The Indian government, which is already facing nationwide criticism over the country’s cash crunch, has waded into a fresh controversy with the appointment of a new army chief.
Opposition parties, which normally do not question such appointments, demanded that the government explain why Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat was chosen ahead of more senior candidates to succeed General Dalbir Singh Suhaag on December 31.
The ruling BJP responded by saying Lt Gen Rawat was chosen because of his experience in counter-terrorism in light of the country’s current security situation and hit back at the opposition for politicizing defense matters.
Congress leader Manish Tewari said the government had ignored the seniority and merit of lieutenant generals Praveen Bakshi, PM Hariz and BS Negi, chiefs of the Eastern Army Command, Southern Army Command and Central Army Command respectively.
D Raja, leader of the Communist Party of India, said the government seemed to be trying to change the traditions and norms of India’s major institutions. Top appointments in the army and judiciary are becoming highly controversial, he added.
Gen Rawat was selected from a pool of five candidates after considering the security situation of the country, said BJP National Secretary Shrikant Sharma.
Terrorist attacks by suspected Pakistani militants on Pathankot air base and Uri army base had killed at least 20 soldiers this year and incidents of cross-border firing and infiltration are on the rise. Militants and their sympathizers continue fomenting trouble in the Kashmir Valley.
Most army chiefs appointed over the past 20 years have come
from the infantry
Lt Gen Rawat has led counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the Line of Control and on the India-China border.
He also led cross-border strikes in Myanmar in June last year after 18 soldiers were killed in the north-eastern state of Manipur by Myanmar-based militants.
Most army chiefs appointed over the past 20 years have come from the infantry. Lt Gen Rawat was an infantry man.
According to defense sources, although General Bakshi is the senior-most army officer in service, he is more experienced with military tank operations in the deserts of Rajasthan and Punjab rather than the mountainous terrain of Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast.
Meanwhile, a report in Mint indicated that Lt Gen Bakshi may soon take over as the country’s first chief of defense staff.