By Lt Gen H S Panag
The government needs to ensure that senior positions in the army don’t seem like they’re the result of political patronage.
"Hail to the chief who in triumph advances," wrote Sir Walter Scott in ‘The Lady of the Lake’. And we say the same to Lt Gen Bipin Rawat, AVSM, YSM, SM, VSM, who will assume the duties as the 26th Chief of Army Staff (COAS) on January 1, 2017. We hail him, salute him and support him to lead the Indian Army (IA) for the next three years to ensure external and internal security of India, to carry out much-needed structural, organisational, moral and human resource development reforms; and to influence the government to reform the higher defence management, formulate a formal National Security Strategy and the dependent Force Development Strategy. A very tall order indeed, but we hope that he will remain steadfast and succeed.
Unfortunately, Rawat begins his tenure under controversial circumstances with respect to his selection. He has ‘on merit’ (as decided by the government) superseded two seniors, Lt Gen Bakshi and Lt Gen Hariz. Though the principle of selection is 'merit cum seniority', seniority has been violated only once before in 1983 when Gen Vaidya superseded Lt Gen Sinha - a controversy that lingers till date. There is no doubt that it is the prerogative of the government to select the COAS based on the principle of 'merit cum seniority'. However, given the universal perception of our political culture in which merit at this level is influenced by 'political jan-pehchan', the principle of seniority has remained pre-eminent.