The turbulence caused by the selection of General Bipin Rawat as the new army chief, superseding two army commanders senior to him, has seemingly calmed down within the first week of the changeover. This calm at the surface could be deceptive because the general inherits a set of challenges which have been exacerbated with the events surrounding his selection.
The first of his challenges is the modernisation of the army, which has been lagging for many years. The army had identified a total of 24 modernisation projects, and 11 of them were deemed as critical. Even the critical projects haven’t seen much progress. Although procurement of artillery guns, air defence assets and helicopters has been initiated, the infantry modernisation is in a rut. The infantry soldier today does not even have a modern basic assault rifle. Procurement of improved bullet proof jackets and ballistic helmets for the soldiers have been in the offing but neither has seen the light of day.
General Rawat is from the infantry and the lack of modern equipment for the foot-soldier ought to be his greatest concern. He has, however, superseded two officers from the armoured corps and the mechanised infantry, and in an environment where the infantry is perceived to be dominating the army. A perception of pro-infantry bias from General Rawat, notwithstanding the merit of his actions, could further open long-existing fissures within the organisation. The implementation of the AVS Committee report, and the subsequent decision of the Supreme Court on the promotion avenues of officers from other arms and services, have already caused a lot of heartburn in the army. The evolving dynamics does not augur well for the organisation, and it would need General Rawat to not only act fairly, but also to be seen to act fairly to restore the cohesiveness of the army.
With the two superseded officers, Lt General Praveen Bakshi and Lt General PM Hariz, deciding to continue as army commanders, there is a possibility of certain functional problems as seniority matters a lot in a rigidly hierarchical organisation like the army. It could lead to tricky situations, unless handled deftly. The situation will, however, resolve itself within this year as both the superseded army commanders will retire by November.
Besides intra-army challenges, General Rawat will also have to take up with the government the need for urgent action to meet the aspirations of the soldiers from the Seventh Pay Commission. The four core issues raised by his predecessor, which include questions of status equivalence, hardship and risk allowances, the military service pay and non-functional upgradation, have not yet been resolved.
This has a direct impact on the morale and effectiveness of soldiers in operations while having the potential to damage the delicate balance of civil-military relations.
General Rawat has highlighted that the Indian army is tasked to fight a two-front war, that is China and Pakistan. A mountain strike corps for the China border was raised in the last years of the UPA government but the state of its equipping and infrastructure has been lagging way behind planned targets. The slow pace of construction of roads by the Border Roads Organisation and the delay in commencement of laying of strategic railway lines makes it extremely difficult for the army to deploy troops within the required time-frame should the need arise.
The situation in Jammu and Kashmir, with terrorists targeting army camps at Uri and Nagrota last year, has deteriorated dramatically; 112 terrorists infiltrated in 2016 compared to 30 in 2015, and the army lost 63 soldiers in the state, more than double the previous year’s figures. The Line of Control has calmed down in the past few months but the increased radicalisation and fresh recruitment in the Valley remain a big worry.
The leadership of any institution brings its own set of challenges: The leader of a 1.3 million-strong organisation with a proud historical legacy would be expecting nothing less. These challenges are not of General Rawat’s own making but he will have to move quickly to get them resolved.