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The civilian way of disarming the chief

The appointment of the three-star Adjutant General (AG) is crucial in a peacetime army. In the British and American armies he is a four-star...

Written by Ashok K Mehta |
January 23, 1998

The appointment of the three-star Adjutant General (AG) is crucial in a peacetime army. In the British and American armies he is a four-star general. He’s responsible for the morale, welfare, discipline, human rights and ceremonial functions of the army and supports field commanders in exercising their command responsibility over these motivational battle-winning assets. The AG’s branch is so vital it has three Lieutenant Generals.

At this moment, he has the onerous task of interfacing with the defence secretary’s pay panel committee set up after the upheaval in the IAF. Equally important, he is the key person involved in the Republic Day parade, Beating the Retreat and other ceremonial functions.

Although in these days of non-government and absentee defence minister, anything is possible, the unprecedented has happened: there is no AG since January 1.

So what is so alarming about this? The BSF, ITBP, CISF and CRPF have been without a DG for much longer periods and at times, one DG has held charge of a paramilitary force in addition to his own. But the army does not function through proxy leadership.

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The COAS’s choice for AG, a counter-insurgency-hardened general, has been cooling his heels to take up this challenging assignment but the MoD will not clear his file on the flimsy grounds that he has completed only three months in his previous appointment and that the army has forwarded only one name for the job. The MoD has conveniently forgotten that in 1993, it took the plea in the Delhi High Court — Government of India vs Lt Gen Ved Airy — that it was the COAS’s prerogative to select his team of advisors.

The real battle, however, is over bureaucratic delay in approving results of the promotion board of Major General to Lt General of 1963 batch held in April 1997. Once again there is political pressure from the defence minister and the ministry to add certain names to the list recommended to the government by the COAS. The latter has taken a firm and principled stand that the army board consisting ofsix army commanders and the VCOAS is the one which decides the composition of the approved list. The Defence Services Regulations (DSR) require the COAS be consulted if the government intends any changes to this list.

Last year, the DSR was violated and the defence minister had his way: first in giving an extension to a Major General and then, on the last day of his extension, promoting him to Lt Gen, making the COAS and the army board, which had rejected his case, look silly. This was an unprecedented political intrusion by the gutsy defence minister which eroded the authority of the COAS.

Also last year, at least two Major Generals obtained their promotion orders from the Delhi High Court. In one case, grave strictures were passed against MoD for bypassing a Major General on the empanelled list for more than two years.

The new army chief was determined to restore the sanctity of selection and promotion board and issued instructions to entertain no interference from the ministry.

The impasse over the1963 board has put on hold a chair of promotions and postings including the AG and a strike corps commander. Ten anxious months have passed with 21 contending Major Generals on the verge of developing ulcers, first stages of coronary disease and simple depression. Some will get superannuated while others will have missed earning a Confidential Report.

Every few months officers of the armed forces are subjected to this torture by the MoD while it engages service headquarters in horse trading, bargaining and barter — as it did by the piecemeal declassification of the 1967 brigadier to major general board results. This mischievous act of delaying promotion board results has damaged the morale of officers. A public interest litigation is necessary for the courts to stipulate that promotion board proceedings are declassified within three months.

Instead of providing political guidance and higher defence management on vital national security and strategic issues on which its knowledge is zero, the government displays rare flourish in the selection and promotion of higher military commanders. It forgets that service promotion boards are driven by merit and calibre, not the ability to garner votes.

The writer is a retired Major General.

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