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Appointing the Chief of Army Staff is indeed the prerogative of the Centre. At the same time senior officers who have since retired from the Army are of the considered opinion that the process of selecting the COAS should be above politics.
The BJP led NDA at the Centre must have had compelling reasons for side stepping the seniority criteria in the present instance of Lt Gen Bipin Rawat being named the next chief of Army Staff.
Perhaps the Narendra Modi government should have cleared the air by explaining the rational or criteria for zeroing in on Lt Gen Rawat to head the world’s fourth largest Army.
At the same time the opposition Congress which has held sway in ruling at the Centre for an extended spell since independence has taken exception to the supersession of two officers.
Be that as it may, a section of supperannuated officers believe the Modi government should evolve a new criteria for appointing the COAS which does not cast any shadow about the process which is both satisfactory and beyond reproach. The selection process should not only be fair and must also seem to be fair.
There are enough bureaucratic arguments to adhere to the principle of seniority. This amounts to denial of merit which should be the sole criteria for becoming the Chief of any one of the three armed forces.
In the present instance the appointment of Lt Gen Rawat as next COAS is not unprecedented. Yet an avoidable controversy has been whipped up because of taking an interminably long time to make the announcement of the new COAS. This is essentially because there is no stated policy on the appointment of the three chiefs except that it is at the discretion of the union government.
Without doubt all those who reach the level of Lt General are of great merit in every which way including leadership. It is extremely difficult to reach the top of the pyramid unless the officer is found to be exceptional.
Overseeing any of the commands in the Indian Army requires special attributes as each of them has its special characteristics. The Southern Command based in Pune has to oversee the security of about 43 per cent of the country’s area.
It is no secret that the government is sometimes prone to appoint Generals who are “”yes men””. There should not be any ‘favouritism”” in the appointment of the chief of the armed forces. Consequently it has become necessary for the Modi government to clear the air why it chose Lt Gen Rawat over others as the next chief of Army Staff.
The Centre needs to maintain a delicate balance between the civilian leadership and the military in a democratic system. The challenge for the new chief on the national security front is enormous.
There is worry on the China front not to speak about the “”blow hot, blow cold”” relationship with Pakistan despite the various initiatives taken by Modi himself to normalise bilateral ties which have been nullified by the powerful military establishment in the neighbouring country.
The BJP-led NDA government’s ambivalence in announcing the name of the new COAS well in advance has led to tongues wagging. Experts emphasise that institutions like the army should not be fiddled with because of political considerations.
An apolitical army will continue to perform with competence and pride whoever leads it. Irrespective of the good, bad or indifferent leaders that the country has, the army must be credited with weathering all storms.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. Views are personal.)”