Almost a month after the resignation of previous Navy chief Admiral D K Joshi, the defence ministry has finally moved forward in appointing the next Navy chief as it received a green signal from the Election Commission.
Because of the model code of conduct that came into place with the announcement of the next Lok Sabha polls, the ministry approached the EC seeking its approval to appoint the next Navy chief. The EC clearance came only last week.
After Joshi’s sudden resignation on February 26 taking moral responsibility of a series of major and minor accidents since August 2013, the government asked Vice Chief R K Dhowan to officiate as chief till the government picked up the next chief.
Continuing with an officiating chief for a month is not only unprecedented but also created administrative problems in the Navy, which follows a command structure.
The Vice Chief in the Navy, for instance, is not the number two in the organisation, but one among the few senior officers, heading the commands.
For instance, Dhowan is a few months junior to Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, who heads the Western Naval Command in Mumbai – the sword arm of Indian Navy.
Admiral Sinha is not only the senior-most Navy officer, but also the senior-most aviator in the service.
Both Dhowan and Sinha are in contention for the top Navy post. Three other senior officers – Vice Admiral Anil Chopra, commander-in-chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Vice Admiral Satish Soni, commander-in-chief of the Southern Naval Command and Vice Admiral S P S Cheema, head of the Strategic Forces Command are also in the race.
Over the last month, the ministry did a through background check on each of them, which would be presented to the Appointment Committee to the Cabinet to take a final call.
If Joshi had not resigned, then in the normal course Soni was tipped to become the next chief because Dhowan, Sinha and Chopra would have retired by then.
Because of the fluid situation, hectic lobbying by various interest groups and selective leaks in the media to project some of the candidates in poor light are continuing in the corridors of power in the capital.
Absence of a full-time Navy chief would downgrade India’s position at the upcoming meeting of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) at Perth between March 25-28. IONS is a maritime forum created by India with participation from Indian Ocean littoral states. A scheduled visit of the French Navy chief in the first week of April has also been postponed.