RESPONDING TO criticism over the selection of Lt General Bipin Rawat as Army chief, superseding two senior commanders, Defence Ministry and government sources said that the decision was based “purely on merit” and that “due process had been followed considering the prevailing security environment and requirements”.
The government had announced Saturday that Lt General Rawat would replace General Dalbir Singh, who retires on December 31. Deviating from the practice of selecting the senior-most eligible officer, the government superseded Eastern Army Commander, Lt General Praveen Bakshi, and Southern Army Commander, Lt General PM Hariz. This is the first time since 1983 that the senior-most Army commander has not been chosen as the chief.
Lt General Rawat is from the infantry, the Gorkha regiment like General Dalbir Singh, while Lt General Bakshi belongs to the Armoured Corps and Lt General Hariz to the Mechanised Infantry. This has caused consternation in certain quarters of the defence services that the selection could sharpen the divide between the infantry and other arms in the Army.
But Defence Ministry sources said that “the selection is based purely on merit, irrespective of the Corps to which the officer originally belonged”.
“The appointment of the Chief of Army Staff is based on selection from a panel of officers in the rank of Army Commanders. All officers in the panel are very competent officers and the most suitable among them is selected. However, it must be emphasised that the prerogative of selecting the most eligible from the panel is that of the government,” sources said.
Explaining the rationale behind the selection, ministry sources said, “The government of the day takes the final decision choosing the most suitable officer based on various aspects of the security situation in the country and the future scenario. In the current security situation, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency are key issues. Therefore, the background and operational experience of officers on the panel were considered in depth while selecting the next COAS (Chief of the Army Staff). Lt General Bipin Rawat fulfills this criteria by virtue of his operational assignments as Commanding Officer of 19 Division in J&K and his outstanding track record, and his familiarity with the functioning of the Army headquarters and Ministry of Defence in his capacity as Vice Chief… his general dynamism has also played a role in tipping the scales in his favour.”
Top government sources said that the “Appointments Committee of the Cabinet is the authority to make the final selection based upon the inputs provided by the service headquarters, ministry, as well as any other additional information that may assist in the selection of the service chiefs, for the assignment that involves strategic management of national security”.
“In the selection and nomination of Chief of the Army Staff designate by the government, due process had been followed considering prevailing security environment and requirements,” said sources.
Lt General Rawat will be the 26th Army chief. It is still not known whether Lt Generals Bakshi and Hariz will continue to serve in uniform after supersession. In 1983, Lt General S K Sinha had put in his papers after he was superseded for the post in favour of Lt General A S Vaidya.