The appointment of Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat as new Chief of Army Staff has snowballed into a controversy, once it emerged that Rawat was not the senior-most officer in the Indian Army. The officers who were bypassed to let Rawat become the new army chief were not only more senior, but they were also in command positions, placed there because they are capable enough and experienced enough to become chief.
They have been on the frontline as active commanders. You don’t get to become an army commander unless you’re ready and trained, as simple as that. It’s not just a question of seniority; hundreds of very senior people get bypassed, sidelined, passed over, and continue to serve “juniors” for several years if they wish to stay in uniform. In all these cases, the officers are competent field commanders, and have already touched the stars…literally.
But then, it’s no secret that there is a coterie at the army headquarters. The Gorkha Rifles are so strongly represented at the highest levels that it raises eyebrows even within army circles. The incumbent Chief of Army Staff, Dalbir Singh Suhag, is from the Gorkha Rifles, as is Bipin Rawat, the man who will replace him on 31 December. In April this year, five of the 14 major generals promoted to their third star were from the Gorkha Rifles. The director general military intelligence, Lieutenant General SK Patyal, is from the Gorkhas. The director general military training Lieutenant General AL Chauhan is from the Gorkha Rifles.
These, by the way, are the top jobs at army headquarters; they oversee all strategic matters. Another very important position is director general military operations, currently held by Lieutenant General AK Bhatt, again from the Gorkha Rifles. Even the adjutant general Lieutenant General RK Sharma is from the Gorkha Rifles.
What are the odds that in an army of over a million, with dozens of battalions and regiments, all with glorious histories, the top five jobs would be held by officers from the same section of the army.
None of this is rocket science. And it’s all available on the public domain.
Sure, the Gorkhas have a proud history, but so do the Sikh Regiments, the Maratha Light Infantry, the Rajputana Rifles, the Madras Regiment, the Guards, the para regiments, the Punjab Regiment, the Grenadiers, the Bihar Regiment, the Jats, the Dogras, the Assam Regiment, J&K Rifles, the Armoured Corps, the Mechansied regiments, etc.
Handing command to a Gurkha is not a flaw in itself, but it means one regiment will continue to hold sway at South Block. If it is happening at the expense of others is a question worth asking.
Retired Lieutenant General Ike Singha, as head of the Peacekeeping Mission in Golan Heights in Syria and Israel from 2012 to 2015, has seen more action than anyone else in the Indian Army. This is what he has to say about the controversy over Bipin Rawat’s appointment. “The NDA government launched a surgical strike on the Indian Army by superseding very competent generals and selecting Bipin Rawat as the next COAS. In the past, only once has the seniormost army commander been passed over; when Lt Gen. Sinha was overlooked and Gen. AS Vaidya appointed COAS by the Congress government led by Indira Gandhi. History punished the nation for this folly. Gen. Vaidya lacked the moral guts to tell Gandhi that the army, an apolitical organisation should not be dragged into storming a religious place like the Golden Temple. Gen. Sinha, a strong man, would have perhaps resisted and that is why he was overlooked. The BJP resurrected Sinha, and he was appointed a member of the Rajya Sabha. Unfortunately, the NDA government has made the same mistake and overlooked two very capable officers. I have very closely served with all three senior officers and we have grown together. All three are thorough professionals and Praveen Bakshi and PM Hariz lacked nothing.”
“Modi, like Jawaharlal Nehru, feels that the country is not going to fight a war with any of its neighbours. Nehru showed Chou en Lai all our defence establishments, and the shrewd Chinese leader saw the chinks in our armour and annexed Tibet in 1959. India was stunned, but before it could recover from the jolt, China affected an embarrassing defeat in the 1962 war. Modi has a disdain for the Indian Army that I watched closely as General Officer Commanding in Gujarat. It seems he is going the Nehru way and has no inclination to learn from history. (Manohar) Parrikar is a technocrat and has been chief minister of Goa, a state with two districts. A novice in security matters, he thinks he has a magic wand and has a solution for all the complex problems and challenges facing the defence forces.”
He does not.
First Published On : Dec 20, 2016 15:26 IST