Spare the army

The past week has witnessed a surfeit of tendentious opinions on the reported move of the UPA government to announce the appointment of the next Chief of Army Staff on the basis of seniority.

It is to be noted that most of these opinions have been expressed by well meaning veterans with a claim to national and institutional interest.

That the accepted principle of seniority has been set aside in the matter of appointing the Chief of Naval Staff to replace Admiral Joshi as also the fact that this appointment was unduly delayed is altogether another matter. His sudden resignation took the government by surprise – not that it is sufficient excuse for the unseemly delay.

It only shows the decision-making processes of our political establishment in poor light.

An efficient government can not afford to dither in the face of unforeseen situations.

So, what are the two basic issues circumscribing the decision to appoint the next Chief of Army Staff?

Institutional interest and national interest. If that is agreed, we can work towards a logical and appropriate course.

Primary institutional interest of the Indian Army would demand that it be headed by a capable, experienced and trustworthy general who inspires unadulterated credibility and confidence with the broad cross section of its rank and file.

Any substantive debate on the question of capability is obviously difficult because the system of evaluation and promotion in the services ensures that there is little to choose between individuals who have made it to the rank and position of army commanders.

Experience also loses relevance if two or more Lieutenant Generals have been tested while in command of field formations under nearly similar circumstances.

The third litmus test – confidence and faith of the men under command – is a matter of ongoing evaluation that gets counted in prior to each successive promotion to positions of higher responsibility.

Any failure or shortcoming would be outside the scope of stray and seemingly subjective individual opinion of an odd person.

It is more a matter of widely shared peer and subordinate opinion and perceptions.

Trustworthiness of the Chief of Indian Army has a professional as well as political dimension.

Institutional interest demands a professionally sound person who can be depended upon to take decisions and give orders, opinion and advice in the best interest of the institution and the nation without political or personal bias. Without fear or favour, as they say.

In all these areas, there is little to choose between the two, three or four generals in the order of seniority.

A former chief may have felt that his own opinion from a distant observation point is qualitatively superior to that of the then Eastern Army Commander who was the direct superior of Lt Gen Suhag when the latter was a corps commander.

The right of Gen Bikram Singh to correct that perception is equally important.

No wonder, people question the veracity and objectivity of such opinion and consequent actions resulting in the ban on his promotion.

National interest in the matter of selecting and appointing a Chief of Army Staff would demand a professional soldier who will not be swayed by the political wind or by the lure of favour while rendering strategic, operational and organisational advice to the government of the day.

And yet, be willing to carry out the task assigned to him by the designated political authority, with resources at his command – shortfalls not withstanding.

His only residual option in the face of unreasonable or unconstitutional/ illegal political expectations being resignation as was demonstrated by some of the erstwhile chiefs and more recently by Admiral Joshi.

Surely, the political leadership keeps itself constantly updated on developing personality kinks of individuals.

It therefore stands to reason that selection of the next chief should not require fresh evaluation on the basis of background checks etc at the last moment.


As is the tradition, the next in the chain of command should be always ready to take over. Delay in the case of Admiral Dhowan was certainly not convincing.

Unsubstantiated

The appointment of General Bikram Singh left him under a cloud in the face of unsubstantiated innuendoes that adversely impacted his credibility and standing with his colleagues and the rank and file.

The ongoing lose talk with controversial implications is bound to similarly leave the next chief, be it Suhag or Ashok Singh, under a cloud.

This certainly does not auger well for the Army.

Let us therefore stop mudslinging and degrading the ability of the next chief to take Indian Army to greater professional and operational heights. This great institution deserves better.

Having said that, it is a fact that selecting the Chief of Army staff is a decision that needs to be taken by a responsible and accountable cabinet.

With the present government at the fag end of its tenure, a decision by this government will always be open to questions on political and moral propriety.

Whichever way the decision goes, it will be tarnished with shades of grey. The Indian Army should be spared this burden of a grey chief.

One wonders why political parties are slugging it out on an issue that falls outside their partisan purview and must be left to the next duly constituted government.

It does not matter which party or group forms the government after May 16.

There is no case for hurrying the decision.

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