In an unusual move bound to generate political controversy and charges of interference, the government has superseded two generals to name Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat—currently the Vice Chief of Army Staff—as the 27th Chief of Indian Army.
It has also named Air Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa as the 22nd Chief of the India Air Force.
In naming General Rawat to the coveted post, the Modi government has set aside the long-established convention of appointing the senior most general as the Chief of Army Staff. In the last 70 years only thrice has seniority been ignored in the armed forces. In 1983, when General SN Sinha, then the senior-most General of the Indian Army, was overlooked in favour of General AS Vaidya. In 1998, Air Marshal SK Mehra was made air chief ignoring Air Marshal M M Singh. And in 2014, the UPA Government overlooked Admiral Sekhar Sinha, then Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command. He was the senior most officer when then Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi put in is papers following string of accidents. RK Dhowan was named to the position.
According to top government officials who spoke to HuffPost India on the condition of anonymity, General Rawat was chosen because of his experience and expertise in two sensitive frontiers — counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the Line of Control, as well as the India- China border.
His pick will supersede two serving Generals — over Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi, currently the chief of the Eastern Army Command, and Lieutenant General PM Hariz, chief of the Southern Army Command.
General Rawat commanded the Dimpur-based III Corps and led the operations in Myanmar when Special Forces of Indian Army raided and destroyed terrorist camps after 18 soldiers of the Indian Army were killed in Manipur by Myanmar-based rebels. It is significant that that was a cross-border surgical strike, a tactic that has gained hugely in political importance subsequent to the surgical strike India carried out in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir after militants stormed an army base killing 18 soldiers in Uri.
General Rawat is an infantry officer and was commissioned into the Fifth Battalion of the Eleven Gorkha Rifles in December 1978. He was also awarded the coveted 'Sword of Honour' at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, which is awarded for the best all-round performance.
Air Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa commanded a fighter squadron during the 1999 Kargil conflict and flew numerous night strike missions which included providing air support to ground troops and destroying Pakistani supply dumps. He was commissioned in the IAF in June 1978 as a fighter pilot.
The government had earlier indicated that it might not follow the line of succession in key appointments. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had said that the government would go for merit rather than just seniority. Nonetheless, setting aside the long-standing convention is bound to raise eye-brows.
The Opposition will raise the issue of political interference in military appointments, Congress party source said. The military is one of India's famously apolitical institutions. There is a line of thinking that if service chiefs are made effectively to serve at the pleasure of governments, that will mar the apolitical character of the institution.
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