Tuesday, 20 December 2016

To choose a chief

Eastern Army Commander, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi meets Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Dec 16

In 1949, when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was appointing India’s first commander-in-chief (downgraded in 1955 to “chief of army staff”), he faced a choice between three top professionals. The senior-most was General KM Cariappa, a dead-honest anglophile with a marked aversion to dhotiwalas, as the army disparagingly referred to Congress Party leaders. Next in line was General Maharaj Shri Rajendrasinhji, the princely brother of the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar. The third was General Nathu Singh, an earthy, Rajput son of the soil. Rajendrasinhji and Nathu Singh together told Nehru that Cariappa deserved to be appointed, given his seniority and competence. Nehru, fearful that an over-assertive general might destabilise India’s foundling democracy as was happening in several newly independent countries, wondered aloud whether the Indian Army should continue to have a British commander-in-chief, because of the inexperience of Indian generals. After all, British generals had commanded the army till then, and the navy and air force continued with British chiefs for several more years. However, Nathu Singh, with his patriotism offended, told Nehru only half-humorously that, by that token, maybe India should have a British prime minister as well. Cariappa was appointed without further ado.

It might be unrealistic to expect a similar sense of fair play today. Indeed, it is more or less accepted now that seniority should not be the single criterion for appointing an army chief, with merit also counting towards the government’s eventual choice. Even so, with the government having named Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat as the next army chief, superseding two lieutenant generals senior to him --- Praveen Bakshi and PM Hariz --- on the grounds that General Rawat is better equipped to handle the challenges of the future, important questions arise over what constitutes “merit”.

I am no dispassionate observer in writing on this supersession drama. I have personally known all three protagonists for four decades, especially Generals Bakshi and Rawat, with whom I shared a squadron in the National Defence Academy. Later, Bakshi, Hariz and I commanded our regiments together, after which I left service prematurely to become a defence journalist, while the other three went on to high command. As one who has observed them closely, I can confidently state that all three are superbly equipped to lead the army.

Like Generals Bakshi and Hariz, I was a mechanised forces officer, which meant I spent long years in the deserts of Rajasthan and the plains of Punjab. Yet, like all armoured corps and mechanised forces officers, I also served tenures in Nagaland, Manipur, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and even Africa. To argue, as government mouthpieces have done since Saturday, that General Bakshi’s shorter experience (Note: not absence of experience) of counter-insurgency operations renders him ill-equipped to be army chief is as mischievous and misleading as declaring that General Rawat’s shorter experience in the plains renders him unfit to command the army in a war with Pakistan, when the bulk of India’s offensive power will be applied through its mechanised strike corps.

This criticism of General Bakshi and his supersession by General Rawat amounts to accepting that the army’s prime job is no longer conventional war, but counter-insurgency operations. And that is tantamount to admitting defeat to Pakistan, whose military strategy has always been to tie down India’s military with sub-conventional forces (jihadi militants), while its nuclear arsenal deterred India from retaliating with conventional warfare. Today, as always, a chief’s first preoccupation must remain conventional operations and full-scale war. Low intensity operations against separatists must remain a secondary business.

Political decision-makers should also be aware that the side-lining of two mechanised forces officers is being watched with dismay by three quarters of the army, which is deeply divided over the inequitable cornering of promotion vacancies by the infantry and artillery --- the two arms that have monopolised the army chief’s office for two decades. In February, the Supreme Court finally intervened, ordering more vacancies to be distributed to other arms. Yet, there are continuing lawsuits against skewed promotion policies that favour the infantry with disproportionate promotion vacancies. Now, after two decades, when an armoured corps general was becoming chief in the natural course, an infantry general has superseded him on grounds that would apply, with only minor modifications, to every non-infantry general who is considered for chief in the future. This is not going unnoticed in the army.

Given the emerging consensus that service chiefs should be selected on the basis of merit, not just seniority, the central question then becomes: “Should there be an objective set of criteria to evaluate merit?” There are absolutely none at present.

It could be argued that a general found professionally meritorious enough to be made an army commander (the lieutenant generals one rung below the army chief, who command the Northern, Western Command, etcetera) would also possess the qualities needed to become army chief. That, however, is only partially true; an army chief has two other important functions. First, he must be the symbolic and inspirational figurehead for the entire army, a man with the communication skills and media savvy to portray the service in a positive light and create public confidence. Second, the political leadership must have confidence in the army chief.

Currently, given the leaders’ superficial and transactional relationship with the military, the apex political leadership has negligible personal interaction with the gaggle of 17 army, navy and air force commanders that have sprung up over the years. While selecting, say, an army chief, the defence minister and prime minister would have only superficially interacted with the generals they are choosing from. Implementing the long-proposed structures of “tri-service geographical commands” would narrow down the field to just five-seven geographical commanders, who political leaders might come to know as individuals. Until then, leaders would be forced to make the “choice” based on others’ inputs, possibly motivated or parochial.

Finally, as evident from General Rawat’s appointment, a so-called “merit-based” choice permits the politicisation of the country’s most apolitical institution. Further, it incentivises senior military officers to establish political contacts, which inevitably diminish the military’s own channels of authority. Till now, the military had managed to walk the tight-wire, accepting nominal political authority while resisting political meddling in internal decisions. This was possible because successive governments were content to allow the military to make its own choices. Now, with ambitious generals knowing that political patronage might be rewarded, a worrying era of politicisation of the military looms ahead.

24 comments:

Maj Gen V K Das(Retd) said...

A C-in=C is junior to a Chief of Staff as per international norms. A c-in-C is a field commander while a COS is the head of the Army.During the British time the C-in-C was the head of the India Command extending from Aden to Singapore with its Hq in India and was the head of all imperial forces located within his command. He was termed as " C-in-C in India" and was also the head of the Def Ministry. We should not confuse the two issues.

RajeevKaundal said...

I fully agree with Ajai Shukla. I've penned down similar thoughts yesterday. But, it seems that the damage has already been done to the great institution of Armed Forces. Focus now required is on how to undo this damage, which has to come from within the system. Question is,who will do this.

Amarnath Singh said...

Excellent analysis of the situation
(1) Army operations are teamwork. If Lt Gen Bakshi was promoted to COAS then what would have stopped the Vice COAS Lt Gen Rawat in providing his input in CI/CT operations. If his CI/CT competence was so vital then the government could even hire him as an advisor post his retirement. Why upset the established line of hierarchy?

(2) As Generals Natu Singh and Rajendrasinghji did why not establish a system when the army commanders themselves select the primos intra pares, the COAS.

Broadsword said...

@ Maj Gen VK Das

It would be nice if you could explain how --- in the post-independence Indian Army --- the commander-in-chief (who was also functionally the army chief), was junior to the chief of army staff.

Anyone who has every written on this subject, whether civilian or military, general, bureaucrat or politician, has seen the transformation in 1955 of C-in-C into COAS as a downgrade for the army chief.

Don't apply American templates here. Talk only about our own context please.

V K Das said...

We draw our traditions from the British Army. There the head of the Army is designated as Chief of the Imperial General Staff meant the same as COAS.The Cs-in-C were subordinated to him. In all other Armies he is referred to as Chief of the Army Staff. When the designation was changed it was to follow the international norms. A C-in-C is junior to a COAS and that is how we have C-in-C Andaman Nicobar Command.A C-in-C is a field formation commander answerable to the Chief of the Army Staff or to a CDS . The British C-in-C in India was answerable to the CIGS in London. The US Cs-in-C are commanders of their various Commands and junior to their COAS.The British C-in-C in India was a commander of all the forces under his command, of all the three services and of all the countries of the British Empire located within his Command that extended from Aden to Singapore. The Indian Army, Navy and Air Force were under his command as part of the Imperial Forces. The situation changed after independence and hence the change in designation was called for.

Anonymous said...

Change the process to select the senior most commander as chief. Simple.
By the way who put the current process in place ? When was it put in place ?

suresh nair said...

In the US system the C in Cs report directly to the Secy Def and the Chief is not responsible for ops. Even in our sys originally C in Ca were responsible for ops while the chief was more for staff duties. But due to our system the way it evolved the chiefs also took on op matters

Mansha said...

Great and absolutely true and factual analysis..hope someone takes cognisance of and atleast sets it right by appointing CDS.If Mr Modi,our great visionary leader can read correct picture rather than echoes from parochial cottery around him..wish him all the best

Ranbir Lamba said...

Seniority for promotion

There is created controversy
Your commission is as per pleasure of President
The selection of all should be in interest of nation & not for personal rise.

Merit & capabilities predominate over seniority .

...

OFFICERS SELECTIONPROCESS FOR PROMOTION REQUIRES CHANGE IN ORDER TO GET BEST OFFICER AT EVERY STEP ON LADDER OF PROMOTION& FINALLY FOR TOP SLOT.


1.DEEP SELECTIONPROCESS SHOULD BE INTRODUCED FOR ALL PAID BY GOVT & STATE ,SO THAT GOVT MACHINERY FUNCTIONING IS IN GOOD HANDS.

2. PRESENT SYSTEM OF ACR IS DEFUNCT & DOES NOT ALLOW UPRIGHT OFFICER TO COME UP.                                                                                  

3.ACR QUALITIES SHOULD BE WRITTEN ONLY IN ARITHMETIC NUMBER FORM AND NOT IN WORD DESCRIPTION AS IT IS HARDLY USED AND IS WITH LOT OF FLAWS.

4. GRADING SHOULD BE IN 5 POINT LIKERT SCALE FOR TEN BEST QUALITIES EXPECTED.
5.GRADING POINT SHOULD BE AS > POOR-1,AVERAGE-2,GOOD-3,EXCELLENT-4 OUTSTANDING-5
SUM OF THEN AWARD POINTS OF ALL QUALITIES AND AVERAGE THEM OUT WILL BE ACR OF THE INDIVIDUAL BY SUPERIORS, THEN GIVE IT A WEIGHT AGE  SAY 70%.
6.SIMILARLY ACR SHOULD BE WRITTEN BY JUNIORS TOO FOR HIS SUPERIORS AS IN ISRAEL ARMY AND GIVE WEIGHT AGE TO IT SAY 20%

7.CENTRAL GOVT PANEL-10 % FOR HIGHER APPOINTMENTS AND FOR LOWER APPOINTMENT AS PER DEPARTMENT FUNCTIONING REQUIREMENT

   A] MINISTER SAY FM,RM HM EXTRA 3%.

   B] PM/CM 3%

    C]PRESIDENT /GOVERNOR 4% ON WHOSE  PLEASURE  FINALLY ONE IS REQUIRED TO CONTINUE

8.THEN ARRIVE AT AVERAGE % OF ABOVE ACR

9. HAVE DEEPSELECTION FOR ALL OFFICER PAID BY STATE/CENTRAL GOVT
10.NO PEN PICTURE IS REQUIRED IT IS MORE OF GIMMICK THAN ACR.

11. NO LOOP HOLES NO HIDDEN MARKS SHOULD BE OPEN & CLEAR
12 . HAVE COMPUTER BASED SELECTIONPROCESS
13. ANY PERSON INVOLVED IN ANY CASE IS NOT TO BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT FORSELECTION PROCESS FROM ON SET ,THUS NO POLITICS & NO COURT CASES.


PRESIDENT /GOVERNOR PLEASURE IS FINALLY REQUIRED FOR CONTINUE OF POST.

FINALLY THE ARMY RULE ARMY ACT IPC DEPARTMENT RULES OF CENTER PUBLIC SECTOR ALSO REQUIRE CHANGE 
AS WIFE & CHILDREN ENJOY BENEFIT OF PENSION & SERVICES,
THUS THERE IS NEED TO BRING THEM UNDER LAW AS HUSBAND/SPOUSE SO PUNISHMENT SCARE WILL ENSURE FEAR FOR DOING CORRUPTION

Col lamba

Rajendra Singh said...

The principal of seniority is a time tested one thereby giving little chance to the politicians to reduce the Army to Yes men like the Police.
Gen Bakshi's profile is much better than Gen Rawat's. Gen Bakshi got his Sword of Honour on his merit.Gen Rawat got it when his Dad was Commandant.
Gen Bakshi has commanded a Infantry Division, been Chief of Staff Northern Command wherein he had to officiate as Army Commander when Army Commander went on leave. He got an outstanding report there. He saw enough of Countering Counter Insurgency there.
Presently he is flawlessly Commanding the Eastern Command planning & dealing with counter Insurgency.
Gen Rawat's greatest asset is his relative Mr Doval ( NIA Chief) who is the right hand man of PM.
I leave it to your imagination now.
Sad for the Army I served & love. I had the honour of being part of Sam Bahadur's Army in 1971 War & received my Sena Medal ( Gallantry) from him.

ashok kumar said...

Neither the individuals serving as ministers in our government are as farsighted and brilliant as the British, nor our present 'generals' so thorough gentlemen as Gen Nathu. This seemd to the beginning of politicization of Army. But instead of Military Hierarchy taking ahold of political matters like in Pakistan, it is the political masters taking the absolute hold of military matters. Please not be surprised if tomorrow you find a bureaucrat as the CDS. Because our generals have no "balls" and self respect.....only selfish means...

Anonymous said...

I am certain you are receiving lots of comments in favour of govt decision but not publishing those ..... you have no courage to do so...

Alok Asthana said...

What the govt has done here is very very wrong. However, this is not the first weakening of national institutions that this govt has indulged in. Nor will this be the last. At least, the retired officers should speak up more. It is our army.

Pratap said...

shukla is carefully treading the central path here, with only subtle leaning towards the mechanised forces.
& this is only because there are rumours of gen bakshi getting CDS post..
just wait & watch how he changed his colours if gen bakshi doesn't get this most coveted appointment..only then will the gloves come off.

Anonymous said...

I think Army has lost a life time opportunity in the current muddle.It may be utopian but let me explain.Suppose in the spirit of comraderie and ethos of Army, COAS designate would have humbly refused the appointment. what would have been the options? In all probability Gen Bakshi would have also declined saying He was not the choice of the Govt.So what is the end state? The esteem of Army soars in the eyes of masses so does the respect for both the Generals, No army within a Army, No next time arbitration by polity,still COAS designate in all probability would have remained chief.A win win situation for the Army and a more cohesive force with new Josh running in nerve of all soldiers-an organisation they dreamt of.

Rishi Rish said...

What if this piece from Swarajya turns out to be correct in next few days ? Will you take your words and this article back then ?

According to Livemint, Bakshi will possibly take over as CDS within the next 10 days. Cabinet Committee on Security, which is expected to meet today, may approve the appointment.

“The appointment of CDS is separate from the appointment of the service chiefs. It has to be approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security. Bakshi is still the senior most in the Army and his appointment may be cleared within the next 10 days, before Gen. Dalbir Singh retires on 31 December,” Livemint quoted Brigadier (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal, an expert with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), as saying.

http://swarajyamag.com/insta/s-k-sinha-appointed-special-director-in-the-intelligence-bureau

Anonymous said...

Criteria for selection cannot be an afterthought in the interest of fair play. So unless the existing system was so badly flawed that it had to be corrected in this manner, the existing system should have been followed.
Unfortunately, till now with all the debates and the statements from "unnamed sources" there is no reasonable explanation that has been offered as to why this was done. When I say reasonable I of course mean to those with any understanding of military matters.

Raja Povaiah said...

It would appear that the leadership at the centre, takes decisions without foresight and then resorts to damage control, as has happened with demonitisation.

Alok Asthana said...

It would be ridiculous for Bakshi to be appointed CDS. How can one be CDS without having been a Chief of Army/Navy/Airforce for at least a year and seen first hand the pressures on a service chief. I am afraid, Parrikar is removing all doubts that he is a big fool, as has Jaitley.

Anonymous said...

Must add 30% pay for spouse and 20%(10%for each childif more than one)for children. Then only it will be a valid case for your last suggestion. AND MAKE IT FOR ALL GOVT PAID CITIZENS

JAGDIP SINGH Kang said...

GOD Save our army HAR SHAKH PE ULLU BATHA HA

Jayanta Bhattacharya said...

The "downgrade" is seen in the context that the COAS ceased to command naval or air forces as the British C-in-C did, as Maj Gen VK explained below.

The C-in-C then was like a GoC-in-C in India today with the additional command of air and naval forces under him operating in that command.

VIPAN KOHLI said...

A lot is being said about the elevation of Lt Gen Bipin Rawat to CAOS designate superseding two seniors being a step in involving an apolitical Army into the quagmire of political subjugation. Ladies and Gentlemen the Indian Army has traditionally been a political and an aberration or two does not change it. Remember the Army continued to be apolitical when Gen GG Bewoor was granted an extension to ensure that the highly competent and senior Gen Bhagat retired so that the next senior Gen TN Raina becomes the CAOS. Had this not been done Gen Bhagat would have succeeded Gen Bewoor and Gen Raina would never have become the COAS. Despite this action with obvious political undertones the Army continued to be apolitical. Even earlier the politics involved in elevating Gen Kaul an officer from the Army Service Corps as Army Commander did not affect the apolitical nature of the Army. When Gen AS Vaidya superseded Gen SK Sings the Army remained apolitical. I am sure the Army will continue to remain apolitical in the current scenario too.

Alok Asthana said...

@Vipan Kohli - If the army does gather courage to seek a well defined process for selection of Chief,should it be called'becoming politicised'? I think that term should be restricted to actively siding with a particular political party, not merely lumping it as has become the habit of Indian army. In the present case however, the one who will soon be on top would be a beneficiary, so it is left to retired people to raise the banner.