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War or peace, the fight must continue

The ten-month long stand-off over the promotion to Lieutenant General of the 1963 batch between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Army H...

Written by Ashok K Mehta |
March 3, 1998

The ten-month long stand-off over the promotion to Lieutenant General of the 1963 batch between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Army Headquarters is over. The board results were declassified last week. The empanelled list does not contain the two names the defence minister was determined to include and who were the casus belli for the impasse. So, for the time being, Army Chief Gen. V.P. Malik can claim victory for the no-nonsense stand he took over unwarranted political interference in the promotion and selection system. But the door is not shut for the Raksha Mantri’s nominees.

Grave damage has been done to this time-tested system by Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. Last year he promoted a Major General twice rejected by the Army board. In another case, a general officer, two years on the empanelled list, was consistently denied a vacancy till he got one from the Delhi High Court. There are other cases of ministerial manipulation, all for a price. Therefore, this alternative route forpromotions has given rise to a joke, inspired by Sachin Tendulkar’s Visa power: MoD power, go get it!

The defence minister, unfamiliar with the military’s culture and ethos, has tried to run the armed forces like the police he has been used to. Thus Inko General banadijeya (Promote him to General). Last month speaking at a Gorkha Regiment function in Lucknow, his political instinct mixed Jawan and Kisan with Ramzan.

Recently he was asked by a reporter how he has performed as defence minister. He replied “It is for others to judge. Lt. Gen. (Retd) Satish Nambiar gave me eight out of ten marks…” Nambiar’s generosity betrays ignorance of the minister’s political agenda and his responsibility for the mess in the services in general and the Air Force in particular.

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Yadav may bowl a parting googly in the MoD: release an additional list of promotees with the two names not in the first list. This tactic has been followed in the past. Such interference is reminiscent of the Krishna Menon era when thelatter would not only promote and post Generals, but also deploy troops in the Himalayas. We all know what followed: first the resignation of the Army Chief and later the 1962 military debacle.

Since officers have lost faith and confidence in their superiors in the chain of command, Malik has been visiting Army formations, reassuring them of the fairness of the promotion and selection system. He is worried about politicisation and the perception in the Army that linkages with MoD and politicians are `career-multipliers’.

An army order forbids its personnel from meeting politicians and bureaucrats for personal reasons. This rule has been violated by both sides.

The reporting, assessing and promotion system in the services is about the fairest anywhere. There are five selection boards: Maj to Lt. Col. — Number 4; Lt. Col to Col. — Number 3; Col. to Brig. — Number 2; Brig to Maj Gen. — Number 1 and for Maj Gen to Lt. Gen. — Special selection board. The last consists of COAS, VCOAS, five armycommanders and the head of the Training Command. All board results, except Number 4 (cleared by COAS), are approved by MoD. In the case of Maj. Gen. and above, promotions and appointments are cleared by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC). The COAS merely recommends the approved list of the ACC.

Political, in fact, bureaucratic control is so tight and tortuous that the sanctity of various boards is often ignored and results altered. In some cases recommendations of the COAS are over-ruled. This undermines the aura and authority of the COAS. In view of the recent meddling in the system, the PMO intervened with the caveat that the COAS’ comments on the MoD alterations will be attached to the selection board proceedings while forwarding it to the ACC.

The Army’s faith in the fair and apolitical nature of its institutions has to be restored if it is to fulfil its role: In war fight last man last round; In peace act as the last bastion of democracy.

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