The supersession of Lt Gen Pravin Bakshi and Lt Gen PM Hariz for the appointment of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) has the potential to widen the chasm which exists lately between the officers belonging to the Infantry and other arms, most notably, those belonging to the mechanised forces. This is due to the emphasis having been placed on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations experience that the COAS-designate Lt Gen Bipin Rawat possesses.
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An impression has been sought to have been conveyed by the government that since Lt Gen Rawat’s service profile had extensive experience of the counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and also because he had commanded a division in the strife-torn state, he was, therefore, more suited for the apex Army job in the current security scenario of the country.
This explanation has caused wider debate within and outside Army on the validity of this thought process and whether this indeed was the reason why Lt Gen Bakshi and Lt Gen Hariz were passed over for promotion or was there more to meet the eye. And since Lt Gen Bakshi belongs to the Armoured Corps and Lt Gen Hariz to the Mechanised Infantry there are wider ramifications involved for the officers who serve in these arms and the impact that this line of thinking would have on their services profile henceforth.
Interestingly no former Chief of Army Staff, from Infantry, Artillery or the Armoured Corps, has yet chosen to speak out on this issue. Other senior retired Generals have spoke out against the supersession of the two Generals by by-passing the seniority criteria but none have as yet commented on whether the officers of General cadre from other arms are unsuitable to be the Army Chief just because they are considered to be non insurgency oriented in their service profiles.
Senior officers and some defence analysts are of the opinion that given the fact that officers who reach the level of GOC-in-C have adequate experience to take on the job of higher direction of war, the explanation of being insurgency specialist does not hold merit. “It is being said that Lt Gen Bakshi, the senior most officer Lt Gen at present who was the contender for the top job, had spent bulk of his career in the desert. Well, in that case he should not have been posted as GOC-in-C Eastern Command where there are no deserts at all. But these are not the considerations which come into play at the level of an Army Commander and it is an absurd reason to deny him the promotion,” said a recently retired Army Commander who did not want to be named.
Col Anil Kaul (retd), defence analyst and a former Armoured Corps officer, says that the reasoning given implies that in perpetuity the Army Chief can only be from Infantry. “There are specialised roles which are performed by officers at a certain level of their career and thereafter as they progress in rank the roles get enlarged to include a wider arena of performance. To invoke a counter insurgency profile of at the level of Army Commander is ridiculous. At the level of the Army Chief you have to deal with matters of strategy and policy encompassing all forms of warfare and also coordinating with the air force and Navy. The canvass is much larger,” he said.
Even officers from arms other than Infantry serve in counter-insurgency formations at different points of their career and to imply that only Infantry officers are capable to dealing with it at the level of the Chief is incorrect, he added. “The parameters of appointing the Chief are with the government. They have taken the decision for reasons best known to them but why is it being justified by giving such silly explanations. What hurts is that you are fooling around with institutions,” said Col Kaul.
Another senior officer, Maj Gen Krishan Khorana (retd), a former Infantry officer, also slammed the reasoning. “It is a silly explanation to say that someone has been chosen because he is a insurgency specialist. We are not challenging the prerogative of government to choose the person they want to. It is entirely upto them We are only asking why have you deviated from the norms and there should be a cogent reason for doing so,” he said.