

Born in Thiruvananthapuram on December 5, 1940, Lt Gen Padmanabhan is an alumnus of the Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehra Dun, from where he joined NDA in the year 1956. He was commissioned in Regiment of Artillery from the Indian Military Academy on December 13, 1959.

He took over as General Officer Commanding of Northern Command on September 1, 1996, and later became GOC-in-C of Southern Command on January 3, 1999.

On the other hand, Lt Gen Chandra Shekhar, PVSM, AVSM, ADC, assumed the appointment of Vice-Chief of Army Staff on October 1, 1997. The General Officer trained at NDA/IMA prior to being commissioned into 2/4 Gorkha Rifles in December 1959.

Lt Gen Chandra Shekhar has also had an illustrious and distinguished military career. Extensive experience in diverse facets of military matters have been his hallmark. Operationally, the General Officer has taken part in both Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971. Subsequently he commanded his Battalion, 2/4 Gorkha Rifles, and a Brigade on the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir.

The General was then given the singular honour of commanding 50(1) Parachute Brigade, becoming a paratrooper while in command, at the age of 45.
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