Army Chief’s one-month extension sends out wrong signal : The Tribune India

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Army Chief’s one-month extension sends out wrong signal

Apparent manipulation needs to be avoided in the best interests of the military and the country.

Army Chief’s one-month extension sends out wrong signal

Debatable: Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande will continue to serve on the post till June 30. PTI

Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)

Former Deputy Chief of the Army Staff

THE Chief of the Army Staff, Gen Manoj Pande, who was to retire on May 31, has been given one month’s extension by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet under Army Rule 16A(4) of the Army Act, 1954. Gen Pande will now retire on June 30.

The last-minute announcement of the extension amid the Lok Sabha polls has stunned many defence officers and observers, especially over the question of seniority. Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi, currently serving as the Vice Chief of the Army Staff, is the senior-most officer after Gen Pande, followed by Lt Gen Ajai Kumar Singh, the Southern Army Commander. Back in the 1970s, the Indira Gandhi-led government had extended the tenure of then Army Chief Gen GG Bewoor by one year.

In the present case, of the next two senior Army commanders, one would perhaps become the next Chief. Undoubtedly, it is the government’s prerogative to select any person for a particular job. However, in the case of the defence services, the situation is somewhat different due to a number of factors.

In the military, seniority matters a lot and is highly revered. As one climbs up the promotion ladder, there are stringent and strict parameters against which performance is measured, assessed and evaluated. Those who reach the level of Army commanders have gone through such evaluation at each stage, from the rank of Major (or its equivalent rank in the Navy and the Air Force) onwards. Thus, every Army commander (or Air Vice Marshal or Vice Admiral), for all practical purposes and in every respect, is fit to step into the next rank — of the Chief of his respective service.

Seniority in the defence forces forms the bedrock of tradition and discipline. Earlier, when Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, then the senior-most Army commander, was superseded (along with another commander) to promote Lt Gen Bipin Rawat, there was consternation and disappointment in the officer cadre. Lt Gen Bakshi, then in line for promotion to be the next Army Chief, had an enviable service record and was not only considered most competent but was also equally admired. Gen Rawat’s elevation was linked by some observers to political considerations and undue pressure from certain quarters.

Arguments are being advanced that the present Army Chief, in the best interests of the military, should have declined the extension. It is a choice that Gen Pande had to make for the sake of the Army, where he has spent the better part of his life and given his best.

Unfortunately, in the Indian setting, there is often a carrot that is kept hanging. It is common in the civil services to fall for this carrot, compromising it all, and now, most unfortunately for the country, in a few cases in the judiciary as well. The rot is epitomised by the political class, with switching loyalties and parties becoming a common feature; this holds true for a section of the bureaucracy as well.

The service Chiefs are expected not only to do the right thing, but also to set things right. Generations of future officers look back at the actions of their Chiefs and strive to emulate them.

Fortunately, the Indian Army has stayed well away from politics and political influence, unlike the armies in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Myanmar. When then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi tried to involve the Army in her move to impose the Emergency, the then Army Chief, Gen TN Raina, politely told her to keep the Army out of this venture. This one step by the Chief went a long way in keeping the Army apolitical.

The practice of superseding high-ranking officers for political considerations will have, in the long run, an adverse effect on the military’s professional wellbeing and the quality of the top leadership. Military is one field which must be kept insulated from politics. Political jostling in appointments to higher ranks will do lasting damage to the military. Consequently, failure in war can lead to unimaginable disaster. No country/region knows more than India about the fallout of military defeats spread over centuries.

The government has not done the right thing by giving Gen Pande a month’s extension, thereby making a senior commander wither away awaiting promotion. It is a step that may prompt senior military commanders to seek political favours; this move may politicise the military in some form. In the national interest, the military should not be subjected to undesirable political interference for extending favours to some.

Gen Rawat superseding two officers to become the Army Chief presumably had political overtones. So too was the case with his subsequent appointment as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The current CDS (Gen Anil Chauhan) had retired in the rank of Lt Gen and was working under the National Security Adviser. His elevation to the post of CDS was exceptional. The Army Chief’s extension of service will perhaps open the door for another handpicked officer to step into this chair. Such apparent manipulation needs to be avoided in the best interests of the military and the country. 

#Gen Manoj Pande #Indian Army

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